Top 23 Party Schools in the US: Should You Go to One?

Do you know how to improve your profile for college applications?

See how your profile ranks among thousands of other students using CollegeVine. Calculate your chances at your dream schools and learn what areas you need to improve right now — it only takes 3 minutes and it's 100% free.

Show me what areas I need to improve

What’s Covered:

 

College is a special time in your life and most students want to take part in everything a college has to offer—from intellectually stimulating courses to interesting clubs and organizations to outside-of-the-classroom activities like partying. Attending a top party school is often a ticket to a great time in college, but it doesn’t have to come at the expense of academics; some of the top party schools in the U.S. also count themselves among the best colleges in the nation. 

 

What are the Characteristics of Party Schools?

 

There is no established formula for calculating the biggest party schools, so the lists you come across are usually more opinion than science. This process relies heavily on student surveys that aren’t exactly hard data. Nevertheless, the biggest party schools across the country do share similar characteristics.

 

Reputation 

 

It’s common for the “top” party school on popular lists to change every year, but there are plenty of colleges that find themselves on the lists of the biggest party schools every year. Some schools have simply earned reputations for their vibrant social scenes and the “work hard, play hard” ethos of their student body. In many cases, these reputations are self-fulfilling, as a school’s notoriety for Saturday afternoon tailgating, robust Greek Life, or a preponderance of bars attracts students interested in those things. 

 

Greek Life 

 

Classic movies like Animal House, Old School, and Neighbors are just a few examples of the stereotypical presentation of Greek life in popular culture and there is some truth behind these depictions. A survey from Niznik Behavioral Health found that students affiliated with a fraternity or sorority average more drinks consumed per college party and more college parties attended than their non-affiliated peers. For comparison, about 36% of college students binge drink on a monthly basis, while 86% of fraternity brothers binge drink on a monthly basis. So, colleges with a large Greek scene may appear more often on the lists of the country’s biggest party schools.

 

Bars and Nightlife

 

Massive parties, crazy keggers, and other on-campus festivities are what many think of when college parties come to mind, but accessibility to bars and nightlife is another tell-tale sign of a party school. For example, the city of Madison, Wisconsin—home to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a regular on “top party school” lists—has 226 bars and restaurants for every 100,000 residents (the nationwide average is 184 drinking establishments per 100,000 people).

 

It’s not just proximity to bars, but also access. The legal drinking age is the same across the country, but the legal age to enter a bar is not. For example, in Champaign, Illinois, it’s 19, and in Urbana, Illinois, it’s 18. You don’t have to be a math major to see how this adds up to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has a thriving party scene and why it consistently appears on lists of the biggest party schools.    

 

Athletics

 

One thing many colleges with party school reputations have in common is big-time college athletic programs. Some argue that schools that place their athletic programs in the spotlight de-emphasize academic success. 

 

It’s not a hard link to make—a survey of University of Oregon students found that almost half the men and 28% of women increased partying when the school’s football team was doing well. It’s worth noting that the colleges with the three largest football stadiums (and five of the top ten) all appear on our list of the top 23 party schools. 

 

Events

 

Large-scale events are another way colleges earn reputations as top-party schools. For example, the University of California-Santa Barabra’s Deltopia (formerly known as Floatopia), a booze-filled block party, has grown to regularly attract more than 10,000 people, and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day is an event known for drinking (it originated as a bar promotion) and has fueled the school’s reputation as a party school. 

 

Top 23 Party Schools

 

School 

Location 

Undergraduate Enrollment 

Acceptance Rate 

University of Alabama

Tuscaloosa, AL

33,000

59%

University of California Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara, CA

23,000

32%

Clark Atlanta University

Atlanta, GA 

3,300 

52%

University of Dayton

Dayton, OH

8,600

72%

University of Delaware

Newark, DE

19,900

66%

Florida State University

Tallahassee, FL 

32,400

37%

University of Georgia

Athens, GA

29,600

49%

Howard University

Washington, D.C.

