When people think of college, concerts and the school's music scene may not be the first thing that comes to mind, but an active social scene can help choose the best college for you. Concerts and similar social events at colleges range from small gatherings on the lawn to large, almost festival-like events. Larger events, such as Roundup Week at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of California at San Diego's Sun God festival, are among dozens of annual events that have become nationally known and draw attendees from all over the country.
While large college concerts are excellent opportunities to let loose and celebrate the end of finals, the schools below are also known for hosting numerous free concerts for students throughout the year. Primarily put on by student committees, concerts and events are a great way to meet fellow students, strengthen friendship, and discover new, local talent.
What Colleges Have the Best Free Concerts?
University of Southern California
|Los Angeles, CA||
Located in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, it may come as no surprise that USC makes the list of colleges with the best free concerts. This private university has long been revered as an international center for business, technology, and the arts. Since its creation in 1880, USC has been consistently ranked as one of the top schools in the country and around the world. As a leader in the world's art and music scene, USC hosts a number of concerts and events throughout the year, most of which are free to attend for students and members of the community.
The USC concerts committee is a student-led group responsible for organizing and planning live events on campus. Consisting of 13 board members and a group of associated committee members, this group is dedicated to providing free concerts to students throughout the school year and the summer. Flagship events, such as the Springfest and the August Welcome Back Concert, are known throughout the U.S. and are attended by students and nonstudents alike.
|New Haven, CT||
Founded in 1701, Yale is one of the oldest and most esteemed universities in the United States. This ivy league school is focused on national and international education, engaging with individuals and institutions on a global scale. While offering a wide array of degrees, including in STEM and the social sciences, Yale is particularly known for its musical and drama programs, such as the Whiffenpoofs, a world famous a cappella group.
As part of the school's mission to provide students with an excellent academic and extracurricular experience, Yale's Events Committee and the Spring Fling Committee hold a number of free concert for students. While Yale's annual Spring Fling concert is arguably the school's most famous, events such as the Final Cut, Battle of the Bands, and smaller pop-up concerts feature up-and-coming musicians and established artists. These concerts are hosted on the Yale campus, either on the lawn or in the events center.
University of California-San Diego
|San Diego, CA||
Located on the southern coast of California, this research university has a long list of esteemed graduates who have gone on to become Nobel Laureates and National Academy members. Offering a number of undergraduate and graduate degrees, professional certifications, and doctoral programs, UCSD is one of the United States 10 largest hubs for engineering, science, and medicine.
With average weather of 71 degrees and lots of sunshine, UCSD is the ideal location for an outdoor concert series. The Sun God festival, an annual free, student-curated event, is hosted during spring quarter. Featuring live performances by new and touring artists, this day-long festival features not only music but vibrant local art and an array of diverse food options and presentations by new brands. While this is undoubtedly the largest of UCSD's free concerts, the student-led entertainment committee hosts several concerts on the grounds throughout the academic school year.
Cornell University is a four-year university offering highly ranked undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral programs in management, business, law, medicine, and veterinary medicine. This privately owned, research institution is located in Ithaca, New York and is an established partner of New York's State University. Cornell is committed to outreach and engagement on a local, national, and international scale, offering academic programs with a global emphasis on students and community members alike.
As part of the school's dedication to local outreach, Cornell hosts an annual free concert known as Slope Day on the final day of classes in May. Featuring live music by nationally recognized artists, food, and activities for students and community members, this event has been running for more than 100 years.
Pennsylvania State University
|Old Main, PA||
Founded in 1855 as a Pennsylvania high school, Pennsylvania State University has grown to include facilities and campuses throughout the state, offering undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degrees to students. With more than 46,000 undergraduate and graduate-level students, this four-year school is one of the largest in the country. Due to the high level of education offered at this university, it has been dubbed a "public ivy" -- a school that receives public funding but offers what many consider to be an ivy league quality education.
In addition to education, Penn State emphasizes student engagement and school-life balance through an active Greek life and many student-led organizations. For example, the University Park Undergraduate Association, Graduate and Professional Student Association, Association of Resident Hall Students, and Student Programming Association all contribute to Penn State's annual Movin' On concert series. This celebration features nationally recognized and new artists in an 18+, free-to-students event.
This nonprofit, private, research institution in North Carolina is highly regarded for its academics. Originally founded in 1838 by Quakers and Methodists, Duke relocated to the city of Durham in 1892. This school is known for its high number of successful graduates after being named by Forbes as one of the top ten universities to produce billionaires. While academics are important at Duke, the university is also known for its student engagement opportunities.
