Making the right choice for college


NEW?YORK—College freshmen are now at least a couple weeks into the school year, discovering whether or not they have chosen the right institution for their higher learning.

For those high school seniors looking forward to this grueling decision over the coming months, there are resources available to streamline a naturally anxious process.

A popular way to see if a school is the right fit—other than receiving huge packets of subjective material mailed from the university itself—are college profiles. One example is The Best 373 Colleges, annually published since 1992 by the Princeton Review, an education services company known for its test-prep courses, classes, tutoring, books, and other student resources. (The company is not affiliated with Princeton University.)

These 373 profiles, along with the several hundred schools which did not make the top ranking (over 2,000 are listed altogether) are accessible for free online at www.princetonreview.com. The Princeton Review also provides several other tools to find the right college fit. These include SAT preparation courses, where one can expect to take the standardized tests at least four times, preparing the student to take the final test with confidence and score to the best of his or her potential. In addition, the company offers College Admissions and Financial Aid Live Online Courses at http://www.princetonreview.com/college/admissions-financial-aid.aspx.

“The Best 373 Colleges” is known for basing its full input directly on the opinion of several thousand current college students, reporting their personal experience there and rating the college on several different points, from how good financial aid is to how “green” the campus is. According to the website, the ratings in the book are “based on surveys of 122,000 students (an average 325 per campus) at the 373 schools in the book during the 2009-10 and/or previous two school years. The 80-question survey asked students about their school’s academics, administration, campus life, student body, and themselves.”

Says Robert Franek, Senior VP, Publisher, and author of the book, “We look for a great cross-section of colleges for our guide, public and private, large and small, urban and suburban. We use three main criteria to evaluate each school: a student’s classroom experience, their quality of life on campus, and how easily they get a job afterwards.” The Review also lists the “Best Value” public and private colleges for the budget-conscious.

The colleges aren’t rated from 1 to 373; instead, they are ranked on 62 lists based on student experience. Locally, these include the “Happiest Students” in the nation, which can apparently be found at Brown University, while the “Best Career Services” were found at Northeastern University, the “Best Classroom Experience” at Mount Holyoke College, and the “Most Liberal Students” at Hampshire College.

If the “Most Liberal” college is your least desired option, there is a specific resource that can help. The Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) publishes “The College Guide”; at http://www.collegeguide.org/ where a student can see how schools rank online through selecting criteria such as “applicants accepted,” “guaranteed housing for four years,” and “students receiving need-based financial aid.”

A faith-conscious student might should also consult the free Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College at www.thenewmanguide.com/; these overviews deal directly with the fidelity of each school to the church. On the ISI College Guide website, other rankings are provided such as “Five Best Schools for Homeschooled Students,” and guidelines like “Different schools for different personalities” and “Preparation and resources for selecting my major.”

For a nominal fee, a student can access the entire college guide collection online. According to John Zmirak, Editor in Chief, these profiles “provide a principled look at the curricula, academic disciplines, campus life and state of academic freedom at more than 200 major schools in the U.S., including the most famous schools founded by Catholics, such as Notre Dame and Georgetown, as well as the smaller colleges founded to resist the mass secularization of Catholic education in the 60s and 70s... places such as Thomas Aquinas College and Franciscan University of Steubenville.” Other elements considered, says Zmirak, are “the moral tone of dorm life, and the reverence of liturgy offered at the schools.” Non-Catholic schools are also evaluated based on “how closely they adhere to their founding missions,” and “the presence, activity, and quality of Catholic and non-Catholic chaplaincies, and the availability of reverent liturgies in the area” are similarly covered.

Beyond the college profiles, ISI also offers student guides that can be helpful in choosing a major. “They’re only five dollars each, but their information can save students many wasted hours and thousands in wasted tuition,” Zmirak comments. According to the ISI website, “Each title offers an historical overview of a major discipline, explains the central ideas of each subject, and evaluates the works of thinkers whose ideas have shaped our world.”

Other services ISI provides include lectures on campus, summer school programs in the Great Books, and honors programs “covering thinkers neglected by the academy today—including many who promoted Catholic social teaching.”

Students interested in integrating their faith with their education might also refer to the Princeton Review’s lists of the top 20 schools for “Most Religious Students” and “Least Religious Students.”