The fine American tradition of hitting the books and the bars equally hard has evolved in recent years. Yes, an institution worthy of inclusion on our annual list of top party schools still needs to offer numerous and frequent opportunities for collective debauchery. But these days colleges have been offering more creative approaches to partying, along with world-class nightlife and musical events that make the competition even fiercer. Here’s this year’s best of the best, as well as a look at schools that are expanding the definition of what constitutes a good time.
10) SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY
Orange is the new booze
Syracuse kids bleed orange as much as they bleed booze and are shameless in their exploits. Sex in the library? Recommended. Braving the hedonism of MayFest, the annual spring marathon of music and drinking? Advisable. Zedd, 2 Chainz and Kesha have performed here. Off-campus students let loose in the streets among tolerant cops and rally at Castle Court, a parking lot flanked by apartments that is a mecca for tailgating and general debauchery. And with a respectable football team in the Atlantic Coast Conference, drinking beer for breakfast on Saturday is common practice.
9) UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS
The longhorniest school
As if Longhorns didn’t already have practically everything they need on their sprawling, well-situated campus, the city of Austin also hosts about five music festivals per capita every year. If SXSW party crashing or open-air revelry at Austin City Limits in Zilker Park won’t do, Sixth Street is a standby for sousing. The quintessential spot is the Aquarium, where dancing on the bar is encouraged. For a more civilized drinking experience, students can save up their beer money and splurge at one of the city’s many mixology bars.
8) COLORADO STATE UNIVERSITY
The many bars that line College Avenue in Fort Collins’s Old Town offer the standard raucous diversions, but Fort Fun’s legendary house parties are where CSU really distinguishes itself. These fests can encompass whole blocks, and more than a few have blown up into SWAT-required riots. Since Colorado turned green last year, Rams have been enjoying the Rocky Mountain highs alongside FoCo’s can’t-beat-’em vistas.
7) UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI
Vice City’s university of vice
With Magic City in its backyard, the University of Miami has more bikinis, EDM and free-flowing tequila than Cabo during spring break. The coastal campus provides ready access to Ultra Music Festival and Miami Music Week, which makes all-night raving and pool parties just another part of the curriculum. When not shuffling to thumping beats, Hurricanes skip class and saddle up to happy hour at on-campus bar the Rat before busing up to South Beach and Brickell, where fake IDs give access to some of the best nightlife and DJs in the country. Pro tip: Hook up with the wealthier kids so you can party on their parents’ yachts in the bay.
6) UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA SANTA CRUZ
Institute of higher learning
Long before other states adopted a lenient attitude toward THC, UC Santa Cruz was a premier nature-loving pothead’s paradise. You’re deep in the redwoods and within biking distance of the Pacific Ocean, and the campus is an idyllic place to smoke the day or night away. We’re declaring the school’s April 20 smoke-out America’s best: At last year’s event, cops seized a four-foot-long, two-and-a-half-pound joint worth more than $5,000.
5) UNIVERSITY OF IOWA
Raising the bar
Hawkeyes’ commitment to partying is evident in their willingness to brave inhumane circumstances: shatteringly cold winters, then sweltering humidity come warm weather. Iowa City’s nightlife scene remains a balmy constant, though, with most bars and clubs allowing entry to students over the age of 19. Regular spots include the Mill, the Summit and Sports Column, but after 10 P.M. house parties on the prairie are the place to be for committed Midwestern party hounds.
4) UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA
School of the wet and wild
Zona students are experts in that wonderful combination of hydration, inebriation and sartorial minimalism otherwise known as the pool party. The king of them all is the annual Sigma Alpha Epsilon Jungle Party, which features a 65,000-gallon pool, a faux waterfall and a massive tree house. But you need not go Greek to go hard: Tucson’s Fourth Street bar scene teems with partying Wildcats whose hangovers can be mitigated with some of the best Mexican food in the country.
3) WEST VIRGINIA UNIVERSITY
Institute for the collegiately insane
Most schools celebrate football victories by drinking. Mountaineers do it by drinking and burning couches. WVU has a reputation for raging at the highest level. Morgantown has perfected a balance of Greek, bar and house-party scenes, and West Virginia’s irrational love of football is the catalyst for chaos. To wit: A 2003 headline reads BEDLAM AT WVU REMAINS A CAMPUS SORE SPOT. Tradition is a beautiful thing.
2) UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN
Go bold in the cold
At the axis of beer, cheese and snow sits Madison, where nightlife options are limited only by your ability to drink away the freeze. There’s a tailgating scene that puts Texas to shame, along with scores of bars near State Street, dozens of house and frat parties and a worthy roster of drunchies. Plus, the nationally renowned citywide celebrations for Halloween and the springtime Mifflin Street Block Party make Ibiza look like Club Med in comparison.
1) UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA
High IQ meets high ABV
Smarties can party too, and UPenn puts other Ivies to shame with its union of brains, brewskies and bros. Boasting a notorious underground frat scene that school officials have deemed a nuisance, these renegades pony up thousands of dollars’ worth of liquor for their parties—and competition among the houses means a balls-out war of debauchery. Aboveground, casual sex is rampant, as coeds value careers over coupling. Philly’s boisterous bar scene keeps off-campus-carousing options numerous. School-sponsored day drinking hits a high note during Spring Fling, an outdoor music fest that pulls in acts such as Passion Pit, Tyga and Janelle Monáe and turns the Quad into a sloshed mosh pit.
This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of Playboy.
Photography by Chris Mcpherson