EXCLUSIVEMiss Universe 2012 Olivia Culpo tells TMZ ... she did engage in underage drinking during her freshman year in college (like EVERY college student) ... but the 20-year-old insists her days of illegal boozing are long behind her.
Just days after Culpo emerged victorious at the Miss Universe competition last month, photos of the beauty queen taking shots of hard liquor surfaced on the web -- a problem since she's not exactly 21.
We reached out to Culpo -- who told us, "Like many college students I was curious and did experiment with alcohol in college."
She adds, "I would be lying if I told you I did not experience what many students do during their college years. I take responsibility for my actions."
Culpo says the pics were taken during her freshman year at Boston University -- but notes she hasn't had one drink since she won the title of Miss USA back in June.
It's too bad Culpo's parents weren't with her during the boozing sessions -- 'cause Massachusetts is one of the states where it's OK for someone under 21 to booze in a bar as long as that person is with a parent who consents.