In popular culture, college life is often portrayed as a nonstop party full of fun, bacchanalian times. While these portrayals are a bit exaggerated, some colleges have garnered reputations as being particularly festive. This raises the following questions: should you go to a party school? And can you get a good education at a party school?
In this article, I'll define what a party school is, provide party school rankings, and explain how you can still get a quality education from a college known for its epic parties.
What Is a Party School?
A party school has a very active on-campus party scene. In other words, there are frequent and numerous parties, which are usually well attended and act as popular social events for students.
Universities that are described as party schools generally have high rates of student drinking and drug use as well as a large number of fraternities and sororities.
The best parties have cake...even the college ones.
What Are the Top Party Colleges?
Our list below is based on Niche's list of the top party schools in the US for 2022. According to Niche, the biggest party schools are those at which had a variety of nighttime entertainment options both on and off campus, as well as student bodies that are "fun, friendly, and into partying."
Most top party schools are large public universities. Because large schools have more students, they often have a more vibrant social scene and more fraternities and sororities.
Below, I've created a table with the top 20 party schools, their undergraduate enrollments, and the average range of standardized test scores of admitted applicants. All private colleges are in bold.
|Middle 50% SAT
|Middle 50% ACT
|UC Santa Barbara
|Santa Barbara, CA
|New Orleans, LA
|Florida State University
|The University of Alabama—Tuscaloosa
|University of Wisconsin—Madison
|University of Georgia
|University of Southern California
|Los Angeles, CA
|University of Illinois--Champaign Urbana
|West Virginia University
|University Park, PA
|University of Mississippi
|University of Iowa
|Iowa City, IA
|San Diego State University
|San Diego, CA
|Michigan State University
|East Lansing, MI
Can You Get a Good Education at a Party School?
You can definitely get a good education at a party school. Some of the top party colleges are also some of the best schools in the US. For example, UC Santa Barbara, the #1 ranked party school, was ranked the #7 public school in the US and the #32 national university by US News. It's part of the University of California system, which includes some of the top research universities in the world.
Meanwhile, UCSB, the #16 ranked party school, is ranked both the #5 public school and the #28 national university by US News. It's part of the University of California system, which includes some of the top research universities in the world.
It's also important to note that not all students who attend top party colleges participate in the party culture. Even at party schools, there are many students who don't party. Students who don't party often find a community of like-minded students in their dorms or in various on-campus organizations. Especially at large public universities, there are so many students that you're bound to find plenty of people who aren't party animals.
How Do You Get a Good Education at a Party School?
At almost every college, there are parties and temptation that can get in the way of your studies. At party schools, there's even more temptation because there are more parties and more students who like to party.
Personally, I don't think there's anything wrong with doing some partying in college, but you have to take care that you're not letting your partying get in the way of your academic success.
As long as you do the following, you'll be able to enjoy the occasional party and get an exceptional education.
#1: Manage Your Time
Regardless of whether you party or not, time management is essential when you're in college. For many students, college is the first time they don't have their parents regularly telling them what to do and when to do it.
If you've got a test Friday morning, you need to have the discipline to not stay out late partying on Thursday instead of preparing for your test and getting a good night's sleep. If you've got a big paper due Monday, maybe you shouldn't spend all weekend partying and start your paper Sunday evening. Even though some students can get away with this behavior, I wouldn't advise it.
To manage your time more effectively, I recommend establishing a routine each semester that will enable your academic success. Many of my Stanford peers would dedicate themselves to studying Monday-Thursday nights, relax and have fun Friday nights and Saturdays, and spend most of the day on Sundays on their academics.
The amount of time you need to spend studying and doing classwork will vary depending on your class schedule and academic strengths, but it's imperative you develop habits that will allow you to be successful.
If you're working part-time or participating in athletics or other extracurricular activities, you'll have less available study time, so you'll have to manage your time exceptionally well.
At Stanford, I was on the gymnastics team and had an on-campus job. Because my free time was limited, I knew that I had to take advantage of the hours I had available to focus on my academics. I did a decent job of managing my time, so I was ultimately able to have ample time for fun, too.
#2: Remember Your Priorities
Reminding yourself why you're in college can help prevent you from letting parties take precedence. You probably worked hard in high school and chose to attend college to get a quality education and useful opportunities.
What's more, college is a costly investment. If you neglect your studies to party, you're not getting the most out of your educational opportunities.
For 2022-23, the total cost of attendance for one year at Tulane—the #2 party school—is more than $82,000. Hopefully, you wouldn't want to pay that much money just so you can go to Mardi Gras with your friends!
#3: Choose Your Classes Wisely
When you're choosing your class schedule, try to pick the classes that interest you and will help you graduate with your desired major.
Too many students try to avoid Friday classes or early morning classes so that school won't interfere with their partying. Because of your other responsibilities and time commitments, you might not be able to take every class that interests you, but, ideally, you won't allow your intended partying schedule to influence the classes you take.
Admittedly, I didn't like early morning classes and preferred not to take them because I'm not a morning person. However, I still ended up taking all the classes I needed and wanted to take.
#4: Maintain Balance
In college, you're likely going to have to juggle a number of responsibilities, in addition to the parties you might be attending.
Many college students go to class, work, and participate in extracurricular activities. They can't party so much that it takes away from their other responsibilities, but they're able to find the time to be able to work hard and play hard.
On the other hand, there are many students who spend so much time in the library that they forget to have fun and interact socially with their peers. I definitely encountered some of these students during my time at Stanford. I recommend that you make sure to have fun while you're in college and enjoy yourself.
I'm not advocating breaking any laws, but some of my greatest memories are from my social activities with my friends while I was in college. Parties can help form and strengthen friendships, and they can give you some quality stories you'll cherish when you're older and all your friends are too busy to party.
Conclusion: Should You Go to a Party School?
Even though you're not in college to party, parties can be a large part of the college experience, regardless of the school you attend. While party schools have more parties more often, they still offer quality educations.
One of my friends who went to the University of Illinois excelled during his undergraduate years and ended up getting a PhD in Engineering from UC Berkeley. On the other hand, another friend who went there spent too much time partying and lost his athletic scholarship due to drug use.
Similarly, even at a college that's not considered a party school, you can party too hard and suffer academic, legal, or health consequences due to irresponsible partying.
In large part, the quality of your education and your future success is dependent on the choices you make while you're in school. If you make wise choices and prioritize your time, you can get an exceptional education—and have fun doing so!
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Justin has extensive experience teaching SAT prep and guiding high school students through the college admissions and selection process. He is firmly committed to improving equity in education and helping students to reach their educational goals. Justin received an athletic scholarship for gymnastics at Stanford University and graduated with a BA in American Studies.