With advice from mental health expert, Rayelle Davis
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For many students, college is a time to try new things and meet new people. Going out, having a good time, and making memories are all a big part of the college experience. For some students, finding a school where the campus culture prioritizes fun is an important factor.
Party colleges offer the right mix of excitement and academics for many students. From tailgating to college clubs and bars, these schools offer students a vibrant social life. The best party schools give students an equal opportunity to work hard and play hard, making for a fun and productive college experience.
For the purpose of this ranking, the best party schools are located in larger cities or where a large majority of the town's residents attend the college. These schools tend to have high enrollment with a strong Greek presence and a variety of clubs and organizations.
Top Party Schools
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Ranking compiled by the BestColleges Ranking Team
How We Rank Schools
Top Party Schools
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have access to numerous bars on campus, including Illini Inn and Legends. The legal age to enter a bar is 19 in Champaign and 18 in Urbana, giving students access to nightlife opportunities, even if they are not legally allowed to drink.
The university has more than 1,800 student organizations, which offer events and festivities for students. Students can learn about activities and opportunities to socialize at Quad Day each fall.
The university's strong fraternity and sorority presence results in plenty of college parties and events with alcohol, music, and entertainment. Students at this Big Ten school take sporting events seriously, and the party atmosphere on football game days includes body-painting traditions, tailgating, and participation in the Illini Pride student section.
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Located on Lakes Monona and Mendota, the University of Wisconsin-Madison was founded in 1848 and is one of the leading research institutions in the world. Named the top college football town in America by the NCAA in 2015, the college touts 23 Big Ten varsity teams.
When students aren't tailgating, they can visit Der Rathskeller — a bar — in the student union. Additionally, UW straddles State Street, which is a pedestrian mall with shops, restaurants, and plenty of bars. Students can also hang out on the Memorial Union Terrace and enjoy a beer, live music, and a breeze off the lake.
Students have access to a robust Greek life, and events like Madison's annual Brat Fest. The first Saturday in May, thousands participate in the Mifflin Street block party. Partiers can celebrate the end of a long Wisconsin winter.
Indiana University Bloomington
Indiana University Bloomington has more than 750 student organizations and more than 65 fraternities and sororities. Students enjoy Hoosier traditions like welcome week and homecoming — annual events with party atmospheres. Each year, IU also hosts the Little 500, which is a bike race with thousands in attendance. During the annual Dance Marathon, students dance all weekend for a good cause.
IU students and fans take tailgating seriously during football season and spread the festivities across campus. Additionally, basketball season at IU kicks off with Hoops Hysteria and offers students even more opportunities for college parties. The Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall has one of the largest student sections in the country.
Popular college bars in Bloomington, such as Kilroys Sports and Nick's English Hut, cater to students on game days and throughout the year, offering happy hours and late-night entertainment.
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI
Each year, Michigan State University in East Lansing hosts the Spartan Remix — a festival of art, music, and culture — to start the academic year on a celebratory note. MSU's active Greek life provides students with ample opportunities to socialize and party.
Students can attend on-campus concerts and sporting events, while tailgating and game-day traditions usher students into the MSU community. Campus clubs hold themed parties at local bars, including Sparty Bar Mitzvah and Sparty Gras presented by MSU's Hillel Center.
Given the strong party presence, MSU and the city of East Lansing have teamed up to provide students with party guidelines to prevent out-of-hand celebrations and to encourage students to drink responsibly.
Tuscaloosa — home to the University of Alabama — has a reputation for providing students with a good time. Kicking off the year, the Weeks of Welcome program welcomes incoming first-year and returning students with festivities, food, and music. More than 11,500 students participate in Greek life at the university, which provides access to college parties.
Crimson Tide sporting events are celebrated with elaborate tailgating and partying. Football games attract thousands of fans and students, who enjoy beer, food, and music. The school also offers an area for family-friendly pregaming. Tailgating also features long-held traditions like the Elephant Stomp and the Walk of Champions.
