When it comes to choosing your future university, school culture is a major factor to consider. Do you want to attend a prestigious school with a reputation for rigorous classes? Do you want to enjoy the “college experience” and have a great time? Or are you looking for something in between?
In this guide, we’ll rank universities with a “work hard, play hard” mentality. If you’re interested in attending a party school with strong academics, add some of these schools to your list!
What Is a Party School?
Party schools have active social scenes. They’re known for a wide range of nightlife options both on campus and off. Typically, they also have high rates of student drinking. Of course, not all students who attend party schools participate in party culture.
Most party schools are large public universities. Due to their large student bodies, they have more fraternities and sororities that are highly active. They also tend to have more competitive sports teams, leading to a spirited, festive atmosphere and plenty of reasons to celebrate.
Can You Get a Good Education at a Party School?
You can absolutely get a good education at a party school! Many schools known for partying are also highly regarded for their academics.
Ultimately, your success at any university depends on your choices. Will you be able to prioritize and manage your time at a highly social school, or will party culture be a distraction for you? If you’re confident that you can balance socializing and studying, you can get a great education at a party school.
Top Party Schools with Strong Academics
Now, let’s check out a list of party schools ranked by academics!
The following schools regularly appear on “best party school” lists, and they’re also highly ranked by U.S. News and World Report. Each school’s U.S. News and World Report rankings are listed in parentheses. Note that some numbers are repeated because of ties in the rankings.
University of Pennsylvania (Private, No. 8 overall)
Known as “the social Ivy,” Penn offers both top-notch academics and plenty of opportunities to have fun. Although it may not be as much of a party school as some state universities, Penn does have a robust Greek life and plenty of nearby bars and clubs. There are more than 450 student organizations, and the most popular on-campus event is Spring Fling, an outdoor music festival.
Vanderbilt University (Private, No. 14 overall)
Another work-hard, play-hard university, Vanderbilt is often called “the Ivy of the South.” Despite its stellar reputation, Vandy also has an active Greek scene, plenty of parties in dorms and off-campus apartments, and easy access to Nashville nightlife. Its sports teams aren’t especially competitive, but students also enjoy the tailgates and parties common to other schools in the SEC.
University of California- Los Angeles (No. 1 public, No. 20 overall)
UCLA students are serious about their academics, but between Greek life and a thriving social scene Thursday through Saturday nights, they also know how to have a good time. Its Los Angeles location offers plenty of shops, restaurants, bars, and clubs. On campus, students cheer on the UCLA Bruins and have more than 1,200 student organizations to choose from.
University of Michigan- Ann Arbor (No. 3 public, No. 23 overall)
The University of Michigan enrolls more than 50,000 students, so there’s no shortage of parties, student organizations, and activities. Its football fan base is one of the most spirited in the country. The game day atmosphere is electric, with plentiful tailgates and parties. In 2021, Ann Arbor was ranked as the nation’s best college town for its diverse range of restaurants, bars, and nature activities.
University of Virginia (No. 4 public, No. 25 overall)
Studying occupies much of the week for students at UVA, but extracurricular opportunities are plentiful, and about 25% of students participate in Greek life. Apartment parties, bars, and sporting events are also popular. Charlottesville’s restaurants, hiking trails, and downtown malls are easily accessible from campus.
University of California Santa Barbara (No. 5 public, No. 28 overall)
Located just steps from the Pacific Ocean, UC Santa Barbara is known for its proximity to both beaches and mountains. It has over 500 student organizations, and about 11% of students participate in sororities and fraternities. Both the community of Isla Vista and the university itself offer plenty of parties, events, and activities to choose from.
University of Florida (No. 5 public, No. 28 overall)
Like most other party schools, UF has a strong Greek presence and a vast range of student activities and organizations. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, nicknamed The Swamp, is one of the loudest football stadiums in the country, and students proudly cheer on their basketball Gators in the “O Dome” too. Game day tailgates and parties are common, and the football team faces off against Georgia in “The World’s Largest Cocktail Party” annually. Each year, students look forward to Gator Stompin’, an end-of-year pub crawl through midtown and downtown Gainesville.