With over 400 student-led organizations and clubs on the Duke campus, there is no shortage of extracurricular activities. Throughout the year, Duke presents multiple concerts featuring small bands and the school's own nationally recognized a capella groups. The school's most famous music festival, known as the Last Day of Classes (LDOC) Celebration, is organized by the Duke University Union, the largest student-led body on campus. The LDOC is held on the last day of classes during the spring semester and includes musical performances by student groups and nationally recognized artists.
Affectionately referred to as "Vandy" by students, Vanderbilt University is a private research institute located in Nashville, Tennessee. Comprised of approximately 12,500 students from all over the world, Vanderbilt offers degrees through four undergraduate and six professional schools.
As the school began to grow rapidly during the 1960's, Vanderbilt faculty and students created a way to increase community outreach. In addition to creating a "free university" for Nashville residents to attend seminars and classes at the school, students also created the "Rites of Spring" festival for all members of the community. This event was founded in 1971 and has been growing ever since, with the 2018 performer lineup including artists such as Gucci Mane, Born Animal, and DNCE.
Located in Baltimore, Maryland, this university is a part of the University System of Maryland. While it was first created as a training school for teachers, Towson has evolved into a four-year university comprised of eight colleges with nearly 20,000 students, though it still produces more teachers than any other institution in the state.
TU offers many student-led groups and organizations ranging from athletic teams, to student government, to a number of entertainment committees. Many concerts and events are held throughout the year and are free to students. Tigerfest, a week-long, annual festival open both to students and community members, is one such event. Activities highlight the best parts of student life and include art galleries, athletics, and an outdoor musical festival held at the school's SECU Arena. Tigerfest occurs during spring quarter and often includes events dedicated to Earth Day.
The University of Texas at Austin
Like Penn State, UT Austin is considered a public Ivy League school for its presence as an epicenter of academic excellence. This public research university is the flagship school of the University of Texas system and is home to more than 50,000 undergraduate and graduate students. UT Austin is well-known for its athletics and also has a large Greek presence and many student-led organizations.
UT Austin's most famous event is known as Roundup Week. Hosted by the school's fraternities, sororities, and a union of entertainment committees, this week of concerts, food, bar crawls, and EDM music is a draw to not only students and surrounding communities, but to people from all over the country. Most festivities take place throughout campus, but many city streets are also shut down for stages, food trucks, and festival-goers.
Located in Athens, Ohio, this residential public university has a student body of nearly 37,000. Fully accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, Ohio University offers undergraduate students more than 250 areas of study. Ohio U also offers a number of degrees at the graduate and doctoral level. Students at Ohio University host a number of independent and organized service events, as well as operating a school-wide newspaper, radio, and television station.
#FEST is the most well-known of Ohio University's student-hosted on-campus events. While there are numerous free concerts for students throughout the year, #FEST headlines not only local talent, but also nationally and internationally recognized stars, such as Marshmello and R.L. Grime. Students and community members are welcome to attend free of charge. Concert activities take place on the Ohio U campus and shuttles are provided for nonstudents with lodgings in the surrounding cities of Kent, Cincinnati, and Dayton.
Iowa State University
Iowa State is a university primarily dedicated to science and technology. Located in Ames, Iowa, Iowa State is the largest university in the state. Iowa State is recognized by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching as a research university with "high research activity," offering more than 100 undergraduate degrees, 112 master's programs, and 83 doctoral degrees. Student activity and outreach is a large part of campus life at Iowa State, with more than 800 student unions and organizations that support numerous areas of interest.
Prior to 2014, ISU hosted an annual, week long musical festival known as VEISHA before a disturbance led to its permanent discontinuance. Since then, student union, fraternity, and sorority members collaborate to provide students with free concerts throughout the year. Though none are as nationally known as VEISHA, and feature primarily student and local talent, ISU draws larger musical names to free concerts throughout spring.
|Des Moines, IA||
Drake University was founded in 1881 by George Carpenter, a Union general during the Civil War. While originally affiliated with the Christian Church, Drake no longer has any recognized religious affiliation. This private university is located in Des Moines, Iowa and offers a variety of graduate and undergraduate degrees in addition to professional programs in law, business, and pharmaceutical studies.
Drake hosts more than 160 student-run organizations, including several sororities and fraternities, student newspapers, media stations, and entertainment-oriented groups. Hosted primarily by the school's College of Arts and Sciences, Drake offers a multitude of free concerts to students throughout the year, including the annual Adventureland Festival of Bands. Also popular is the Drake Relays, held by the Drake University athletics department and consisting of races, art demos, and musical performances.