Tuscaloosa has a thriving bar scene, and the University of Alabama campus is adjacent to downtown. Students can visit the Houndstooth Sports Bar (self-proclaimed as Alabama's favorite college bar), Alcove (Tuscaloosa's smallest bar), and Rounders (a rooftop bar).
Near downtown Athens, the University of Georgia includes 17 schools and colleges that encourage academic excellence and research innovation. Situated 70 miles east of Atlanta, downtown Athens contains many bars, pubs, and restaurants.
UGA boasts a large number of fraternities and sororities, which promote leadership and diversity. They are also known for their tailgating and college parties, including Pajama Jam, which is referred to as the "biggest party in the southeast."
UGA has a strong football tradition, and students can participate in elaborate tailgating events. Tailgating at UGA often involves an all-day party with music, drinks, and food. Football games between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Florida Gators (UGA's biggest rival) take place at a neutral site in Jacksonville, Florida — these games are known as "The World's Largest Cocktail Party."
Florida State University provides events, games, and movies for students to enjoy. Students can also take advantage of the thriving Tallahassee nightlife. Bullwinkle's — a bar situated on the Tallahassee Strip — offers drink specials, music, and a tiki bar four days a week, while nightclubs like TENN give students a chance to dance.
With over 800 clubs and student organizations, there are lots of social gatherings on campus. FSU's 54 fraternities and sororities boast over 6,000 members; these organizations can provide alcohol at on-campus events and activities with university permission. Official Seminole tailgating parties feature music and gameday activities.
The Pennsylvania State University
University Park, PA
The Pennsylvania State University — in University Park — has a party atmosphere, especially during the football season. Thousands of fans and students enjoy beer and music while tailgating before and during Penn State football games. Greek organizations also have a strong presence on campus.
College bars like the All-American Rathskeller have provided the Penn State community with food and beer since the 1930s. Other local favorites include Zeno's Pub and the Liberty Craft House. Zeno's holds beer festivals and offers live music, while the Liberty Craft House has nearly 50 beers on tap. Student's don't need to leave campus to enjoy a pub-style setting; they can stop by Whiskers for events like Winesdays.
University of Texas at Austin
The University of Texas at Austin is located in one of the state's most vibrant and culturally rich cities. Each spring, the university hosts RoundUp, which includes music, food, and drinks for the Austin community and UT Austin students. The event is usually accompanied by additional parties on campus.
Students can enjoy an alcoholic beverage and a show without leaving campus at the Cactus Café and Bar. They can catch live music events or drop in for open mic nights on Mondays. UT Austin students also celebrate and party on football game days.
Austin's thriving music scene provides students with plenty of concerts to attend, and local music venues offer various types of entertainment. Each weekend, Sixth Street in downtown Austin is blocked off for a street party, during which students can visit bars, pubs, and craft breweries without paying cover charges.
West Virginia University in Morgantown was founded in 1867 as a public land-grant institution. Incoming first-year and returning students start the year with FallFest — a week-long celebration with musical guests and free food vouchers; previous headlining acts include Maroon 5 and Kanye West.
Morgantown's nightlife and bar community provides numerous opportunities to eat, drink, and have fun. Students can party on High Street, visit the Mountaineer Taphouse, and enjoy hours of tailgating on game day during football season. Students also have the opportunity to demonstrate their school spirit during Mountaineer Week. This annual event features a craft fair on campus, as well as contests and other activities.
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, CO
Colorado State University has experienced a significant increase in enrollment over the past decade and has quickly become one of the best public research universities in the nation. Located in Fort Collins, students have access to many social events and a variety of nightlife.
With over 60 Greek options at CSU, students can tailgate before football and basketball games or vist Ramskeller — a pub located on campus in the Lory Student Center.
CSU students can tour local breweries, including Odell Brewing Company and New Belgium Brewing Company, and enjoy local music, arts, and bars in Old Town. Fort Collins is also known for its annual Tour de Fat celebration, where CSU students can dress up in costume, hop on their bicycles, and join New Belgium in raising money for biking initiatives.
