What Is a Party School? Here’s How You Can Decide!
Parents of college-bound students may turn pale at the thought of their son or daughter choosing a college that has been hyped up as a “party school.” However, the sources that label a college as a party school tend to be quite informal.
Informal party school rankings often list schools that are also academically demanding. For example, the “top schools” in the most recent Princeton Review “rankings” of party schools included Lehigh, Bucknell, Tulane and was Forest, all very selective private universities with fewer than 7,000 undergraduates based in different campus settings.
But most of the schools listed by the Princeton Review and other sites include Niche, PubClub and University Prime Time are larger. Only two, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of California-Santa Barbara were listed on all four. Both have over 20,000 undergraduates. Coincidentally both are very attractive campuses located in very nice waterfront college towns.
On first impressions, a party school would appear to have:
- Fraternities and sororities as a social center on campus
- The significant majority of students living off campus
- A successful athletic program that draws the students to attend and support the teams
But although both schools do not house the vast majority of their undergraduates less than a fifth of the undergraduates at either school belong to the Greek organizations. In Madison, a community that is very familiar to me, there are so many things for students to do on and off campus that Greek life is relatively unimportant.
Wisconsin has a successful athletic program, especially in football, men’s basketball and men’s and women’s hockey. Santa Barbara does not play football although it has had extremely successful programs in men’s soccer, baseball, men’s and women’s basketball, water polo, swimming and men’s and women’s volleyball. It ranks first in attendance for NCAA Division I Men’s Soccer. But its hard to imagine a team that draws an average of 3,800 fans a game generating the level of local excitement of a Wisconsin Badgers football or basketball game.
This is an extremely small sample, only two schools, but it shows that prospective students and their parents need to spend time on campus to get a true feel of the community. Among the questions to ask during your visits:
- Would I have help in looking for off-campus housing? The schools that have the best offices offer advise in reviewing leases and provide information about local housing ordinances. Some college communities are very strict on the number of unrelated people who can live in the same apartment or house. They might also have noise, parking and garbage regulations, among other rules.
- Where do most students live when they move off campus? The closer that students may live near campus, the easier it is to invite others to party at home. The closer together they live, the more likely you could see block parties.
- Is there a fraternity row? The closer that fraternity houses are together, the more likely you could see block parties on a street . The further apart they are, the more likely that students will need to walk further, or drive to parties.
- Do you notice a large presence of bars, liquor stores and head shops in the surrounding community that appear to advertise to students in their windows? Students dominate the shopper base in some colleges towns more than they do in others. The pedestrian traffic and the up-front marketing will tell you that.
- Do major events that bring the campus together? Three examples that draw a large attendance and raise considerable sums of money for charity: THON Dance Marathon at Penn State-University Park, Grand Prix at Purdue and the Little 500 at Indiana University-Bloomington.
- If the school plays football or men’s basketball in a highly competitive conference, do students go to the games? While schools such as Ohio State in football or Kentucky in men’s basketball will always draw very well, no matter the record, others that have “on and off” success will draw only if the team is having a successful season.
The answers that you get, plus a good look at campus and community, will help you to make your own judgements about whether a college is a party school.
For more help in comparing colleges, contact me at email@example.com or call me at 609-406-0062
And what should parents do when a “party school” seems to have a good fit academic program, even if the kid is not a “party person?”
Parents should feel confident that their son or daughter will graduate college on time with their degree, a direction for their future and a network, especially friends, that will be there for the rest of their life.