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?

Scott White
Director of Guidance Montclair High School

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

In context. The Princeton Review lists are both funny and revealing. US News lists certainly tells you what is popular, if that is what is important. The College Navigator is a wealth of information of college statistics with things like graduation rates, etc. There is a great list of lists (begun by me and taken over by someone else) at

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.

Bill Pruden
Head of Upper School, College Counselor Ravenscroft School

Guidebooks--It is all in How You Use Them

A guidebook, is just that, a guides and their value in the college search process is less about them than it is about the applicant, for the key is in how one uses them. Are they simply a centralized source of information, something that can save one from jumping from website to website or are they a bible, the last word about the supposed personality and character of a campus and a school. I must admit that I generally loath the annual guides put out by U.S. News for I believe that the rankings as well as much of their “advice” put too much emphasis on things of no real value to the educational process. At the same time, the second half of the guide is as good and comprehensive a collection of the basic facts—size, major programs, graduation rates, standardized test requirements, etc.—as one can find. Having all that together can be a big help in streamlining the search process. Readers must recognize that each guide has its own agenda, and in the increasingly competitive marketplace, publishers seek to present schools in way that sets their book apart. However, that slant does not guarantee the best presentation of the schools. Indeed, like us, the Unigo experts, every reference book and expert reflects some biases for we are dealing in the most human of processes--college admission. Consequently, in the end, guidebooks can be value but their real value depends upon what the reader is looking for and how they use the individual guide.

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.

Suzan Reznick
Independent Educational Consultant The College Connection

Guidebooks, relatives and rankings may have a place.....

But they are NOT the best way to get started choosing colleges! They may be useful in confirming details about a school and I did say may!. Aunt Fannie's hairdresser's nephew would likely not have the same experience at college ABC as you would, so why would you care if they were happy? And guidebooks, not to mention relatives may just have the WRONG, outdated information. The basis that many rankings use are just very limited and never seem to focus on what really matters- which is how engaged in learning is the student body.

Kim Glenchur
Educational Consultant CollegesGPS

Initial vs. in-depth investigations

These resources are good starting points for in-depth personal investigations. College rankings, for example, are easily digestible resources for identifying reputable institutions. The problem with rankings is that they can become a shallow substitute for reflecting on the types of college learning that may bring success and happiness. At an extreme, reliance on one-size-fits-all college rankings ignores each individual's unique strengths and requirements. The real issue is whether an applicant is considering colleges that will support his or her intellectual growth and exploration.

Annie Reznik
Counselor/CEO College Guidance Coach

Never Let Someone Else Make Up Your Mind For You

Rankings, college representatives, friends, family can all provide a perspective on a school or your search. But, you know yourself better than anyone—trust your instincts. Be careful not to think in terms of "the one," this is college, not marriage.

Tyler Burton
President Burton College Tours

Be your own detective

The best way to construct a list of schools is by participating in essential campus tours.

Patricia Aviezer
President Inside Track To College, Inc.

It All Boils Down To You...

I always discuss with my families the importance of "being on the ground." By that I mean, visiting the college when students are there so get a real feel for the campus and the students who attend there. Researching colleges by reading guidebooks, speaking with relatives and reviewing rankings have all become part of the landscape of the college review process. It is important to remember that even though "Uncle Joe" had the time of his life at Fun Time University, doesn't mean your expectations of a college experience match his. So where should the college search begin....with you, of course!

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.