Tulane University of Louisiana
|New Orleans, LA||
This private research university is located in New Orleans, Louisiana and is considered one of the best universities in the state with an acceptance rate of only 17% for the graduating class of 2022. Founded as a medical school in 1834, Tulane evolved into a comprehensive university in 1847.
Student life is active at Tulane, with the student body represented by the Associated Student Body organization as well as the Undergraduate Student Government and the Professional Student Association. Throughout the year, these student bodies promote free concerts and sponsored events for students and members of the surrounding community. The most prominent is the annual food, music, and arts festival known as Crawfest. Crawfest offers guests free musical performances, food from local vendors, and more than 20,000 pounds of locally caught crawfish. Festivities are free for Tulane students and children under 12.
Princeton is a private Ivy League located in Princeton, New Jersey. Founded as the College of New Jersey in 1746, this school is the one of the five oldest educational institutions in the United States and one of only nine colleges founded prior to the American Revolution. Princeton offers undergraduate and graduate programs in the social sciences, humanities, engineering, and the natural sciences.
On campus housing is guaranteed to all undergraduate students and nearly all students opt to live in dormitories, consisting of six residential college spaces. These colleges host numerous social activities and events with guest speakers, musical performances, broadway shows, and games. On campus clubs are also social venues for students and guests on weekends and evenings. Princeton Lawn Parties are a series of year-round events for students and university administrators. These parties, hosted by the school's Undergraduate Student Government Social Committee, feature local and national artists, food, and art galleries, in addition to other activities for attendees.
Located in Brunswick, Maine, this private college provides undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral students with a primarily liberal arts education. When it was founded in 1794, Bowdoin was a part of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Today, this college offers more than 33 majors and several minors. Bowdoin is affiliated with Columbia University, Caltech, the University of Maine, and Dartmouth college, and also offers students a variety of joint-engineering programs.
With the abolishment of a traditional Greek system in the 1990's, Bowdoin's social outreach for students has turned to clubs, such as the Outing Club and the Peucinian Society, in addition to the school-hosted series of free concerts and events. The most famous, Ivies Week, takes place at the end of April each year. This festival is free to students prior to the day of admission and features live music performances from some of the nation's top artists.
Washington University in St Louis
|St. Louis, MO||
This private research university can be found in the metropolitan area of St. Louis, with additional campuses located throughout Missouri. Named after George Washington, the school serves students from throughout the country and in more than 120 countries. This university features seven undergraduate and graduate schools and offers degrees in a range of fields.
WashU has more than 300 on-campus organizations for students, most of which are funded through the Washington University Student Union, a student-controlled agency with a $2 million annual budget. Some of this money provides free concerts and events for WashU students. One such event, Walk In Lay Down (W.I.L.D), is a biannual event produced by the WUSTL Social Programming Board. The event is free to all students and includes live music, food, and other activities.
Though its flagship campus is located in Evanston, Illinois, Northwestern has campuses in Chicago, Qatar, Miami, District of Columbia, and San Francisco. NU is particularly well known for its management, law, medical, and music schools, though it offers a selective range of undergraduate programs. This research university boasts more than $650 million in research sponsorships each year.
In addition to an active Greek life, Northwestern is home to a number of student groups and organizations that host activities and musical events for students and members of surrounding communities throughout the year, including Dillo Day and the Wildcat Welcome. These events are free to students and include a lineup of local and prominent musicians, as well as food and other performances.
University of California-Los Angeles
|Los Angeles, CA||
UCLA is a public university located in the heart of downtown Los Angeles and is the southern branch of the University of California system. The school's population of almost 45,000 students may choose from more than 337 undergraduate and graduate degrees. In 2016, more prospective students applied for admission to UCLA than any other school in the country. The campus is near some of the country's largest entertainment venues, such as the LA County Museum of Art, the Getty Center, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
UCLA has more than 800 student-led associations, as well as multiple orchestras, a cappella groups, intramural sports leagues, and some 70 sororities and fraternities. Each year UCLA presents students with multiple free concerts and musical events. Due to its proximity to some of the world's most famous talent, it is expected that even small concerts will host some big names. UCLA's most famous event is an annual concert series known as the Jazz Reggae Fest. Admission is free to students and is a celebration of art, community, and music.
