13 Fun and Spooky Halloween College Traditions

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  • Many colleges maintain unique, decades-long Halloween traditions on campus.
  • Some large attractions draw students and neighbors from across the region.
  • The best Halloween college traditions emphasize inclusion, engagement, and creativity.
  • Colleges often exercise their influence to host philanthropic events for Halloween.

Halloween offers college students a chance to get creative and let loose, providing some sweet relief from studying. Many colleges host pumpkin-carving contests and costume parties, and some open dorms to trick-or-treaters. Several traditions also take advantage of seasonal activities like bonfires and hot-chocolate socials.

However colleges celebrate Halloween, unique festivities can add individual charm and intrigue, like MIT's Pumpkin Drop and Roanoke College's ghost hunter class. The following fun and spooky Halloween college traditions are still going strong!

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Penn State's Pumpkin Festival

In addition to hosting some of the top online programs in the nation, Penn State's annual Pumpkin Festival is one of the most popular on-campus Halloween traditions. As part of Penn State Outreach, the Arboretum at Penn State hosts the event, which is typically sponsored locally or by the family of an attending student.

Activities include family-friendly activities, pumpkin giveaways, and evening illumination displays. But the real star of the show is the pumpkin-carving contest. Previous contestants have been as young as 2 years old.

MIT's Pumpkin Drop

As one of the nation's most technologically advanced colleges, it's probably not surprising that MIT hosts a science-driven fun and spooky college tradition. At the annual Pumpkin Drop, students test the velocity and aerodynamics of pumpkins tossed off the Green Building on MIT's campus — the tallest building in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Students kick off Halloween by dropping 20-100 pumpkins at the stroke of midnight on October 30, to the delight of onlookers who watch the gourds splatter on the ground below.

UCLA's All-Hill Halloween

UCLA's festive Halloween traditions date back to the 1920s, but the first All-Hill Halloween was in 1986, when local kids wore costumes to trick-or-treat safely at UCLA dorms. Today, UCLA students go all out with their own Halloween costumes to hand out candy at the All-Hill event.

University staff members also join in on the fun — dressed up in costumes, of course. Other Halloween traditions at UCLA include a pumpkin-carving contest, a party and student store sale, and a Staff Assembly costume contest.

Georgetown's Healy Howl

Contrary to its "hidden Ivy" status among the most prestigious universities in the country, Georgetown celebrates Halloween in a far less subtle fashion. Every year on Halloween since 1973 — when "The Exorcist" made its film debut — students take part in the Healy Howl.

The event starts with a screening of "The Exorcist" on campus at the cemetery near Healy Hall, where parts of the movie were filmed. After the film, at the stroke of midnight, Georgetown students gather to howl at the moon.

UC Santa Barbara's Isla Vista Halloween

For students at UC Santa Barbara and neighbors of the college's campus in Isla Vista, the annual Halloween party is the hottest ticket in town. Isla Vista Halloween first became a yearly destination for California college students in the 1980s, breaking attendance records as a top attraction for coeds across the state.

Isla Vista Halloween closes down the streets surrounding campus on Halloween night, where students can roam freely dressed in festive costumes. The university posts annual updates on parking, rules and restrictions, and campus closures and access on its site.

Yale's YSO Halloween Show

Ranked among the top colleges in America, Yale also happens to host one of the most unique Halloween events of the season for undergraduates. Yale's annual YSO Halloween Show features a screening of a silent film that was written and produced by, as well as starring, Yale Symphony Orchestra members.

The accompanying soundtrack — consisting of pop, classical, and film-inspired selections — is also performed by YSO. The event takes place in Woolsey Hall on campus, starting at 11 p.m. on Halloween night.

UNC-Chapel Hill's Halloween on Franklin Street

UNC-Chapel Hill, ranked among the best colleges in North Carolina, is also known statewide for its infamous Halloween party. The university blocks off Franklin Street, enabling partygoers in full costume to roam the mile-long stretch freely, enjoying the party into the wee hours.

As the town's unofficial "it" party on Halloween, the Franklin Street event has drawn crowds of more than 50,000, prompting UNC-Chapel Hill to discourage out-of-town students from attending the party and busing people away from Franklin to satellite locations after 8 p.m.

University of Rochester's Library Scare Fair

Rochester, named one of America's prestigious "hidden" Ivy League universities, offers a unique Halloween tradition. Each year, the school's annual Scare Fair follows a new theme, such as a current film. The event is held in late October at Rochester's Rush Rhees Library.

The fair includes a spooky scavenger hunt through the tower of Rush Rhees, with Halloween-themed snacks and library giveaways available. Rochester typically limits attendance to the first 300 participants.

Texas A&M's Wicked Woods

Texas A&M's Kappa Sigma fraternity hosts this annual Halloween-inspired fundraiser and philanthropic initiative at the school's campus in College Station. Kappa Sigma creates its own Wicked Woods on the four acres behind the fraternity house, guiding small groups through spooky scenes for an admission fee of $10.

While Texas A&M, one of the best colleges in Texas, has welcomed as many as 6,000 attendees over Wicked Woods' eight-day stretch, the attraction leads groups of 10-15 people through at a time. Each group spends about 15 minutes in Wicked Woods.

University of Richmond's Murder Mystery and Art Heist

UR hosts a variety of festive activities leading up to Halloween night. Popular favorites include a murder mystery party, hosted by UR's student-led SpiderBoard, and an art heist, sponsored by UR museums. The art heist event, combining an escape room and a mystery game, features cameos from UR's president and deans.

The university also holds annual events sponsored by the Trick or Treat Street student organization, culminating in a Halloween party courtesy of UR's Student Center for Equity and Inclusion.

Roanoke College's Ghost House

Arguably one of the best settings for Halloween traditions, Roanoke owns and operates its own haunted house on campus. Monterey House was built in 1853 by a Salem businessman and served as a hotel, boarding house, fraternity house, and private residence before it was acquired by Roanoke in 2002.

Roanoke uses Monterey House for its popular "ghost hunt class," in which a professor invites a group of students to stay overnight in the house to investigate paranormal activity.

Carleton College's Halloween Dance

Carleton students can dance all night at Hauntcert, the university's largest and most popular Halloween event. Hauntcert features student DJs, free pizza, and door prizes and giveaways. Each student may bring one guest, provided the guest is registered online beforehand.

Carleton also opens some of its dorms on campus to neighborhood trick-or-treaters on Halloween. Students can also enjoy bonfires and pumpkin-carving contests throughout October.

University of Wisconsin-Madison's Freakfest

UW not only ranks among the best online colleges in the Midwest but also hosts one of the region's most sought-after Halloween parties. Freakfest welcomes as many as 30,000 costumed partygoers each year on blocked-off State Street, near campus.

Freakfest attracts students from across the Midwest with its mega-concert-style music lineup. The party typically features more than a dozen acts on three stages spread across a sprawling outdoor space.

Feature Image: Martin Deja / Moment / Getty Images

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