College is a great time to experience new things, try new hobbies, and explore new opportunities. By providing events like concerts and college parties, colleges and universities create safe, fun places for students to meet new people and celebrate school traditions. From tailgating to block parties, schools all over the country create welcoming atmospheres for new and returning students.
The best party schools combine these experiences with opportunities to visit the bars, clubs, and breweries of a college town. However, just because a college is known for being a party school, doesn't mean it won't also provide an excellent education — great party schools are a place where students can work hard and play hard.
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
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.
University of Alabama
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).
University of Georgia
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
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
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.
University of Iowa
|Iowa City, IA||
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.
|New Orleans, LA||
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.
What Is a Party School?
College is the time for students to get serious about their futures. However, for many, college can also be a chance to explore new activities and have some fun. While college requires students to work hard, many learners also find time for recreational pursuits.
The label "party school" is placed on colleges that are known for having a party culture. Students at party schools typically admit to consuming alcohol more frequently than average or in excess. Many party colleges are located in towns that allow for easy access to nightlife and provide a variety of entertainment.
Is It Bad to Go to a Party School?
Applicants — or their parents — may be apprehensive about applying to or enrolling at a school that has a reputation as a party school. Whether or not a party school is a good fit depends on the person.
For some, committing to a top party school isn't a concern. Students who are able to balance work with fun and can say no to possible peer pressure can enjoy their college years at a party school while still getting a great education. However, learners who play too hard may not be successful at a college that provides a lot of fun events and social opportunities.
Ultimately, it depends on a student's self-discipline and how motivated they are to excel in their education when there are distractions.
Can You Still Get a Good Education at a Party School?
Having a reputation as a party school doesn't impact the quality of the educational offerings at a college. In fact, many top party schools are also known for their excellent academic programs.
Despite these misconceptions about party schools, several of the colleges listed here are ranked among the top schools in the U.S. in terms of their overall quality of education. For instance, U.S. News & World Report ranks the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign among the top 50 schools in the nation.
The quality of education at a college is not correlated with the frequency of parties happening on or near campus. Students can attend a party school and still get access to some of the best academic programs.
Is Drinking in College Bad?
Drinking and partying have become immersed in pop culture and movie depictions of the college experience. In a 2018 survey, more than half of college students ages 18-22 claimed to have consumed alcohol within the prior month.
If a student is under 21 they should not consume alcohol. Not only is it illegal, but students may face disciplinary action from their college, as well.
And it isn't just your academics that could suffer. Students may develop bad habits like binge drinking. Additionally, many college students are victims of assault and death due to incidents that involve alcohol.
Although drinking may seem like a rite of passage or an expectation in college, there can be harmful side effects.
Can Drinking in College Affect Your Grades?
The short answer: yes, drinking can negatively impact your grades.
How much you drink and how often you drink are important factors influencing the likelihood that drinking will adversely affect your grades. However, it may be possible to drink occasionally and still maintain good academic standing.
The International Journal of Preventive Medicine studied the impact of drinking on college students' academics. Many of the surveyed students who reported drinking experienced academic issues, like missing class and not completing assignments. Ultimately, learners who drink excessively see the biggest negative impact on their grades and academic standing.
Balance is key. Students can excel academically and enjoy social drinking in moderation.