College Week

The Most Underrated Party Schools in America

<a href=";pl=edit-00">Christian Bertrand</a> / <a href=";pl=edit-00"></a>

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For proud collegians of a certain stock, the annual debate about which party school parties the hardest is a perennial parade of the usual suspects. It's not as if they're undeserving: your bros Beebs and Skidmark from Iowa have worked hard to keep Iowa near the top, after all.

But that doesn't mean there isn't room for others. Some of the schools on this list appear on the fringes of other such round-ups, but never near the top. Some have dropped off the radar, or never appeared on it in the first place. But they have two things in common: their student bodies know their way around a keg stand, and they all rank among the most underrated party schools in the country.

Rice University

Houston, TX
At just over 6K students, this little Houston school -- home of Sammy the Owl! -- seems to have something to compensate for, and it's doing it with a steady stream of booze and dick jokes. On a normal day, students 21+ can actually buy beer on campus, instead of being forced to wander off-grounds to purchase their booze, like their peers at most colleges. During the tradition of Beer Bike, they combine their love of bi-pedal exercise and drinking games. But that all pales in comparison to…
Best party: Since 1972, Rice students have engaged in the annual Night of Decadence, a party that, year after year, includes papier-mâché dicks, in addition to minimalist costumes and themes as non-sexual as “Caligula” and “196NOD: Come Together, Right Now (All) Over Me.” Coincidentally, Rice also rates high in double entendre scholarships.

Southern Illinois University

Carbondale, IL
Located smack in the middle of the boring part of Illinois, SIU might not get the same cred as its bigger, louder brethren, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t know how to bring the ruckus. Downtown Carbondale appears to have been designed specifically for bar crawling -- with spots like Stix, Hangar 9, and the Pinch Penny all lumped together -- and the house party scene gets so raucous it could give Chicago a run for its noise-pollution money. How hardcore can things get? In 2000, Michigan State rioted over basketball because college sports matter. In contrast, SIU had its riot simply because it was Halloween... and got All Hallows banned for 15 years in certain bars.
Best party: For most Midwesterners, Polar Bear parties evoke old dudes jumping into frozen lakes. Here, it’s just a few thousand students marathon drinking Downtown, bouncing from bar to bar as the police watch on.

Reed College

Portland, OR
Reed’s a liberal arts college plopped in the middle of SE Portland, but this isn’t your average inner-city college. The campus is isolated by sprawling gardens and tree lines, giving it the feel of a completely different world set apart from the hipsters Downtown -- except for the whole “the campus is full of hipsters and hippies” thing (they're also super-smart there... and they know it). And while it doesn’t have the requisite couch-burning antics that propel most schools to these kinds of lists, the artier side of partying is explored in full at Reed, from EDM concerts to home-brewing students.
Best party: Renn Fayre, in which thesis papers are burned, glow sticks are fired up, faces are sucked, and Oregon’s newly legal pot scene is likely to be taken full advantage of next time around (off campus, of course!).

Colgate University

Hamilton, NY
Colgate’s always on the fringes of conversation about the greatest party schools in the country: it gets some props, but it's so small, it tends to get treated as just a cute addition. The 3K students of Colgate, however, are ready at the drop of a hat to prove their prowess. Frat parties are legendary. The house parties are of the Kid 'N Play variety. And the hookup culture’s so rampant that you’re bound to be six degrees of separation or less from pretty much everyone on campus. Which is equally gross and awesome.
Best party: Spring Party Weekend, a combination on-campus music fest and off-campus free-for-all.

Elon University

Elon, NC                    
If the great Petey Pablo taught us anything, it’s that the good people of North Carolina are wont, if the mood strikes them, to engage in a little fun. The tiny Elon University takes its lessons extremely seriously. For a school that doesn’t push 6K students, it still has a thriving Greek system where day drinking is the go-to activity... before people head out and hit the small town’s bars. With that kind of perpetual drinking prowess, you’d think they were leading up to something...
Best party: Festivus, which ditches the Feats of Strength and the Airing of Grievances for a full-tilt mud party -- BBQ and all, y’all -- in the middle of a field.

