BY MARK LERNER – GUEST COLUMNIST
It’s decision time for high school seniors who plan to attend college next fall.
The question many are facing is which college to choose. Academic and financial considerations will certainly weigh heavily in the choice. But another question, perhaps seldom discussed with mom and dad, gets down to the basics: Will the school I choose give me the chance to party as hard and as often as I please?
For students taking a long look at the University of Wisconsin, there’s much to offer. The Princeton Review has ranked the Madison campus as the top party school in the nation.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that Wisconsin deserves the number one ranking,” said Jeremy Liebman, a senior majoring in film production and marketing. “It’s the most work-hard, play-hard school in the country.”
Liebman, a 2013 graduate of Edina High School, pointed out that “the kids who go to Madison are smart and competitive, and that competitiveness drives them to let loose.”
Perhaps needless to mention, university officials view their school’s distinction differently.
While declining to be interviewed, they did issue a press release shortly after the Princeton Review published its latest survey.
“We rank among the world’s top 25 universities … and are second in the nation in producing Peace Corps volunteers,” according to the official statement.
“However, as at many institutions of higher education, high-risk alcohol use on campus remains a pressing public health concern that negatively impacts campus safety and student’s academic progress and well-being.”
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign placed third in the 2016 rankings, swapping spots with Big Ten rival Wisconsin from the previous year. “Yes, it’s a great party school,” said junior Sam Okrent, a computer science major. “Maybe not number three, but still great.”
Okrent, a graduate of New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois, said, “There’s something going on every day of the week. The biggest nights to go out are on Tuesday and Thursday, but even on Monday, Wednesday, and Sunday the bars are full.”
But why not on weekends? It seems that off-night drink specials attract cash-poor students.
On Sundays in Madison, bars play country music to drive business, and many offer two drinks for the price of one, and $1 beers. During football season, students “start drinking at 6:30 or 7 in the morning,” said Liebman, then head to the stadium for the 11 a.m. kickoff.
“We’re always good in football, and everyone loves the Badgers,” he said.
At Illinois, where school spirit apparently is not as strong, fraternities and sororities get together to organize an event called Block before football games.
“They rent a bar,” said Okrent, “and students go there to drink, but not watch the game.”
Campus authorities, while not ignoring underage drinking laws, tend to focus more on keeping students safe. “The police are not there to bust you,” said Liebman. “They have a great relationship with the students here. They’ll only pick you up if you appear to be a danger to yourself or to others.”
Illinois officials wouldn’t comment at all about their high party-school ranking and likely will avoid mentioning it in their marketing and recruitment.
But, as Okrent, a dean’s list student, said, “All there really is to do in Champaign is drink.”
An Edina resident, Mark Lerner is the father of two college graduates and two current college students. He may be reached at [email protected]