University of California, Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, CA
The party culture at the University of California, Santa Barbara in the Isla Vista community prompted the creation of a committee to work for a cooperative and collegial relationship between the school, its students, and long-term residents of the area. Additionally, the Life of the Party group at UC Santa Barbara promotes responsible alcohol consumption and provides alcohol safety information to students.
Parties, activities, and events in the community include dodgeball tournaments, yoga and trivia nights, and Halloween festivities. With over 500 student organizations and about 11% of its students taking part in fraternities and sororities, UC Santa Barbara provides lots of opportunities to relax and party.
Located in Iowa City, the University of Iowa is a top research school and offers students a welcoming, vibrant experience. Downtown Iowa City features a pedestrian mall with bars and restaurants, most of which participate in the city's block party and Taste of Iowa City event each summer. The university hosts an annual kick-off event for students that includes a weekend full of entertainment and festivities.
The Hawkeyes demonstrate their party spirit during Big Ten sporting events. Football tailgating before games at Kinnick Field includes all-you-can-eat buffets with beer and barbeque. Students can join Hawk's Nest — a student organization focused on promoting good sportsmanship and a spirit of community at sporting events.
Located in historic New Orleans, Louisiana, Tulane University benefits from nice weather, delicious food, and diverse culture. A private research university, Tulane provides students with access to numerous events and celebrations throughout the year. More than 40% of Tulane students participate in a Greek organization, and there are more than 200 student clubs and organizations.
Students at Tulane can take part in Crawfest (an annual music, food, and arts festival) and cry out the Hullabaloo Cheer at sporting events. Although the school has no bars on campus, the restaurants, clubs, bars, and other venues that surround the school provide plenty of access to fun.
Students at Tulane can also easily partake in one of the world's most famous carnival events — Mardi Gras. The Tulane Marching Band joins the parade, as participants throw beads and celebrate.
Founded in central New York in 1870, Syracuse University is a private institution known for strong academics and research. However, the school also has a reputation for partying. Students can tailgate at a Syracuse football game or become a member of Otto's Army at a basketball game in the Carrier Dome. Each spring, Syracuse hosts Mayfest — an all-day event featuring food, drink, and entertainment.
Syracuse also holds the annual Jam Juice concert at the university union. Additionally, students can attend a yearly Cinco de Mayo event and impromptu block parties during March Madness. Downtown Syracuse features many bars, including Faegan's, which offers "beer tours" every Tuesday night. These tours include multiple beer selections from around the world.
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College and Party Culture
Each student is looking for something different out of their college experience. Many variables, including a school's location, academics, athletics, and social scene, can influence this decision-making process. For students who want to have an active social life and lots of fun in college, considering a party school could be a good idea.
Party schools are often located in larger cities or towns where there are many concert venues, bars, clubs, and other gathering places. On campus, the culture is relatively easygoing. While students are still expected to participate in rigorous studies, they are also given ample opportunity to engage in partying, dancing, and cheering on the local sports teams.
As with any type of college, there are positives and negatives to attending a party school. In most cases, these pros and cons depend on a student's needs, wants, and goals, as they relate to the overall college experience.
Meeting People: This can be especially important for students moving out of state for college, where they may not have many existing friends.
New Experiences: While high school may be a fairly sheltered time for some students, a party college offers no shortage of new experiences.
Fun: Getting to meet new people and attend parties, clubs, and sporting events can be a lot of fun.
School-Life Balance: Unlike colleges that focus almost entirely on academics, party schools typically offer students a good mix of fun and activities, along with their studies.
Not for Introverts: Party schools may not be an ideal choice for students who prefer a quieter, more secluded lifestyle.
Overwhelming: With so much partying and late nights, being at a party school can sometimes feel like too much. Especially when trying to maintain a good GPA.
Cost: All those fun times don't come without cost. Attending a party school can put a strain on your budget if you're going out most nights.
Burnout: Even the most extroverted students can feel worn out by the party lifestyle after a while.
College Party Safety
For many students and parents, safety is the biggest concern surrounding party schools. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism more than 1,500 college students ages 18-24 die each year from alcohol-related injuries, and almost 100,000 college students report experiencing alcohol-related date rape or sexual assault. However, despite these statistics, there are ways that students can stay safe at a college party while still having a good time.
