Spotify's Data Dump Just Revealed The Hidden Truth About Today's College Students

What we listen to reveals a lot more than we realized

Back in the technological dark ages when I was a college student, I studied while listening to music playing on a portable CD player. There was no streaming service tracking how many times I’d played a specific song—or analyzing what my friends were grooving to and what time we started (or stopped) listening.

Nowadays, however, Spotify can tell us a slew of data points about what’s being played by college students who subscribed to the service through the Spotify student deal. Their analysis of college listening patterns reveals a somewhat stereotypical tidbit: Students at big state schools like to party. The school with the highest percentage of party listening (by playlists) is Penn State, with Ohio State University, Arizona State University, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and Virginia Tech rounding out the top five.

But one of Spotify’s other data trends might provide some insight into an oft-forgotten reality about today’s students: They’re not all living in ivy-covered brick dorms on campus.

Spotify found that California State University, San Bernardino, is the school that “spent the most time listening to music on Spotify (normalized by dividing time spent listening by number of student subscribers at the school).” But their No. 1 status might be due to Cal State San Bernardino primarily being a commuter school located in Southern California.

In 2015, 19,000 students were enrolled at Cal State San Bernardino, but only about 1,400 students lived on campus in a dorm. And, of the top 10 schools where students spend the most time listening to music on Spotify, four other campuses are also big commuter schools located in the greater Los Angeles area. Cal State University, Los Angeles, is in third place, Santa Monica College and Pasadena City College—two large community colleges—rank fourth and fifth respectively, and California State University, Northridge, is seventh.

A look at this comprehensive infographic from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation reveals that the typical college student is anything but. Just 53 percent of students are aged 17-21, 28 percent have children, and only 41 percent live in campus housing. Another surprise: 26 percent of today’s students work full time and about one-third are part time students. Couple those demographics with commuting conditions in Southern California, home to some of the worst traffic congestion in the world, and it’s not hard to guess that students are listening to Spotify while biking, riding the bus, or driving to campus. Oh, and they’re probably listening while they’re studying, too.

Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

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