6,200

32%

Indiana University Bloomington

Bloomington, IN

33,300

77%

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Champaign, IL

33,900

62%

University of Iowa

Iowa City, IO

23,900

83%

Miami University

Oxford, OH

17,300

75%

Michigan State University

East Lansing, MI

39,400

78%

University of Mississippi

University, MS

18,000

88%

Ohio University

Columbus, OH 

46,800

52%

Penn State

University Park, PA

40,300 

56%

University of Southern California

Los Angeles, CA

19,900

13%

Southern Methodist University

Dallas, TX 

6,400

51%

Syracuse University

Syracuse, NY 

15,200

50%

University of Texas at Austin

Austin, TX

40,800

39%

Tulane University

New Orleans, LA

7,900

17%

West Virginia University

Morgantown, WV

21,100

82%

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Madison, WI 

31,700

52%

 

Discover your chances at hundreds of schools

Our free chancing engine takes into account your history, background, test scores, and extracurricular activities to show you your real chances of admission—and how to improve them.


 

Can You Still Get a Good Education at Party Schools?

 

Getting a great education is possible even at the biggest party schools. In fact, many of the top party schools are also the top schools in the country. For example, the University of California-Santa Barbara, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the University of Georgia makes both our list of top party schools and our top 15 Public Universities in the U.S.

 

Colleges offer a broad range of experiences, and students who want to seek out nightlife and parties will find them at almost every school in the country. Conversely, serious students will discover intellectually challenging coursework and like-minded peers to push them in their studies on nearly every campus. Many will learn how to balance both the academic and social sides of college. 

 

Is a Party School Right for You?

 

Party schools aren’t for every student and while national studies show that 44% of all college students are binge drinkers, that means 56% are not. Whether a student is just focused on academics, introverted, or wants to avoid drinking and drug use they have access to options even at the top party schools. 

 

Many colleges—even those with reputations for hard-partying—have substance-free living accommodations. For example, the Healthy Lifestyles Living Learning Community at the University of Texas at Austin is dedicated to substance-free lifestyles. 

 

Other students may want to simply steer clear of the factors that often coincide with partying. Avoiding schools that place a large focus on their athletic programs is an option. Another is to choose a college without Greek life, or with low student engagement rates in Greek life. In general, liberal arts colleges have smaller athletic programs, Greek life is absent or plays a diminished role, and have a more academically inclined atmosphere than large public universities.

 

How to Find Your Best-Fit Schools

 

There are a lot of factors to consider when building a college list and each student has their own unique needs and wants. Best-fit schools are those that match a student’s specific academic, social, and financial needs. There are a variety of elements to consider when searching for best-fit schools, and the party/social scene is just one of them. Others include: 

 

  • Academics: Does the college offer the major you’re interested in? Are the class sizes ideal? Are the professors available to the students outside of the classroom? 

 

  • Extracurriculars: Does the school offer activities you’re interested in? Are there intramural sports? A college newspaper? A particular student group you’re interested in?

 

  • Location: Urban, suburban, rural, close to the ocean, near the mountains, near home, or far away? 

 

  • Housing: Do you want to live on campus? Off-campus? In a living-learning community?

 

  • Outcomes: Will the school deliver on your goals? What is their four-year graduation rate? Six-year graduation rate? What percentage of graduates are employed? What percentage go on to graduate school? 

 

  • Study abroad: Does the school have a study abroad program? Does it offer a location you want to study in? What percentage of students study abroad? 

 

How a school aligns with a student is as important as its reputation. For example, Harvey Mudd College has a sterling reputation for its programs in engineering, science, and mathematics, which is ideal if a student is interested in STEM but less so for a student that wants to pursue a career in theatre. (Though HMC is known for students who have an interest in both STEM and the humanities).

 

CollegeVine can help you find a school that meets your college needs. Our college search tool allows you to filter hundreds of schools by a variety of variables, including public vs. private, college type, acceptance rate, and location—you can even sort colleges by whether or not they have a Division I football program. 


Once you’ve made your college list, our free chancing engine uses a variety of metrics—like GPA, test scores, and extracurricular activities—to predict your odds of acceptance. This tool is perfect for discovering where a school fits on your list.

 

 

Want more college admissions tips?

We'll send you information to help you throughout the college admissions process.

Short Bio
A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in English, Tim Peck currently lives in Concord, New Hampshire, where he balances a freelance writing career with the needs of his two Australian Shepherds to play outside.

Don't miss out on the best high school & college admissions resources!

Join thousands of students and parents getting exclusive high school, test prep, and college admissions information.