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Is there anything wrong with party schools?

NEW YORK (Lynn O'Shaughnessy/MoneyWatch) -- Should you worry about your child's educational future if he or she wants to attend a college with a bigger reputation for keggers than for academics?

It's the sort of question that some parents likely ask themselves every year when the latest list of the nation's hardest-partying schools gets released. Getting that dubious honor this year, according to the Princeton Review's annual roll call of the top party schools: New York's Syracuse University.

FOR THE LIST, CLICK HERE

The students at the University of Iowa partied their way into second place in the survey of 130,000 college students, and the University of California, Santa Barbara, a perennial contender that's perched above the Pacific surf, claimed third place. Among the other schools making the list were West Virginia University, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Lehigh University and Penn State.

So should parents have concerns if a teenager's dream school is also a party magnet? Of course, that largely depends on individual students' level of responsibility -- plenty of young people attend supposed party schools without ever encountering any problems.

Still, some factors are worth considering in choosing a school. Many of the campuses on the party-hearty list have active fraternity scenes, which often serve as a huge source of partying and booze.

Recent hair-raising media reports on college fraternity life have uncovered plenty for parents to worry about. Earlier this year, the a year-long investigation of fraternities published in The Atlantic revealed that serious injuries, assaults and sexual crimes occur regularly at fraternities. Hazing, according to the article, actually represents a small percentage of injuries.

Two years ago, Rolling Stone ran a frightening piece on fraternity activities at Dartmouth College, an institution dominated by the so-called Greek scene that provided the inspiration for Animal House.

From a parent's perspective, what was equally troubling about the Atlantic article is its conclusion that the national fraternal organizations are savvy about dodging legal liability when trouble does strike during a a Saturday night kegger. And that means it's the student, or more likely the parents, who could face a large financial liability.

Some of the schools on the party list are also known for successful big-time football programs, including Oregon, Florida State, Florida, West Virginia Wisconsin and Penn State.

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Oregon that examined whether students' academic performances were linked to the flagship's football fortunes might also give parents indigestion. Researchers looked at grade point averages for nearly 30,000 men and women attending the school in the fall semester between 1999 and 2007. The conclusion? Grades dropped for male students when the Oregon Ducks had winning football seasons.

One of the researchers summed up the results this way when describing how male students were impacted: "They drink more when the team wins, they party more when the teams wins and they study less when the team wins."

In the survey, 24 percent of the men said "definitely" or "probably" studied less when the football team was winning compared to eight percent of women. Nearly half of the men said they increased their partying when the football team was doing well compared to 28 percent of women.

That doesn't mean your children won't drink in college or try risky behavior, but they will probably do all right and emerge with a diploma.

There are teenagers who should not be heading to party schools where the temptations may be greater than at other institutions. But for many of these students, the parents are probably not too worried about it.

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