Most College Students are of Legal Age

Seven of every ten college students in the U.S. (70.5%) are age 21 or older, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. Thus, the large majority of college students can legally choose to drink alcoholic beverages if they wish.

Then why does Henry Wechsler falsely assert in yet another alarmist report that “about one half of (U.S. college) students are under age 21”? 1 Could it be to make underage college drinking appear more widespread that it really is? Could it be to make college student appear wildly irresponsible and of control? Could it be to justify his continual calls to restrict the freedom of college students? Could it be because his research is funded by the temperance-oriented Robert Wood Johnson Foundation? Perhaps it’s because of all of the above.

But whatever the reasons, it’s not only wrong but also damaging. That’s because most high school graduates heading off to college falsely believe that drinking is much more common than it really is. Therefore, they tend to drink, or to drink more than they would otherwise, in order to conform to this false belief.

When credible surveys are conducted on a campus and the actual, much lower, numbers are widely reported or “marketed,” most students promptly modify their behavior and the drinking rate drops dramatically. Study after study demonstrates that the social norms marketing approach works.

The proportion of freshmen college students in the U.S. who drink has dropped to the lowest level in 38 years. This fact reduces peer pressure to drink and knowledge of this fact additionally reduces the imagined pressure to drink.


  • 1. Wechsler, Henry, et al. Environmental correlates of under age alcohol use and related problems of college students. Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2000, 19(1), 24-29.