What’s a Florida party school? FSU, UF — but not UM

Fans play a drinking game before a Florida State football game. FSU made the Princeton Reviews list of Top 20 party schools again this year, in large part because of students’ beer consumption.
Fans play a drinking game before a Florida State football game. FSU made the Princeton Reviews list of Top 20 party schools again this year, in large part because of students’ beer consumption. AP

What qualifies a college as a party school, you may wonder, if the University of Miami isn’t one of them?

The Princeton Review released its list of Top 20 party schools on Monday. Once again, UM — despite its legendary tailgate parties and ready access to South Beach clubs — wasn’t on it. Once again, the University of Florida (No. 14) and Florida State (No. 15) were.

The top partying school in the country? The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which, like UF and FSU, is a long-time inhabitant of the Top 20 list.

So, what makes a college a party school? For the Princeton Review, which does this as part of a lot more serious rankings, its criteria are drinking and drug use, little time spent studying outside class, and an active fraternity/sorority system. For Playboy, whose rankings will appear in its October issue, it’s whatever the editors decide they want it to be that year.

Florida State has topped the Princeton Review’s list of party schools twice, the University of Florida once, and both have consistently been named to the top 20 for the last nine years.

UM rarely appears in the Princeton Review’s quasi-scientific rankings, but it was No. 1 on Playboy’s totally unscientific Top 10 Party Schools list in 2009, and has made the Top 10 three times since then.

Inclusion on such lists makes college administrators wince, parents fret, and students … well, chances are, the students already knew.

At UF: “From what I experienced my first semester here, it deserved the ranking,” said Donald Warren, a junior and a transfer student, who talked about other dorm residents who regularly got drunk at bars and clubs in the nearby Midtown area.

At UM: “It was pretty apparent very quickly how much of a party school it is,” said an out-of-state student who graduated in May and recounted stories of partying at clubs and at an electronic dance music festival (“it was insane”) on condition that she not be identified in this story.

“The craziest thing would be the tailgates. People wore swimsuit tops because they knew beer would get poured all over them. They didn’t do make-up or do their hair because you know you’re going to get beer poured on you. There was just massive drinking at the tailgates. That’s where everyone gets in trouble,” she said.

All the events she mentioned, however, happened off-campus, where the university can’t do much about drinking and partying.

“We are certainly aware of the temptations that our students face in coming to school in Miami,” said Margot Winick, a UM spokeswoman, “and we have a robust array of resources that address alcohol and drug use.”

UM encourages its students to stay on campus in the evening with late-night dining, movies and other entertainment. “We try to counter-program whatever Miami’s temptations may be,” Winick said.

“We really don’t focus on this ranking, with all due respect,” she added.

Playboy and Princeton Review don’t do the only rankings of party schools, but they are the best known.

Princeton Review includes party schools in its annual guide, The Best 380 Colleges, which has 62 categories of college rankings intended to help a student and parents choose the school that is the best fit. Its ranking are mathematical, based solely on student surveys that ask about everything from the accessibility of professors to opportunities for studying abroad, the popularity of the college radio station to intramural sports. About 136,000 students took the survey.

Both UF and FSU ranked in the top 10 schools for beer consumption, and that boosted them to the party school list.

Playboy’s criteria are very different — in fact, Playboy changes its criteria every year and its process is purely subjective. In 2009, when UM was named No. 1 party school, rankings were based on sex (this is Hugh Hefner’s magazine, after all), campus life, sports, brains and a criteria that is a combination of weather, guy-to-girl ratio and cheerleader ranking.

Last year, when the University of Pennsylvania was No. 1 and UM No. 7, key factors were access to nightlife and musical events, and creativity of the school’s traditional social gatherings. 

“Playboy’s party school list is not ‘scientific’ by any means — it’s meant to be a fun feature in the magazine,” said Theresa Hennessey, a spokeswoman for Playboy. “Our editors reevaluate the list every year and consider a variety of factors when compiling it.” 

Is a high party-school ranking a dilemma for recruiters? Does it attract more applicants, but maybe not the applicants the college wants?

“If a student wants a social scene, they’re going to find it at one of those 20 top party schools,” said Rob Franek, who’s been author of Princeton Review’s The Best 379 Colleges for 16 years.

“We’ve never seen a school’s application numbers go down the next year” after an appearance on the list, he said, “and many times the application numbers will go up.”

A high ranking might prompt a college to do more to curtail use of drugs and alcohol. Most notable: In 1995, after the University of Rhode Island was named top party school three consecutive years — the only time that’s happened — drinking was banned on campus. “They haven’t been on our party list in recent history,” Franek said.

Top 20 party schools 2015

1. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

2. University of Iowa

3. University of Wisconsin-Madison

4. Bucknell University, Pennsylvania

5. Syracuse University, New York

6. University of California-Santa Barbara

7. West Virginia University

8. University of Georgia

9. Tulane University, New Orleans

10. Colgate University, New York

11. Lehigh University, Pennsylvania

12. University of Mississippi

13. Penn State University

14. University of Florida

15. Florida State University

16. Ohio University-Athens

17. DePauw University, Indiana

18. University of Vermont

19. Miami University (Ohio)

20. College of Charleston, South Carolina

Source: Princeton Review’s “The Best 380 Colleges”