On Campus

Is your school a party school? I hope so.

Debunking the myth that fun and academic success are mutually exclusive

Last week, we started interviewing student ambassadors here at Bishop’s. I asked each candidate to submit a video answering a few questions, including this one:

“A parent makes the statement, ‘I’ve heard this is a party school.’  How do you respond?”

While the answers varied, candidates danced around the elephant in the room. The fact is most universities don’t like to be known as being places to party. And I think that’s too bad.

It goes without saying that, first and foremost, students are looking for a formal education. The kind that happens in a classroom, typically accompanied by beakers, books, and sleepless nights at the library.

But students also like to have a good time. When the lectures are over and Friday night rolls around, most want to kick back and relax. And yes, they might enjoy a few cocktails in the process.

I think there’s this myth that the two are mutually exclusive. You can’t party and still do well in the classroom. In my opinion, it takes knowledge of both to achieve success. Development of life skills should be right up there with receiving that degree. It’s how you meet friends, react to challenges and opportunities, and decide what kind of person you want to become. And, for better or for worse, some of the development is impossible inside a classroom. However, it’s probably possible on a Saturday night, hanging out with a bunch of friends.

Travesty, right? Wrong. Some of the most successful people I know came to university because they’d heard it was a great place to both learn and have a good time. One of my closest friends came to university because he wanted both those things. So, did he fall apart once he got here? Not even close. He sat on the university board of governors, won awards at graduation, and is starting an M.A. this fall.

Look at the top twenty party schools in the U.S., as identified by the 2009 Princeton Review. Topping the list was Penn State University. That school boasts a billion-dollar endowment, and its alumni are Congressmen and CEOs of companies like Nike. Closing out the top-twenty is Arizona State University, where President Barack Obama spoke to the graduating class this past May. Those places seem to be doing fairly well for “party schools”.

To the future students out there, I’m not saying you should go out every night. That’s the long walk off a short pier that will see your university career end prematurely, sans degree. What I would advocate is that you choose a school where your free time can be filled with interesting people and places. Find a school that’s proud of its social scene, and recognizes the utility of developing well-rounded people.

So if you’re choosing a school this year, choose the one that caters to your every need. Choose the program you want, with the qualified and distinguished profs you’ll thrive under. And then, if you’re facing a choice…take a tour, and ask your student ambassador, “is this a party school?”