Are guidebooks, relatives, and rankings useful in choosing a school?

College Search

Our counselors answered:

Are guidebooks, relatives, and rankings useful in choosing a school?

Nina Berler
Founder unCommon Apps

Guidebooks, Relatives and Rankings

I am very selective in the use of all of these in choosing a school. After all, they are often collections of opinions and swayed by the attractive, the popular and, of course, data. The NACAC is very sensitive about the use of certain rankings. That is not to say, however, that guidebooks, relatives and rankings can't be useful. The Fiske Guide is enormously helpful because of its format, readability and overlap schools (that's a favorite of mine and particularly helpful when extending an applicant's target list). Unigo is wonderful because it is written for this generation of college student and presents its content in an appealing visual manner and from the perspective of existing students. That is so helpful when applicants are comparing schools and validating their impressions. Success at a particular school varies so much with student interests and readiness, so users of all these sources should consider the circumstances.

Suzanne Shaffer
Owner Parents Countdown to College Coach

They are all components in the decision

Guidebooks, relatives and rankings are all valuable components in the decision process. But college visits will help you decide whether or not the campus is a good fit. Talking to current students and even professors are other components in your decision. Relying solely on one or two things can cause you to have a distorted view of the college and keep you from being realistic about what they can offer you.

Mark Gathercole
University Advisor Independent University Advising

Yes, maybe, and be careful...

The right guide books can be really helpful. Your uncle's opinion might be helpful, but only if you filter it through your own criteria for choosing a school. Rankings? Only if you can find a ranking that uses the same criteria that is important to you, which is not likely. I don't know many students whose criteria includes what college presidents think of the schools they are considering. The best rankings are your own, based on your own criteria and research.

Erin Avery
Certified Educational Planner Avery Educational Resources, LLC

A Cacophony of Voices

It is difficult in the college discernment process to do just that: process all the seemingly disparate opinions, input and voices. Relatives are a difficult source: often biased toward their own alma maters and by their own experiences, positive or negative, what relatives think and feel may be utterly outdated by the time your turn comes around. Published books may have more credence than some online resources but not all. A word about rankings: consider the attributes that factor into ranking such as number of students rejected and almni donations. Now consider whether you feel the factors upon which the rankings are based impact whether or not a particular institution is a good fit for you! As pertains to this question, if you are seeking expert advice and choose to procure the services of an educational consultant, select one that is either an IECA professional member or a Certified Educational Planner. Ask him or her with how much frequency does he or she visit college campuses? Inquire how he or she participates in continuing education to continue to grow his or her expertise. And if any person claiming to be a professional guarantees you acceptance or offers to write any part of your application or use their connections to gain you acceptance, run in the other direction.

Laura O'Brien Gatzionis
Founder Educational Advisory Services

Information, opinions and magazines...

I think lots of information is always good--as long as you have the ability to sift through it. At some point, you will have to form your own opinions and make your own decisions. After all, you are the one is going to college.

Mark Corkery
Head College Counselor International College Admissions Network (I-CAN)

Guidebooks and Unigo are your best resources

Rankings and other statistically oriented resources are not the best exclusive places to get information on the colleges. They would just simply be the place to start the research. Just because a school is ranked high does not mean that you in particular would find that school a good fit. Relatives are helpful, to an extent. Caution here because relatives' experiences at their alma maters would be from a few to many years ago. Campuses can change dramatically in that timespan. I like to look at colleges for how professors and administrators view the campuses other than their own to gauge the basics of the education offered. Then what they offer as a college as a whole would be the next step. The quantitative guides and ranking literature for the high school student first considering colleges is a place to start. The qualitative review (student opinions of their own campuses, for example) provide the confirming evidence that give texture and color to the quantitative analysis in most of the guidebooks and rankings literature such as US News and World Report. Most colleges look down on the rankings publications, but at the same time, if they are on the lists, it is pronounced loudly in their literature!!

Helen Cella

Are guidebooks, relatives, and rankings useful in choosing a school?

Not in choosing a school, but good for resources.

Amy Feins
owner AMF College Consulting

UGH, Rankings

Everyone hates rankings, except colleges who find themselves ranked highly, and who isn't? There are so many categories and that it is almost impossible to find a school that isn't at the top of one category or another. They're worthless. Guidebooks are ok in the initial search, but only for objective information like the number of students, cost of attendance, and admissions deadlines and requirements. I find that even average test scores are sometimes inaccurate in guidebooks, so I always double check the college websites to make sure I have the latest information. As for relatives, put in the earplugs. Everyone becomes an expert who "helped" get their niece or nephew or neighbor or son's best friend into Harvard. Not true. Keep your vital statistics and your college list private. It's nobody's business and all they're going to do is make you anxious. PLUS how do they know what school will really be the best fit for you? Do your own research, get your feet onto some college campuses, and go with your gut.

Karen Ekman-Baur
Director of College Counseling Leysin American School

Useful Resources for Choosing Schools

Any resources that enable a student to learn more about an institution are potentially useful, but students need to be aware of the "motivation" behind each of the resources that he/she uses. Guidebooks produced by schools provide a great deal of useful information, but the student must realize that they are marketing tools for the institutions. Rankings can be helpful if the student carefully looks at the components of the ranking to see which aspects represent qualities which are important to him/her. More important would be the quality of the program or programs the student is interested in studying at any given school. If various relatives are knowledgeable about a school, their input can also be valuable, as can the input of students or former students of the institution, but the student should carefully consider the motivations driving the opinions.

Tam Warner Minton
Consultant College Adventures

Choosing a college

Guidebooks can be helpful when choosing a college, I recommend the Fiske Guide. It is, in my opinion, the best college guide out there. I love Colleges that Change Lives, as well. You can get them on Amazon from my blog at Are relatives useful? They can be, it is, however, important that the college fit YOU, not your relative. It is not the only reason you should go to a particular college. As far as rankings go, I am not a big fan. Two of the most intellectual colleges in the country, Reed College and Sarah Lawrence College, are not in the US News and World Report rankings because they do not require SAT/ACT scores. Data can also be "embellished" in the ranking game. Forbes also has a college ranking system, but as I said, the most important thing is that YOU like the college, YOU like the program, YOU will thrive in the environment. Don't use rankings as a major reason to apply to colleges!