Thursday, April 18, 2024

13 Best College Traditions in the US to Ignite School Spirit

These unique traditions put the icing on the cake of a memorable college experience.

Students parading a huge dragon on campus, a bunch of bread tossed on a football field, and shoes hanging from a tree for luck — these are unforgettable college traditions out there for you to uncover or revisit. 🤩

Whether you’re on the hunt for a unique campus life or reliving cherished memories, these 13 schools in the US are sure to make you smile with their best college traditions. ✨

1. Great Midwest Trivia Contest at Lawrence University 📻

This trivia contest is organized and conducted by 12 Trivia Masters (Lawrence University students) who run on little sleep for 50 consecutive hours.

Every last Friday of January, Lawrence University students join the 50-hour Great Midwest Trivia Contest, established in 1966 by the then-student J.B. deRosset. 😲 It’s known for its signature quirks: an exact start time of 10:00:37pm, novelty prizes like pink plastic flamingos, and using the last question from the previous year as the first one for the current contest. 

Teams separated into on-campus and off-campus students compete by answering regular questions and completing creative prompts (like recording a podcast) until arriving at the “garruda,” or the three toughest questions with the highest points on the competition’s last night. These activities have spanned over 50 years, ranking it among the best college traditions in the US. 🥳

2. Krispy Kreme Challenge at North Carolina State University 🍩

Racing with a belly full of donuts may not be the healthiest thing to do, but it’s a memorable way to raise funds for a charitable cause.

North Carolina Park Scholar Chris Arbonies issued a challenge back in 2004: run to the nearest Krispy Kreme shop from the campus Belltower, eat 12 donuts, and return all within an hour. The catch? Don’t throw up. 🤮

Today, the Krispy Kreme Challenge is now a nationally recognized race and listed as one of the best college traditions for NC State students. Did you know the event has racked up $2 million in donations for the University of North Carolina Children’s Hospital? 😍

3. Toast Throwing at the University of Pennsylvania 🍞

Using stale bread or loaves past their sell-by date is encouraged for this college tradition.

Attending UPenn football games is one way to show school spirit, but have you heard about the toast-tossing tradition? Fans lob pieces of bread onto the field once the band sings “Here’s a toast to dear old Penn at the end of the third quarter. 🏈

Good to know: A crumb collector named the Toast Zamboni collects the barrage of bread afterward. 🛒

This was a creative alternative to the highball cocktail toast, which was common until the Prohibition era. One of the inspirations was said to be the cult classic film The Rocky Horror Picture Show and the audience’s ritual of throwing items at the screen during midnight showings. 🎞️

4. Primal Scream and Silent Dance Party at Carleton College 💃

Finals week at Carleton College takes a unique turn with a 10 pm primal scream session followed by a silent dance party at 11 pm in the library. It’s the ultimate stress-busting combination that allows students to let out their frustrations and then groove away the tension. 🕺

Did you know? The primal scream tradition is also practiced in other schools, such as Stanford University, Chicago University, and Northwestern University

A day or two before exams begin, students scream their hearts out and then blast party music in their headphones at various campus locations. After all that frenzy, studying resumes as if nothing happened. 😆

READ MORE: How to Study for Finals: 23 Top Tips to Ace Your Exams

5. Barnard Big Sub at Barnard College 🥖

The extra 100 feet added to the big sub in 2023 meant that more students could eat and bond — making this one of the best college traditions out there.

Barnard College at Columbia knows a great way to break the ice and build bonds: by breaking bread at its annual Barnard Big Sub. The college’s dining service prepares an 850-foot-long chain of sandwiches with ingredients fit for every kind of diet. 🍅

Good to know: Barnard Big Sub extended the sandwich from 750 feet to 850 feet in 2023.

Everyone from the college attends the event every November. Any extra food is donated to the school’s Housing Equity Project Morningside Heights community fridge. 🫂

6. Spree Day at Clark University 🛝

Campus festivals count as one of the best college traditions because it’s like visiting an amusement park without the extra costs of paying for game booths, rides, and transportation to get there. 

Stressed Clark University students love two things. First is canceled classes, and the other is Spree Day, a major outdoor party celebrated annually since 1903. Lawn games on the campus green, jumping on inflatables, and other festival-esque activities welcome the students before they buckle down for finals. 😄

The official date of the event is typically kept from the freshmen. The only signal that Spree Day has started is from the bang of pots and pans heard outside residence halls. 

7. Shoe Tree at Murray State University 👞

The activities and symbols surrounding Murray State University’s Shoe Tree make it one of the best college traditions that stays with you after graduation.

