Having finished the college process for my 2 I felt a desire to make some small contribution to CC as gratitude for all I learned here. As we began the process, I got concurrently terrified and obsessed (a bad combination). I reacted by buying (and reading) every book I could on the subject. To my horror I discovered the number came to above 40! In an effort to save others the time and expense, I thought I would BRIEFLY review the books I bought. I also recommend buying some of these used to save $$$ (my favorite are old library copies with the plastic covers) if timeliness is not an issue.
Please note the grades are based solely my opinions and how useful I found them, and not a New York Review of Books level qualification. The list is defined by my purchases – of course there are many, many others. Some of these I read over 2 years ago, and I did not take contemporaneous notes in preparation for this task, so you’re getting my recollections as they are.
I’ve divided the books into these categories as best I could:
Guidebooks – Lists of colleges and information about them a la “Fiske”
Narratives – Written in a story fashion that illustrates the process like “The Gatekeepers”. Sometimes a good read in addition to being useful.
Advice/How To – From the “experts”
Assorted – Everything that didn’t fit into the above
Please add your reviews & comments but limit comments to books with the objective of helping those who are looking to purchase some but don’t want to buy 40+ like… umm… some fool.
Fiske Guide to Colleges by Edward B. Fiske
The standard for this category that many of you are familiar with. If you buy one guide this should probably be the one. The frequent criticism is that it makes every college seems great, but honestly, most of the ones listed are. “Overlaps” were a useful feature to us. Grade: A.
The Hidden Ivies: 63 of America's Top Liberal Arts Colleges and Universities by Howard Greene and Matthew W Greene.
This is my favorite. I hate the title, and they probably could have left out Stanford, MIT and a few others – but other than that it is an amazing book. Very useful for families whose kids have Ivy-level ambitions but know they need a broader list of reaches. I found the descriptions themselves to be the best written of any of the guidebooks. I loved it because it included a lot of colleges we did not know much about, and S19 is headed to one we first read about here. Grade: A+.
The Insider's Guide to the Colleges, 2015: Students on Campus Tell You What You Really Want to Know by Yale Daily News Staff
The evolutionary edition of the Yale guide. Pretty good book that attempts to avoid the “everything’s awesome!” vibe of other guidebooks. Claims to be “inside” and “from students” which they “prove” by putting “things” in “quotes”. 😊 Slightly cynical tone and focus on social life is good if you think your kid will respond to that. Beware: your kid may latch on to one negative thing and not let go, so I advise you to read it first. I also found some of the statistics that start each segment to be dated. Grade: A-.
The Best 381 Colleges by The Princeton Review
Another longtime standard, this book also contains information from student surveys and has the resulting data for most of the colleges it lists. Has the famous “lists” in the beginning of the book – “Biggest Party Schools”, “Best Schools for Biology Majors” etc. The data in the side margins of each school is very useful. IMHO the big strength of this book is that the reviews are short and concise and don’t require your kid endure the massive labor of turning a page to finish reading. Grade: A-.
The Ultimate Guide to America's Best Colleges by Gen Tanabe and Kelly Tanabe
I have no idea how many of these you want to have, but this one is pretty good also. Maybe the “Goldilocks” pick of the bunch as everything is “just right”. An excellent choice if your looking for a second or third guide to confirm the general vibe of schools. Grade: A.
A Review of Fifty Public University Honors Programs by John Willingham
For those interested in public honors colleges, there are not many books like this one. If you are, this book is essential and Grade: A+; if not, Grade: B-. Be warned this book is “all steak, no sizzle” – quite dry and with a great variation of detail from one college to the next. Recommend you buy this used.
Profiles of American Colleges 2017 by Barron's
The one book I wish I hadn’t purchased. While it is by far the most comprehensive in terms of colleges listed, it still doesn’t have them all. Essentially a compendium of data that can all be found on the internet and little original content. On top of that it is gigantic, heavy, and has the tiniest type possible. Grade: D-.
Looking Beyond the Ivy League: Finding the College That's Right for You - by Loren Pope
The love for Loren Pope is warranted, and this is a pretty good book that’s really more advice than guidebook. You may notice his Colleges That Change Lives is conspicuously absent from my list but that is only because I found the corresponding (excellent) website made it unnecessary. If you like that book, this is a nice companion. Grade: B+.
Best Colleges 201x: Find the Best Colleges for You! by U.S. News and World Report
I bought this, read it, and still don’t know what it really is. Is it a pseudo-magazine? So USN can say they still “publish” it? It’s full of ADVERTISEMENTS. But I paid for it! Lol.. Yeah, it has some of the rankings in it (you know, the ones they have online for free, the ones that don’t matter) and some of the features are interesting… but… honestly I don’t get it. Open for an explanation if you have one. Grade: D.
Continued in next post