Located in Providence, New Jersey, this Ivy League research university was founded in 1764 and is the seventh oldest university in the U.S. Like Princeton, Brown is one of only nine colleges created before the American Revolution and was the first American college to admit students regardless of their religious affiliations.
Approximately 12% of students are members of sororities and fraternities. For students not interested in Greek life, Brown offers program houses. These houses are organized by themes, such as the technology house and the social action house. In earlier days, Brown societies were devoted to debate, but over time have evolved to become more student-interest oriented and entertainment focused. These groups host multiple free events and concerts for students throughout the year. Brown's annual Spring Weekend features local and national artists, such as Rico Nasty and NAO.
The State University of New York (SUNY) at Binghamton has campuses in Binghamton, Johnson City, and Vestal. Established as a small liberal arts college known as Triple Cities College in 1946, this school has grown into a large institution, offering a multitude of undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degrees. Binghamton is one of four universities in the SUNY system.
Student-led organizations make up a large part of the social scene at Binghamton. The Campus Activities Committee is responsible for providing free entertainment events like stand-up comedy, guest speakers, activities, and concerts for students and faculty. Binghamton's annual spring fling event, welcome week, and homecoming all feature free live music, games, and festival activities for students, teachers, and administrators.
Founded in 1859 as the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute, Hiram College has grown into a private liberal arts college offering nonsectarian education. Hiram is fully accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and features almost 70 registered student clubs and organizations divided amongst Greek life, musical, political, and academic interests. These clubs are primarily responsible for hosting free, on-campus events for students and teachers.
Hiram's most famous free event is a weeklong celebration known as Springfest and is held annually at the end of April. Activities include live music as well as games, caricatures, henna, comedians, and various theme parties. The final day of Springfest usually features the event's most famous artists, such as DJ Luke Nasty, featured in the fest's 2018 lineup. Admission is free to students and teachers. Community members may also attend for a small fee.
|Saratoga Springs, NY||
Located in Saratoga Springs, New York, Skidmore College is a private liberal arts college with approximately 2,650 students pursuing an undergraduate degree in 60 possible areas of study. Founded as an all-women's college in 1853, Skidmore began admitting men in 1971.
Throughout the year, Skidmore offers a number of events and services, the majority of which are free for students and faculty. While most events are hosted by clubs and are in some way representative of them, Skidmore also hosts multiple concert events for students, featuring artists from the community and around the country. Skidmore's Fun Day is the school's most famous event, considered by students as the final, pre-exam celebration consisting of a traditional music festival environment and a variety of free concerts.
Tufts University was founded in 1852 as a small liberal arts college. In the 1970's, Tufts underwent a major transformation and grew into a much larger, private-research university. Comprised of 10 schools, Tufts has four campuses in Boston and the French Alps. Students may earn their undergraduate, graduate, or doctorate degree in several academic fields. Tufts emphasizes the importance of public service and active citizenship.
While academia is revered at Tufts, the university also hosts a number of student-led organizations. These organizations are responsible for the sponsorship of many free concerts and events for students and faculty throughout the year, but primarily during the spring months. The most famous of these events is Tufts' annual Spring Fling. Tickets are free for students, though there may be a small convenience fee for online purchases. Events include activities and games, as well as live performances by local talent and some of the nation's recognized artists.
One of the most recognized schools in the world, Harvard is a private Ivy League school located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Founded in 1636, Harvard is by far the oldest recognized institution of higher education in the U.S., boasting an impressive roster of alumni, including eight U.S. presidents, several Rhodes Scholars, and approximately 62 living billionaires.
While Harvard is recognized for academic excellence, the last several years has seen growth in the development of student-run committees and associated festivities. Annual events such as Yardfest have seen increased engagement and attendance from both students and faculty. This outdoor concert event is free to students and includes live musical performances by local and national artists, as well as food trucks and art exhibitions. Festivities are hosted on the Harvard lawn and take place near the end of spring term.
Located in Claremont, California, Pomona College is a private, liberal arts school, founded in 1887 by a several Congregationalists looking to establish a "New England type" university on the west coast. In 1920, this school became the foundation of the Claremont Colleges consortium. This four-year college has almost 2,000 students and offers 48 academic majors. Students of Pomona may also attend classes at any other Claremont college.
Pomona is home to more than 200 student-led organizations and clubs, such as student government and the Pomona Events Committee. The PEC is a branch of the Associated Students of Pomona College and is tasked with creating free events for students both on and off campus. Some noteworthy events include Ski Beach day and the Yule Ball. During the warmer months, Pomona is host to multiple free concerts and festival events for students and faculty members.