Another potential risk for students attending a party school is substance abuse. And individuals with mental health challenges like anxiety and depression may be more likely to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. With31% of college students reporting symptoms of alcohol abuse, it's easy to see how things might spiral out of control.
Additionally, if you attend a school with a strong party culture, it may feel harder to decline an invitation out with your friends, even if you'd rather stay in your room and study. The impact of peer pressure and wanting to fit in can be significant. Make sure to take this into consideration before enrolling at a party school.
Tips and Tricks for Staying Safe at a College Party
Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Know how you got to the party and make sure you know how to get back home.
Keep your phone and wallet somewhere secure where you can easily reach them and won't lose them.
Ensure your social media is private and that you aren't sharing personal location information with untrustworthy individuals.
Guard your drinks, especially at parties and clubs. Don't let people you don't trust buy your drinks.
Always let someone close to you know where you're going to be. Think about sharing your phone location with a friend.
Avoid drinking to excess. Losing control of yourself can be extremely dangerous.
If you are walking home after a party, don't wear headphones and avoid walking alone.
If you take an Uber home, be absolutely sure you're getting in the right car.
Other Factors to Consider When Choosing a College
While many students prioritize fun when considering college, there are many other factors you can also think about. One of the biggest considerations when choosing a college is often the school's location. Attending an in-state public school can be much more affordable than an out-of-state institution. Additionally, many students want to stay close to family and friends in their hometown.
Another crucial factor to consider when choosing a school is the price of tuition. Many students rely on scholarships and financial aid to pay for college. For budget-conscious students, an online college may be the best choice — online tuition at many schools does not factor in a student's state of residency, which can help out-of-state learners save money.
Factors such as school size and academic quality can also play a big role in decision-making. Smaller schools may offer more individualized attention, which can be hugely beneficial for certain students. Conversely, larger schools may offer more programs and a stronger alumni network.
Alternative Postsecondary Education Options
Some students may not be able to attend in-person courses on campus five days a week. Also, diving into a four-year degree program may not make sense for learners who aren't sure what kind of career they want to pursue. An online community college or trade school may be a more attractive option for these students.
For certain careers, such as computer science, a coding bootcamp may provide a faster pathway into the profession. Trade schools can also be an effective way to enter an in-demand field in less time, and certificate programs may be a better fit than a bachelor's degree for students who want a direct path into their chosen profession without spending four years in school.
Frequently Asked Questions About Party Schools
What is a party school?
Party schools tend to be colleges that have popular sports teams and offer a vibrant Greek life experience. Campus culture usually emphasizes attending parties, clubs, and bars, and engaging in an active nightlife.
What are the top party schools in the United States?
Some of the top party schools in the United States include the University of Wisconsin Madison, Florida State University, Michigan State University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the University of Alabama.
Is it bad to go to a party school?
While these schools may have a bad reputation in some circles, there is nothing inherently bad about attending a party school. All students look for something different out of college, and those who want to prioritize the social aspect of college can benefit from attending a party college.
Can you still get a good education at a party school?
Yes. Many party colleges still offer rigorous academics and boast high graduation rates.
How can drinking in college affect your grades?
Drinking to excess on a regular basis can have a big negative impact on your grades. Students who participate in the party scene need to work hard to balance their social life with their school life so their academic performance doesn't slip.
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Advice from mental health expert Rayelle Davis, M.S Ed., NCC, LCPC
Rayelle Davis, M.S Ed., NCC, LCPC
Rayelle Davis is a nationally board certified counselor and a licensed clinical professional counselor. As a nontraditional student she earned her associate degree in psychology at Allegany College of Maryland. She went on to earn her bachelor's degree in psychology online at the University of Maryland Global Campus. Rayelle earned her master's degree in counseling education with a concentration in marriage, couples, and family therapy from Duquesne University.
She has taught several undergraduate psychology courses. She is currently a doctoral student and teaching assistant at Duquesne University and practices psychotherapy in Maryland.
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