Temple University

Philadelphia, PA
When it comes to parties in Pennsylvania, Penn State gets most of the attention. But the students at North Philly’s Temple just might be the ones hogging all the Keystone State’s Keystone. On Fridays, the streets are overrun with hundreds of students swarming from party to party like zombies drawn to $5 cups. But the bar scene matches the parties every night, with theme nights for every night of the week, and beers dipping as low as 50 cents.
Best party: It used to be a toss-up between Spring Fling and St. Patrick’s. Now that Spring Fling is no more, St. Patrick’s kind of absorbed it, becoming twice the green beer-fueled mayhem it once was.

Western Michigan University

Kalamazoo, MI
The University of Michigan and Michigan State are consistently ranked among the country’s biggest party schools, but up in Kalamazoo, the denizens of Western are holding their own, thanks to a huge off-campus house-party scene and an influx of great, student-friendly bars, some of which offer economics lessons: the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange replicates the stock market based on its ever-changing beer prices. Or, you know, just go to Fraternity Village on any given weekend for a party-hopping experience you’d never forget if you could just remember it.
Best party: The Western vs. Central Michigan game essentially turns the city into an orgy of students and alumni flocking to celebrate the joys of mediocre football programs by throwing a 100K-strong tailgate. 

Kenyon College

Gambier, OH
Far from the screaming hordes of grandstanding Buckeyes, atop a hill in the middle of central Ohio, the almost 1,700 students at Kenyon can get bored between studying and sporting. So they had to get inventive, and in doing so -- in a haze of smoke and foam -- Kenyon emerged as one of the smallest schools that can actually go up against the biggest when it comes to throwing down. When Newman Day -- a celebration of alumnus Paul Newman in which students try to mimic the classic Cool Hand Luke egg-eating marathon with beer -- is the second-best party of the year, these kids are obviously doing something right.
Best party: Shock Your Mom, a swim-team hosted bash in which students dress in outfits designed specifically to make their mothers faint.

Radford University

Radford, VA
Oh, sure, Radford’s got a dry campus. But did a ban on dancing stop Kevin Bacon from dancing? Hell no. And a no-booze campus just means the nearly 30 Greek chapters and other off-campus houses just have to step it up. And they do -- so much so that Radford just might have Virginia Tech bested in the revelry department, despite being about the size of a V-Tech tailgate party.
Best party: Quad Fest, once a university-sponsored music fest, now a city-wide party that draws revelers far and wide for a weekend of Solo cups and screaming.

University of Montana

Missoula, MT
Sure, you can hit endless house parties in Missoula -- or take the party out into the woods, since it’s, like, 5ft away -- but this city's all about the bar scene, and for UM students, there are enough options here to sate the thirst of several larger universities combined. One of the most underrated beer cities in the country, it caters perfectly to the younger set via everything from live shows and dance parties at the Badlander to cheap-ass drinks at Al & Vic’s to microbrews for the beer snobs of tomorrow, it’s a rare symbiotic relationship where the college and the town that houses it both like to party.
Best party: It’s obviously not related to the college, but the Winter BrewFest nonetheless brings out college students in droves.

University of South Alabama

Mobile, AL
Ever wonder what would happen if Miami and Tulane had a love child who inherited both of their party habits, but not their braggadocio? Welcome to Mobile, y’all! While students from all over the country flock south to raise the ABV of ocean waters for spring break, the Mobile Bay and Gulf Coast beaches are a year-round alternative to the Greek parties that also run rampant. Bonus points, in the event that you blow a fuse because you partied too much, there’s also an excellent medical school on campus. USA! USA! USA!
Best party: While New Orleans hogs the glory, Mobile actually hosts the country’s oldest Mardi Gras celebration. Considering there’s something in the chemical makeup of beads that turns college students into rabid beasts, Mobile’s Mardi Gras doubles as one of the country’s best college parties.

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Andy Kryza is a senior editor at Thrillist and a proud Michigan State alum who is only slightly sorry for that cheap-but-necessary dig at WMU/CMU. Follow him to Wolverine rage @apkryza.

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