Top 10 Colleges for Drinking

Top Drinking Colleges

By Brendan Mckenna

Say what you will about the dangers of college drinking—it will probably always be an integral part of collegiate life. These ten colleges and universities, located coast to coast, are connected by their shared proclivity for partying hard. But did you know that while the booze can be the same coast-to-coast, the party techniques may differ depending on the size of the school?

#10: University of Wisconsin-Madison

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is known for its strong college town (bars, restaurants, museums, scenery) along with stellar athletics. Like many of the schools in this top ten, it also possesses a vibrant Greek scene. The academics aren’t too shabby either, with over 4,000 classes and 140 majors. One consequence that comes with all those choices: the university is massive, with 30,000 undergrads. This means is that many students may never end up saying a word to most of their professors, especially in the first years. Athletics go hand in hand with the partying, and play a huge part in shaping the typical student’s identity. There is another difference between Wisconsin and (nearly) all the other colleges on the list: while many are amongst the most conservative, this is the opposite—a liberal bastion in a historically progressive state.

#9: Bucknell University

Bucknell, located in rural Pennsylvania and founded in 1846 by a local Baptist church, has long been a center of academic excellence. Ranked highly for both Greek life and alcohol use in our survey, the school is also known for accessible professors and campus safety (which makes sense considering its bucolic charms). While the social life revolves around pledging a sorority or fraternity, there are other options if you are looking for alternatives: “Theater productions, classical and jazz concerts, lectures, Bingo, free/cheap movies—these things happen every weekend, so there is always something to do. You just have to look for it,” writes a senior who participates in a variety of student activities in addition to Greek life. But the Greeks do have an edge here in the social scene.

#8: Penn State - University Park

Despite it party reputation, it seems the celebrations are more centered on Nittany Lions football games and THON, the 46-hour dance marathon/fundraiser for pediatric cancer research that is world's largest student-run philanthropic venture. Enormous pride of place tends to overcome any other concerns—students don’t seem to want to leave, and alumni can’t wait to come back. 

#7: Union College (NY)

Many renowned national fraternities originated at this 150-year-old college in Schenectady, New York, which gives you some idea of what the social scene is like here (it is, after all, known as the “Mother of Fraternities”). Like many of the colleges with a reputation for drinking, academics are also tough—in this case, the learning challenges are lessened because of what many consider to be an ideal foundation for their studies: the trimester system. But the Greek scene dominates here too, with the frats and sororities so omnipresent that “they also make a point of resisting efforts by the administration to tamp it down.” A freshman writes that “the frats are amazing…great parties that dominate the social scene.” While many take pride in the social scene, many lament the lack of better alternatives to a constant drunken stupor—but we wonder if old habits die hard at any school dating back to 1795?

#6: Vanderbilt University

Vanderbilt University of Nashville is a renowned research university, among the highest rated in the world for its schools of education, law, medicine, and nursing. It is also in the top ten for drinking and partying—and general expensiveness, with a dash of Southern charm. Like fellow Southern college Washington and Lee (see number three), Greek life is huge at Vanderbilt. With a longstanding reputation for partying, students drink to the extent that their studies allow, but they do it dressed to the nines (think pearls and Lily Pulitzer). “Students looking to climb the social ranks at Vanderbilt (and even the academic ones) are careful to dress well, network wisely, rush the right frat or sorority, and party as hard as their studies allow,” one undergrad offers. We wonder what it would mean to drink without embarrassing; perhaps the answer can be found at this prestigious university?

#5: Claremont McKenna College

Claremont McKenna College is one of the Claremont Colleges of California and ranks number five for drinking (while its fellow Claremont College Pitzer is in the top ten for brainiest students). Students face challenging academics, with many choosing to pursue economics—and it is the most conservative of the Claremonts, buttoned-down unlike the more hippy Pitzer. One thousand students strong, it matches its reputation for small class sizes and top professors with a jock culture and heavy bouts of drinking. The lack of fraternities and sororities does not stop students from celebrating with booze: “there are no fraternities, but because the campus is so small and alcohol-friendly, it's kind of like one really big frat.”

#4: Providence College

Rhode Island’s Providence College, the only Catholic school administered by the Dominican Brothers in the United States, has a heavy-duty World Civ requirement that keeps the relatively homogeneous student body busy. At the same time (and despite the lack of a Greek system on campus), students know how to party, keeping many of the adjoining neighborhood bars filled to the rafters all week long. But they are also a responsible bunch, generally waiting until after the work is done to release the tension. At the same time, “many consider partying to be a part of the requirements at PC, so anyone looking to escape the debauchery will have to venture off campus.” So when at Providence, work hard and, apparently, play harder.

#3: Washington and Lee University

Preppy, conservative, J. Crew, partying, fraternities and sororities—these words can all aptly describe the 2,200 students at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, 260 years old and still thriving. While the students love to party (and to go Greek—80% pledge), the academics also seem to be intense, and the college boasts a low 15% acceptance rate. Reviews note that “W&L students are expected to be just as aggressive on the dance floor as in the library,” and this: “expect to stretch your mind during the day and blitz it away on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday nights,” Those three nights of studying are likely to be quite busy to make up for the four nights of partying. Maybe there are more than 24 hours in a day in Lexington?

#2: Tulane University

Tulane, forever linked to New Orleans, and thus indirectly, Hurricane Katrina, has maintained its partying mojo despite the challenges of the past decade. But it is also known for small class sizes and has been able to grow its well-funded endowment despite the stock market dip and recession of 2008-2010. Since 2006, the campus has been renovated extensively, which has restored some pride and stability to New Orleans as a whole. As for the academics, “Students take classes seriously to varying degrees. A lot of students drop out, and some never enjoy the nightlife. The key to success at Tulane is to find a balance in between getting all of your coursework done and having the time of your life.” So, let the good times roll, but not so much that students roll right out of the school.

#1: West Virginia University

Widely known as a party school, West Virginia University ranks number one in our survey. In the words of one undergrad, “many students prefer to party at local bars or at each others’ houses and apartments. Or, since they’re in West Virginia, an open field will do.” Morgantown, where the university is located, accommodates students with a liberal 18+ door policy at the local watering holes. To balance the party atmosphere, beautiful scenery abounds, something that many more urban schools lack. One student offers additional activities for non drinkers: “go[ing to] see bands play at 123 Pleasant St., go[ing] to the mall or movies…or just hang[ing] out with your friends downtown or at their place."

Partying offers up a universal appeal, whether at a large university or small college, liberal or conservative, tops in academics or not. But don’t forget to stay healthy and balance hedonism with other outlets for the stress that every college student faces over the course of their four years (or five, or six…).

Photo courtesy of PinkMoose