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Are university balls worth the cost or should we have them at all?

BySarah Shaw

Jan 21, 2019

It’s already at the time of year where everyone has started posting pictures of them all dressed up, at their society’s Winter Ball. 

There were a huge number of these throughout November and continuing into this year, with the History Society Winter Ball having taken place recently, and the Sports Ball looming this semester. 

There is at least one society ball for each student in Edinburgh to attend, which is demonstrative of the enormous spending by these societies, and therefore leads to the question of how far they can really be justified. 

Are student balls worth the cost? And do they really boost the student experience, or do they exclude some from feeling a part of their society’s community?

There is a very high cost to organise and host these student balls. The History Society Ball cost an estimated £18,000 last year, breaking even with full tickets costing £60 for members or £67 for non-members, and after-dinner tickets costing £17. In contrast, a Cambridge May Ball is estimated to cost over £150,000, with over 1000 guests spending £145 on a ticket at one college alone. 

When related to this extravagance, perhaps Edinburgh societies are being fairly responsible with their spending. However, the cost of tickets is still high – even if not quite at the Cambridge level – and shows a certain level of exclusivity. 

Students with less money to spend on luxuries will struggle to afford the tickets, let alone the fancy clothes necessary to fit in. The high cost and low numbers of tickets means that many are unable to attend, which will make many feel excluded from the society. 

One question is why students would want to attend, what is the appeal of spending so much money on a single night? Surely there must be a way to hold a large social with less cost for those wanting to attend. A simple ceilidh instead of a ball, a cheaper location, or even just a larger number of small socials through the year; These would enable more people to feel involved, and to join the society’s community.

However, students clearly do enjoy attending balls. This air of exclusivity allows for those attending to feel part of the privileged few, which is heightened by the formal dress-code and fancy meal. Many students spend their time at university in informal, comfortable clothes, especially when coursework deadlines loom, and while normal socials provide the chance to dress slightly better than usual, a ball can present the perfect excuse to properly ‘dress to impress’ and look fancy.

 After graduation most will not have further chances to attend this sort of event, so university is the perfect opportunity to enjoy these extravagances while they still can. Even if it is a lot of money to spend for just one night, the memories made can last long past leaving university.

Are student balls worth the cost? While there is a high cost to host the events they will break even with ticket prices, and although tickets are expensive most societies offer after-dinner tickets at a much lower price. With cheaper clothing websites there is also the chance to reduce the cost of clothing needed, which is a further help. 

It would perhaps be more inclusive if societies held cheaper events, which a larger number of people could attend, however, there would still be limits to the number of people who could go to each social. 

Ultimately, the high demand for tickets for these student balls shows that students do enjoy them and want to attend. 

They let students get dressed up, have fun, and relax during an increasingly stressful period of their life, which is not the worst thing in the world.


Image: Eric A. Hegg Photographs via Wikimedia Commons

By Sarah Shaw

Features Writer

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