Fact Check

Playboy's Top Party Schools

Is your college on Playboy magazine's annual ranking of America's top party schools?

Published Sept. 26, 2000


Claim:   Playboy magazine compiles annual rankings of America's top party schools.


FALSE:   Playboy magazine compiles annual rankings of America's top party schools.
TRUE:   Playboy magazine has sometimes printed other publications' rankings of America's top party schools.
TRUE:   Playboy magazine has occasionally published their own rankings of America's top party schools.
TRUE:   Other organizations compile and publish their own rankings of America's top party schools.

Origins:   Since the 1950s, rumors have been aired at every college in the U.S. that Playboy conducted surveys of drinking on college campuses and used them to compile annual lists of "America's best party schools" (rumors usually spread by students proudly proclaiming that their own school had achieved the #1 slot

in the latest ranking). However, not until the late 1980s did Playboy actually publish a ranking of this nature, and it was never an annual feature of the magazine.

Through the end of 2006, such a list had appeared in the pages of Playboy only three times: in its January 1987, November 2002, and May 2006 issues. However, there were two precursors to the full-blown list: the September 1968 issue identified the University of Wisconsin at Madison as the most permissive campus (drawn from a sample of 25 universities) and dubbed it "the party school" (primarily because it served beer in the student union); likewise the October 1976 issue named UCLA tops in "campus action."

In more recent years Playboy has sometimes republished college rankings compiled by others, such as the annual list of The Top 20 Party Schools as determined by The Princeton Review.

Prior to 2002, Playboy had compiled their own list of "party schools" only once. They gave their reason for reprising this feature in 2002 as:

Campus legend has it that Playboy does a yearly ranking of America's top party schools. Truth is, we haven't done such a roundup since 1987, when we tagged Cal State-Chico the craziest campus in the nation. Chico has had bragging rights for 15 years, causing students to binge with pride while parents and administrators have dried out fraternities and sororities and canceled Halloween. Some students have sent us e-mails that say "Don't you dare say Chico State. I'm sick of having to defend it. It's all because of your article 15 years ago!" Why do another ranking now? The kids demanded it, our public relations department is bombarded with calls from students who wonder where their schools rank. We wanted to hear what goes down on campus — the good, the bad and blurry — in your own words, more than 1500 of you wrote. These are your stories.

The information for Playboy's 1987 list of party schools had been compiled in 1986 from the reports of Playboy staffers who interviewed campus club leaders, dorm rush chairmen, fraternity presidents and other campus social studs at more than 250 schools nationwide. Which leads us straight into the legend which has sprung up around this famed list:

Then there's the computer bulletin board-fueled story about the magazine (usually Playboy) that was ranking the Top 10 Party Schools in the country. Students at the University of Wisconsin were taken aback when their school didn't rate even an honorable mention; after all, everyone knows about the legendary cheesehead antics that go on in Madison. But when the kids contacted the magazine, they were told: "We don't rank professionals."

Gentle souls that they are, Playboy referenced this bit of folklore (a charming bit of blarney which been told about any number of schools, cheese-enhanced and otherwise, for many years prior to 1987) and did their best console those who were left off the January 1987 compilation by stating, "If your school isn't listed, it's probably because we didn't include professionals."

For those who really want to know how their institutions of higher learning fare now in the "party school" category, Princeton Review’s latest eagerly-awaited annual ranking of the Top 20 party schools was issued as follows in August 2014, based on a survey of 130,000 students at 379 schools:

  1. Syracuse University

  2. University of Iowa

  3. University of California at Santa Barbara

  4. West Virginia University

  5. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

  6. Lehigh University

  7. Pennsylvania State University at University Park

  8. University of Wisconsin at Madison

  9. Bucknell University

  10. University of Florida

  11. Miami University

  12. Florida State University

  13. Ohio University at Athens

  14. DePauw University

  15. University of Georgia

  16. University of Mississippi

  17. Tulane University

  18. University of Vermont

  19. University of Oregon

  20. University of Delaware

Barbara "party line" Mikkelson

Last updated:   21 August 2014


    Barbash, Fred.   "This Year's Top 20 Party Schools — and Other Honors."

    The Washington Post.   4 August 2014.

    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   The Baby Train.

    New York: W. W. Norton, 1993.   ISBN 0-393-31208-9   (p. 193).

    Prato, Alison.   "Playboy's Top 25 Party Schools."

    Playboy.   November 2002   (p. 89).

    Roeper, Richard.   "Tale of Peanut Butter Spreads Latest Legend."

    Chicago Sun-Times.   26 July 1994   (p. 11).

    Associated Press.   "Playboy Picks Wisconsin As Top Party School."

    5 April 2006.

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