Party Rankings Ignored by University Administrators

While the Princeton Review's annual list of the top 20 party schools may have some students bragging to their friends about their school's partying skills, school administrators and college counselors are singing another tune.

The rankings, college admission counselors say, are bogus.

"Among college professionals, these rankings are seen as a sideshow at best," said David Hawkins, director of public policy at the National Association for College Admission Counseling. "We tend to really dismiss these rankings in terms of the college search process. There's nothing scientific about them or methodical about them."

According to the Princeton Review, the rankings are based on 80-question surveys administered to students attending universities nationwide. The questions ask students to describe themselves, their school's academic and administrative environments, campus life, and their peers, and are available online to any student willing to participate.

This year, West Virginia University topped the list at No. 1, with the University of Mississippi at No. 2, the University of Texas - Austin at No. 3, the University of Florida at No. 4 and at No. 5, and the University of Georgia.

But whether administrators at schools branded with top party school status really cringe at the idea of being associated with keg parties and body-shots for the upcoming school year or if they embrace the title remains unclear.

Does the age-old mantra "any press is good press," hold true for colleges and universities, too?

School Administrators 'Don't Pay Much Attention' to Rankings

"We're not taking it seriously this year, and we didn't take it seriously last year," said Don Hale, the vice president of public affairs for the University of Texas – Austin, which was ranked No.1 party school last year but dropped to No. 3 this year.

School administrators, unlike the students, admit that being branded the nation's No. 1 party school isn't something they celebrate.

"On the surface the ranking is absurd," said Hale, who told ABC News that the university has always had strong alcohol abuse programs for students who party too much and never improved the programs in response to the party school rankings. "I don't want to be the No. 1 party school, but at the same time you can't take it seriously, and this year West Virginia was the one to draw the short straw."

Other school administrator's agree with Hale, saying that the while the rankings may change from year to year on paper, in reality the campus climates change very little.

"I think it's more of a laugh -- just that we've been saying for all these years how arbitrary [the rankings are] and how it's junk science," said John Lucas, the spokesman for the University of Wisconsin -- Madison, which until this year had been a regular on the top party school list. "To go from one year at No. 1 to off it completely this year when we know there hasn't been that kind of progress [curbing the drinking culture] just kind of illustrates what we've been saying all along."

While schools may worry the rankings could turn parents off to a particular school, Lucas said, they also realize that many students may be attracted to a university because of its party school reputation.

None of the schools reported a decline in admissions numbers as a direct result of the rankings.

Do Parents of Prospective Students Take Rankings Seriously?

"I think you'd be naive to think it didn't have any effect on parents," said Hawkins, the spokesperson for the National Association for College Admission Counseling. "I think these rankings tend to have some implications for schools whether the people who are employed by the schools take them seriously or not."

But college counselors say that while parents may very well be aware of the reputations certain schools have, it is up to the student to decide how much partying they will do, whether they attend a top party school or a "Stone Cold Sober" school, as the Princeton Review likes to label tamer universities.

"At one time or another, most schools have had the [party school] reputation," said Ginger Miller, an independent consultant based in New York. "But students can go to a school with a reputation and not become a so-called 'party animal.' I always tell parents to look beyond the labels and determine if their child has the social options to be happy whether he is a party person or not."

One college counselor suspects that rankings like this one may have a positive effect on schools, perhaps making them even more conscientious about campus safety.

"Families, I believe, are going to be concerned about it only in as much as what it means for my child's safety and what does it mean in terms of the pressures on my child to act irresponsible," said Ted de Villafranca, dean of college counseling at the Peddie School in New Jersey. "But maybe making that list means that those schools are going to be even safer because administrators are going to be even more cautious."

"This shouldn't be a news flash to anyone that kids party in college," de Villafranca added.

Students Celebrate Rankings, Say 'Cheers!'

Just hours after the 2008 edition of "The Best 366 Colleges," hit shelves Tuesday, one proud West Virginia University student created a Facebook group named "#1 Party School in the Nation…WVU!!!" to celebrate his school's return to the No. 1 spot for the first time since 1997.

And, likely just across campus from the excited student was the school's president-elect, Mike Garrison, who issued a statement in response to the ranking saying he was far too busy with the first day of classes to pay attention to the school's party reputation.

The range of reactions from students and administrators is not surprising, but many students recognize that partying isn't all they care about when shopping for schools.

"I know the faculty does not like it," said Phillip Jacobs, a junior at the No. 3 party school the University of Texas -- Austin. "They talk about how it gives the school a bad image to prospective students. However, students are very proud of it. We brag about it."

"I guess it could tarnish the image a little but I think in generally it's not something to worry about because the university also has great merit and standing academically," said Jacobs. "I don't think anyone would really make a college decision based on that ranking alone."