University of Southern California (Private, No. 28 overall)
Students at USC say there’s plenty of academic pressure, but plenty of parties too. The USC Trojans have historically been among the most competitive college sports teams in the country, and students call school spirit “extreme” and “infectious.” There are more than 850 student organizations on campus, and Greek life is extremely popular. Downtown Los Angeles also provides access to art, culture, clubs, bars, restaurants, shops, concerts, and more.
Wake Forest University (Private, No. 28 overall)
Wake Forest is known for both hard working students and a vibrant social scene. Wake Forest has a big-school sports feel at a smaller school and a highly visible Greek life. Students say the school’s schedule is “always bustling with extracurricular activities.” In addition to downtown bars and clubs, students enjoy on-campus events like concerts, movie nights, carnivals, dances, and festivals.
University of Texas at Austin (No. 10 public, No. 38 overall)
Austin is one of the country’s most vibrant cities, home to a thriving music scene and many bars, restaurants, clubs, and pubs. UT Austin also has an on-campus bar with live music events and open mic nights, and tailgating and partying for football games is a popular student activity.
Tulane University (Private, No. 42 overall)
Tulane is located in New Orleans, providing easy access to some of the best music, food, and parties in the country. Over 40% of students participate in Greek life, and the university offers over 200 student clubs and organizations. Students enjoy nearby bars, clubs, restaurants, and local events like Crawfest and—of course—Mardi Gras.
University of Wisconsin- Madison (No. 14 public, No. 42 overall)
UW-Madison has a robust Greek life and a vibrant social scene on campus and off. There’s a bar in the student union and several bars on nearby State Street, which also offers a variety of restaurants and shops. Madison was previously named the best college football town in the world, and students love cheering on their Big 10 sports teams. They also participate in local events like Madison’s annual Brat Fest and the massive Mifflin Street block party.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (No. 15 public, No. 47 overall)
UIUC is a Big Ten university with a spirited student body and more than 1,800 student organizations. It also has a major sorority and fraternity presence, along with multiple on-campus bars. The university is rumored to have invented Homecoming over 100 years ago, and the annual Homecoming event is one of the biggest on campus.
University of Georgia (No. 16 public, No. 48 overall)
Located in downtown Athens, the University of Georgia is near many restaurants, bars, and pubs. The competitive SEC school has strong football traditions and is known for all-day tailgate parties. UGA competes annually with its fellow party school the University of Florida in “the World’s Largest Cocktail Party.” It also has many sororities and fraternities known for parties like Pajama Jam, which is called “the biggest party in the southeast.”
Ohio State University (No. 17 public, No. 49 overall)
OSU students claim that it’s “impossible to be bored” at Ohio State. With thousands of student activities and organizations, numerous intramural and club sports, and wildly popular sports teams, there’s no shortage of fun events to enjoy. Downtown bars and clubs are popular, but students also appreciate art galleries, coffee shops, weekly karaoke and trivia, and delicious restaurants in Columbus.
Florida State University (No. 19 public, No. 55 overall)
Florida State students take great pride in cheering on the FSU Seminoles, and they enjoy Tallahassee’s thriving nightlife. With over 800 student organizations and 54 fraternities and sororities, there are also plenty of on-campus social gatherings and events.
Syracuse University (Private, No. 59 overall)
Syracuse students form “Otto’s Army” during basketball games and host spirited tailgates before football teams. They attend annual school events like the Jam Juice concert and Mayfest, an all-day festival of food, drink, and entertainment. Typically, impromptu block parties spring up during March Madness. Downtown Syracuse is also home to numerous restaurants and bars.
