On any given night, with the exception of most Sundays and Mondays, Lehigh students can be found at parties in off-campus houses throughout South Bethlehem. With this behavior comes a reputation, and with that reputation has come a new ranking.
The Princeton Review ranked Lehigh the No. 4 party school in the nation, beating out larger schools such as the University of Mississippi and Syracuse University. The new ranking also tops Lehigh’s 2015 Princeton Review ranking as the No. 6 party school in the country.
While many students recognize and often live by Lehigh’s unofficial motto, “work hard, play hard,” the party atmosphere is not always a factor when choosing to attend.
“I didn’t chose Lehigh because it was a party school, I honestly didn’t know about (the reputation),” Kirsten Hernandez, ‘19, said. “It was never criteria for me when I was picking a school, but it’s fun and doesn’t impact my life too much.”
Upon first coming to Lehigh, Valentina Zangri, ‘20, was aware of Lehigh’s reputation of having an involved social scene, but she said the reputation didn’t affect her decision because she came for the education.
Though Alexis Holder, ‘20, was not aware of the active social scene, she thinks the atmosphere can only make her a better student and person.
“I love how Lehigh has spirit and good academics,” Holder said. “I know I’ll be successful but also social. Lehigh shows you how to balance your time and pick what your priorities are, which is a great representation of the real world.”
Overall, the general consensus on campus is that too much partying does come with a price, Hernandez said.
“I think the ranking comes with a positive connotation for students because it kind of validates us,” Ethan Whitney, ‘19, said. “Our rankings related to academics have pretty much stayed the same and the party ranking went up, so it shows we have balanced lives.”
Though he personally believes the new ranking makes Lehigh more appealing to prospective students, Whitney expects parents will become more wary of paying the high tuition costs.
The Princeton Review features Lehigh on its list of the 381 best colleges, and also ranks Lehigh No. 18 for best alumni network and No. 43 in the list of the top 50 colleges that pay you back.
The Princeton Review’s survey methods and the legitimacy of its methods are sometimes questionable though, said Bruce Bunnick, the interim vice provost of Admissions.
The Princeton Review’s party school list is based on students’ responses to survey questions about alcohol and drug use at their school, the daily number of hours spent studying outside of class and the popularity of Greek life on campus. In order to be considered a top party school, student responses must indicate a relatively low number of hours spent studying outside of class, a high popularity of drugs and alcohol, and the presence of fraternities and sororities.
“I’m not sure where they pull this data from, and I just have to question the validity,” Bunnick said. “I think it’s really unfair to label an institution in a particular way. A ranking like this and the Princeton Review, in this case, fails to really understand the dynamic of our student body.”
Lehigh’s student body is very social and engaged, said Krista Evans, the interim director of Admissions.
“There is a huge difference between partying culture and social culture, and I wish the ranking spoke a little more to our social culture,” Evans said. “Lehigh students are incredibly active and want to give back. Unfortunately, this partying ranking doesn’t speak to the great extracurricular activities that are available. I think the lines get blurred.”
Potential students and their parents who may not know of Lehigh are immediately given a presentation of what the culture might be like, Evans said, without taking into account other facets of the culture and community.
Despite the possibility that some prospective students might be deterred from applying, interest in Lehigh is still strong.
“There are so many people who are coming to campus to visit and they have overwhelmingly stated they are looking for a strong academic reputation,” Bunnick said. “If the number of our visitors is any indication, (the ranking is) not having a negative impact.”
Apart from the education, student athletes are drawn to Lehigh for the intensity and prestige of athletic programs.
“As an athlete, whether Lehigh is the No. 1 party school or the last, I’m here for school and wrestling,” Brandon Diaz, ‘18, said. “It’s cool to talk about the ranking to my friends. You get bragging rights, but it’s not a big deal for athletes.”
The ranking does tend to be a big deal for some parents who want to ensure they are paying for their children to learn and not to party.
“When there’s a huge hike in tuition, and then the school gets labeled with these rankings, it does not leave a very good taste,” parent Palitha Jayasinghe said.
Jayasinghe attributes much of the partying atmosphere to the large presence of Greek life on campus.
“Many kids feel that they don’t have a place to belong if they’re not in a (fraternity or sorority),” Jayasinghe said. “It is very unfortunate. My other son chose to be in a fraternity in college, and it was a very good experience, but his school did not have the same social pressures as Lehigh.”
Other parents see Lehigh’s prominent Greek community as a function of location rather than the need to belong.
“Bethlehem is a fairly remote location,” parent Tricia Cooper said. “Students are not in a city like Boston or Chicago. Other than Greek life, there is not much happening in Bethlehem for the college kids.”
The Greek community is simply a part of Lehigh’s identity, Cooper said, and it is wrong when parents want to lessen its presence on campus. Many students chose Lehigh in part because of the Greek system, and those who do not want to be around it should attend school elsewhere, she said.
The Office of Fraternity & Sorority Affairs declined to comment on the influence of Greek life on Lehigh’s new party ranking.
While Evans recognizes the risks associated with being considered a top party school, she believes other aspects of Lehigh will continue to make it stand out, including its interdisciplinary programs and overall academics.
“I don’t mind that it’s ranked as a party school because the academics are great,” said Adele Morgan, parent of a Lehigh sophomore. “If students can work hard and play hard, it’s OK with me as long as playing hard is not too extreme.”
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