Want one of the best college traditions that sounds like it’s straight out of a rom-com? Check out Murray State University, where couples who meet there have hung their shoes on the campus shoe tree for good luck since the 1960s. Sometimes, anniversary dates are marked on the soles. 👩‍❤️‍👨 

Some alumni solemates who have formed families come back to hang baby shoes to celebrate their lasting love and keep the good luck streak going. ✨

8. The 24-Hour Musical at Brandeis University 🎼

Brandeisians could probably win a Tony award with their 24-hour musical, where students have only a day to memorize lines, design and create costumes, and set up the stage. 😲 The Undergraduate Theatre Collective team leads the production, but students of all majors are welcome to join. 

That pressure to create something within a limited time sets the stage for camaraderie, creativity, and community. Once the curtain goes up, the results of students’ hard work (and the bloopers) are sure to be one for the books. 📸

9. Little 500 at Indiana University 🚲

Aspiring participants in one of the best college traditions at Indiana University first undergo a qualifications race to determine the top 33 teams. 

Calling all speed devils! Sign up for Indiana University’s Little 500, the largest collegiate bike race in the US since 1951, modeled after the Indianapolis 500. 🏎️ 

Men and women compete separately, with the former racing in 200 laps and the latter 100. Students and fans gather around the Bill Armstrong Stadium on the third weekend of April to watch the 33 four-student teams pedaling to the finish line. With student fitness and school spirit at an all-time high, the race collects money that goes into the university’s scholarship funds. 💰

10. Yule Log at The College of William & Mary 🪵

Recreating the feeling of childhood holiday magic on campus leads to a memorable college tradition. 

A crackling fireplace, hot cider, sugar cookies, and festive music are some of the key ingredients to the William & Mary Yule Log event. 🔥 Every December, students gather around the Wren Courtyard to celebrate different religious customs and strengthen bonds. 

Just like a holiday postcard, students sing, reflect, and listen to the university president’s special story before tossing sprigs of holly in the Great Hall’s log fire for good luck.🎄

11. Dooley’s Week at Emory University 🦴

Having mysterious or even silly mascots adds to the charm of the best college traditions out there. 

Halloween hasn’t come early to this college, but you’ll see a skeleton named Dooley roaming Emory University’s campus to celebrate a special week in the spring filled with food and fun activities. Concerts featuring famous musicians and international cuisines are on display in this free event. 😋

How Dooley became an unofficial mascot is a mystery, but history says that Georgia Tech students attempted to unmask him publicly, so now the mascot walks with students dressed like Secret Service agents for protection during Dooley’s Week.🕴️

12. Cornell University at Dragon Day 🐉

Dragon Day is fully student-funded, which makes it one of the best college traditions to bond with other students and build camaraderie.

Instead of a normal-sounding College of Architecture Day at Cornell, students call theirs “Dragon Day.” Student organizers of different year levels, aka “Dragon Lords,” join forces to raise funds, construct a dragon, and plan activities, like parades, pranks, and running around while painted in green. 🎽

This is a century-old tradition that started when the College of Architecture Day shared the same date as St. Patrick’s in March. It is speculated that the college adopted the serpent as a symbol (inspired by the saint banishing snakes from Ireland), turning the celebration into the iconic “Dragon Day” in the 1950s. 🐉

13. Miami Mergers at Miami University 💒

Finding love on campus and staying in love post-graduation has got to be one of the best memories you’ll get as an alumnus.

Love is in the air… and at Miami University’s Upham Hall Arch. The story goes that university couples who kiss under the arch will stay together forever, and this might have some truth to it, as around 14 percent of Miami students marry each other. 👩‍❤️‍👨

The university keeps the romance alive as it prioritizes alumni couples for wedding photoshoots around campus and features them in official publications. Plus, the arch has also witnessed more than a thousand renewals of wedding vows — breaking the Guinness World Record in 2009. 🍾


Much like how spices enhance the flavor of a meal, the best college traditions are the secret ingredients that make your four years of study unforgettable. The lifelong friendships and shared values forged during these moments will continue to enrich your life long after graduation. 🎓

Best College Traditions in the US: Frequently Asked Questions

Why are college traditions important for the school?

College traditions help preserve the school’s heritage, create a distinct community, and strengthen its brand. These help attract like-minded students to enroll and develop an active alumni network that contributes to the school’s success.

What are the most common college traditions?

How do college traditions help college students?

What is the importance of tradition in your life as a college student?

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