Pennsylvania State University (No. 23 public, No. 63 overall)
Penn State’s party atmosphere reaches its peak during football season, when thousands of students and fans tailgate and party before and after games. There’s a strong Greek presence on campus, and local college bars provide fun nightlife options and even live music.
Indiana University- Bloomington (No. 26 public, No. 68 overall)
Home to over 750 student organizations, more than 65 fraternities and sororities, and the famous Hoosier basketball team, Indiana University-Bloomington has a bustling social scene. Hoops Hysteria kicks off basketball season each year, and tailgating during football season is also a popular student activity. Local Bloomington bars cater to students on game day and throughout the year.
Michigan State University (No. 33 public, No. 83 overall)
Michigan State kicks off the year with the Spartan Remix, a festival of music, art, and culture. Throughout the year, students enjoy an active Greek life, themed parties at local bars, numerous on-campus activities, sporting events, tailgating, and other game-day traditions.
How to Get a Good Education at a Party School
Every school has parties and distractions that can interfere with your studying. Of course, party schools have even more temptation. And succeeding at a school that’s known for both partying and excellent academics can be tough.
There’s nothing wrong with having a great time in college. In fact, you should enjoy the experience. But it’s important not to let your partying stop you from reaching your full academic potential. So, how can you go to a party school and still thrive academically?
In the phrase “work hard, play hard,” there’s a reason that “work” comes first. Remember that you’re ultimately in college to learn, grow, and prepare for a successful career. Enjoy yourself, but don’t lose sight of your priorities and goals.
Plus, keep in mind that college is one of the most expensive investments you’ll ever make. You aren’t spending thousands of dollars just to party and neglect your academics. Take advantage of the opportunity to learn from world-class professors, build your skills and knowledge, and set the stage for a successful and profitable career.
Manage Your Time
Time management is the key to getting an exceptional education at a party school. During the first couple weeks of each semester, try to gauge your workload and how much you’ll need to study for each class.
Next, create a routine that will help you balance fun and academics. For example, you may do the bulk of your schoolwork and studying on Monday-Wednesday, enjoy yourself Thursday-Saturday, and spend Sunday relaxing and reading for your classes.
Of course, your routine will depend on your class schedule. If you have an early class Friday, for example, you shouldn’t go out on Thursday nights. If you have a crucial exam on Monday, you may want to take the weekend off from partying and focus on studying instead.
If you build a routine that allows you to be productive, you’ll have plenty of time for fun too.
We’ve all fallen victim to procrastination, but it’s impossible to have a balanced college life if you frequently procrastinate. For instance, if you plan to socialize Thursday-Sunday, but you procrastinate on studying until Wednesday, both your academic goals and your social life will suffer. Even if you decide to follow through with your partying plans, you won’t enjoy yourself as much when you have schoolwork hanging over your head.
The key is to not only build a solid routine, but to stick to it as well. Once you’ve found a routine that works for you, commit to it. If you’re tempted to procrastinate, remind yourself that if you want to have fun over the weekend, you need to get your studying and schoolwork done on schedule.
Find Study Buddies
Make sure that you aren’t only forming friendships based on partying. You want friends who will encourage you to study when you have a big test the next day, instead of pressuring you to go out.
Studying can be a social activity too, so find friends in your major who are willing to have a shared study session or brainstorm for a paper. If your friends are equally committed to balancing work and play, it’ll be much easier to get a good education at a party school.
If you want to attend a school that offers both partying and top-notch academics, the 20 schools on this list are for you! While you can absolutely get an excellent education and succeed academically at a party school, it ultimately comes down to the choices you make.
Have fun, but prioritize academics and manage your time wisely. Don’t choose partying over staying in and studying the night before a big test, or go out all weekend and try to speed-write a major paper on Sunday night. Learn to recognize when you have time to socialize and when it’s time to buckle down and work hard.
Avoid procrastination and surround yourself with friends who are equally committed to balancing academics and fun. With the right mindset, you can thrive both socially and academically in college.