Colleges That Change Lives - let's broaden the list.


I’m a big fan of the Colleges that Change Lives.

It was a book by Lauren Pope, and is now an unofficial consortium of schools that were largely “under the radar”, though some of them by now might have national or regional reputations. My son was accepted to three of them for the Fall of 2019, and ended up going to Knox. These schools, according to Pope, often do an equal or better job of the educating the whole student than some of the Ivies. He also wasn’t an advocate of large/mega universities. I’m not here to argue if he’s right about Wooster being better than Yale, etc. Rather, I’d like us to broaden the list.

For the most part, they are:

  1. Small liberal arts colleges.
  2. Not extremely selective. Admit rates generally 40% - 75% (with some outliers in either direction). The rule of thumb is they accept half or more of their applicants.
  3. Often, a little less expensive (sometimes by 10-15K) than their more elite competitors.
  4. They punch above their weight class - they do an excellent job of education a more broad variety of students, with excellent career and grad school results.
  5. Low student - faculty ratio, excellent attention from professors, opportunities for mentor-ship.
  6. Opportunity for research and internships.
  7. In many cases they offer generous merit aid for strong students (in addition to need based aid), thus helping high-achieving kids from "donut-hole" families get a good education, sometimes at a cheaper price than a state flagship. Donut-hole families are generally not eligible for much need-based aid, but don't have much money saved up to shell out 50K-75K a year for college.

I think Lauren Pope’s book got people thinking differently, bit it was clearly not exhaustive.

I think there are some excellent colleges out there that aren’t on the list that share the general characteristics listed above. I think it would be helpful to get some of these on our radar.

Super well-known schools like the “Hidden Ivies” shouldn’t go here, since they are well-published and very competitive.

We’ve had an excellent underrated gems thread started by @privatebanker , which covers a broad range of options, from commuter schools to large universities.

I’d like us to focus, for the most part on small-ish Liberal Arts Colleges similar in spirit to the Colleges That Change Lives group.

Let me start:

In general I think Lutheran Colleges, outside of St. Olaf, don’t get much press outside of the Midwest or Lutheran circles. Muhlenberg is fairly well known in the Tri-State Area.

Augustana, Rock Island, Illinois
Luther College, Decorah, IA
Gustavus Adolphus
Concordia College, Moorhead, MN
Wittenberg University, Springfield, OH
Susquehanna University, Selinsgrove, PA

Washington and Jefferson, PA - this one recently showed up on my radar.

Here are some Presbyterian-affiliated schools I hear are good:

Westminster College, New Wilmington, PA
Coe College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Here are some others I’ve been hearing about:

St. Lawrence University, Canton, NY
Hobart and William Smith College, NY
Hartwick College, Oneonta, NY - only hearsay, anyone know much about them?

I’m interested. Please share more of these. And it would be really helpful for people to share experiences with any of these colleges.

We’ve been very happy with the education our daughter is getting at Susquehanna. She can write and express herself so well now - she struggled in high school. The campus is beautiful and the faculty has been excellent. She works in the campus art gallery and is making lots of good connections. I think she’ll be ready for the real world when she graduates this May. :slight_smile:

The school was very generous with aid. In addition to other grants, she received a small music scholarship for non-music majors. As long as she participates in jazz band, she gets free piano lessons and an annual stipend.

Since we just visited and all the info is handy, I’ll add Drew University to the list. They fit the profile…

  1. 1,700 undergrad students
  2. 69% acceptance rate
  3. $54k room/board. Fiske Top 10 Best Buy
  4. 94% employed/grad school within 6 mo; 17th nationally in grads earning science doctorates; top 5 most inclusive according to princeton review
  5. 11:1 student-teacher ratio (+noble prize winning professor)
  6. Launch program - 2x mandatory internships/research; faculty mentors from day 1
  7. 85% receive aid - average scholarship/grant $22k; average financial aid package $30k

Loren Pope also wrote a book titled “Looking Beyond the Ivy League” (as I remember) that had a lot of info on schools. It may be a bit dated but still a great resource.

I know relatively little about St Lawrence, but it’s on our preliminary list for DS21 (in addition to a number of CTCL schools), and I generally hear positive things about it (other than being VERY far north).

CTCL runs college fairs around the country. We attended one last spring where DS was able to meet a number of reps and got his search started. Info is on the web site.

@MaineLonghorn Thanks for the good info on Susquehanna

@eb23282 Thanks for the profile on Drew!!!

@CTMom21 I heard great things about St. Lawrence. I think they give nice merit aid to high stats kids.

I think ALL colleges actually change the lives of their students. All.

I would perhaps add:
Depauw University
UMN Morris
UNC Ashville

Bennington, Sarah Lawrence…I forget if Marlboro is still on there.

The current list of CTCL schools is longer than I remember from when my D was applying. She applied to and visited a bunch of them, and graduated from Southwestern University recently. We felt like the school lived up to it’s CTCL label in every way.

As far as adding to the current list, I’ll second Luther College in Decorah, IA. Visited last spring with S19 (music major) and came away very impressed. It fits the mold.

@Parentof2014grad Thanks for the thumbs up on Luther. I knew someone who went there and he loved it.

@MWolf Didn’t realize how solid Depauw is. Thanks for the 2 state schools, too since they are small-ish.

@compmom Marlboro is still on the original list. Funny when I was college back in the dark ages, I considered both Bennington and Marlboro College.

Thanks for Sarah Lawrence and Bennington.

Does Bennington have merit aid, or is it all need based?

You should, Loren Pope went to college there!

I find it interesting that CA has dozens and dozens of small LAC but only 1 college on the list of 90 CTCL colleges and only 5 in the whole west region?

I agree with thumper1 that all colleges change lives but its a catchy title to sell books.

Can’t add to the list since many of the schools mentioned I thought “were” part of CTCL already… Lol…

But the description given hits the nail on the head for me. My daughter transferred to Beloit College as a junior and she wished she went there all 4 years. Smaller classes, discussion based, she claims students are more intellectual and like to go deeper in discussion /thought in class and outside of class . Professors that challenge your way of thinking. School that supports her endeavors and have given her opportunities like grants to go to Southeast Asia for research not study abroad. Set her up with speaking opportunities at two universities. Is helping her connect with professors for possible PhD opportunities if she goes this route. They are there to help her be successful.

We know others there with similar experiences. Know people at St. Olaf and Knox college with positive feedback as well.

Her book and I went to a college fair with my daughter really opened out eyes.

Nice kids and families. More diverse then most schools we visited which is a plus.

Oh… BTW… All with good to great merit to boot!


Thanks for the good words on Beloit.

Again, I don’t think the list in the book (40 Schools) is exhaustive but it really helps set a benchmark for the kind of school he’s talking about. One might say that any small, liberal arts college would be a likely candidate. I don’t know why he liked these schools in particular and chose to omit others, but I’m just trying to broaden the list.

@socaldad2002 Yeah - it’s a catchy title. :wink: I’m impressed with Depauw’s endowment. It seems the Midwest gets the bulk of the schools in his book… The NE region seems a little anemic in representation.