The best college pranks are far more memorable than any lecture will ever be. And at US colleges and universities, there’s no shortage of college prank traditions, especially involving seniors preparing to graduate.
The best college pranks are mostly harmless, but when students cross the line, they can face serious consequences such as arrest or potential loss of graduation privileges.
These top five US college pranks took a great idea and executed it in a way that was safe and fun – and extremely memorable.
5. Monster R2D2 Takes Over
Finding inspiration in a similar prank previously pulled off by MIT students, students at Carleton College in Minnesota turned the school’s Goodsell Observatory into a giant R2D2 replica – complete with sound effects. The hilarious prank, pulled off in 2010, was created using pieces of painted fabric so that the building itself wasn’t defaced in any way.
4. Lady Liberty Goes for an Icy Swim
In 1979, the Pail and Shovel student political party at the University of Wisconsin-Madison told students that if they were elected, they would have the iconic Statue of Liberty moved to nearby Lake Mendota. It appeared they followed through on their promise when, in February 1979, the tip of the Statue of Liberty – the top of her head and torch – appeared to be rising out of the frozen lake.
Of course, the party had just placed a paper mache and chicken wire replica of Lady Liberty on top of the frozen ice, but it was quite a sight just the same.
3. Police Car on the MIT Dome
In 1994, a group of MIT students decided to highlight one of the college campus’ major landmarks, the MIT dome, by placing a police car on top – sort of. It turned out the car was not a real squad car and had been assembled in parts on top of the dome by the students. This prank is a great example of how important details are: the students even included a box of donuts inside the fake squad car. The prank also started a tradition of placing odd objects on the dome’s top.
2. Pink Flamingos on Campus
In 1979, the students at the University of Wisconsin decided to beautify campus by placing approximately 1,000 kitschy plastic pink flamingos on a grassy area near the dean’s office. The prank was a huge hit and was even honored in 2009 when the Madison city council voted to make the plastic pink flamingo the city’s official bird.
To this day, students still participate in an annual “Fill the Hill” fundraising event. More recently, to honor the man behind both the Lady Liberty and pink flamingo pranks, the Madison city council passed a resolution declaring February 23 Leon Varjian Day.
1. Rose Bowl Prank
On January 2, 1961, Pasadena’s Rose Bowl Stadium was at full capacity for a major college football game, the Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. the Washington Huskies. The Rose Bowl is a huge deal, so millions of people around the country were also watching the game via live television coverage.
Before the game, the stadium section where Washington supporters were sitting had been set up with different colored flip cards and instructions on each seat, so fans would know when to hold up which colored card. This is a common way to show support at stadium games – when every fan holds up the right colored card at once, for instance, a phrase like “Go Team!” might be spelled out.
At one point during the game however, the flip cards suddenly were seen to clearly spell out “Caltech” – the name of a small nearby Pasadena technical college. What on earth was the stadium section cheering for Washington doing holding up a “Caltech” sign, especially when Caltech wasn’t even playing? At the time, only a handful of people knew: a group of Caltech students who had been prepping the silly scheme for a full month.
What Makes for a Great Prank?
As you can see from the best US college pranks listed above, a great college prank is funny, unexpected and clever. The best college pranks also manage to do something totally unique without hurting anybody physically or emotionally, or causing damage. What’s more, pulling off a truly genius prank takes loads of preparation, so if you want to join the ranks of the best US college pranks, you better start planning now!