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

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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.

Juliet Giglio
Montgomery Educational Consulting

Guidebooks, relatives and rankings can be helpful

Yes, guidebooks can be helpful in choosing a school, because they might introduce you to a college that you'd never heard of and the same is true for a relative. Rankings can be tricky because it's true that the higher the ranking, the more likely you'll be familiar with a certain name college BUT it's also likely that you'll rule out colleges which might be just as good for you but are lower ranked. Relatives are helpful if they want to help you pay for your college!

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.

Francine Schwartz
Founder/ President Pathfinder Counseling LLC

Knowledge verses information

All three , have a place in the search for the college that is the right fit. However there is a difference between gathering a multitude of facts and being able to synthesize all of this information in a way that makes sense and can be applied to decision making. Start by making a list of the most important factors for you such as size, location and majors offered. Then use guidebooks, websites, current students and alumni and experts such as high school and college counselors to gather facts. Be sure to visit schools that are on your list since that is one of the very best ways to learn if a college feels right for you.


When Choosing a School, Get All the Help You Can Get

Guidebooks, relatives, friends, and ranking are all useful in choosing the appropriate college. There is no limit on information; the more you have, the better decision you will make. With relatives or friends, however, be aware that their input is anecdotal. Everyone's college experience is unique. If Uncle Rob claims he went four years without being invited to a party, well, that just might be on Uncle Rob.

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.

Peter Van Buskirk
President The Admission Game

College Rankings: Fact or Fiction?

Rising college costs and increased competition for admission are forcing families to consider the choice of a college more carefully than ever. In doing so, many are turning to college ranking guides to find the best colleges for their children. This would make good sense if the ranking guides were empirically driven—based on science and fact—and matched with a profile of the student’s talents, skill sets and needs. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Rankings are far from scientific—and kids are constantly changing their dreams and directions! Upon closer examination, college rankings are the ultimate tease—fiction wrapped up as science. Constantly changing methodologies, self-reported (by colleges) data and authoritative decrees about the validity associated with related weights and measures have the illusory effect of quantifying the mythical pecking order. While the outcomes generate marketable stories, rankings bear little that is truly useful to students in finding good college “fits.” Instead, they reinforce the destination orientation—a need to find or have the “best”—that is pervasive in college selection at the expense of solutions that are student-centered. Before you get out your credit card, then, or rush to printout a list of the “best” colleges, take a moment to ask yourself three questions: 1. Who is defining the “best” and what does it mean for me/my child? 2. What do the editors of ranking guides know about me/my child? 3. Where is the evidence that rankings will make a difference in our college planning outcomes? The college-going process has been turned upside down by ranking guides. For example, who is really being served when the effect of ranking guides is to shine a brighter light on a handful of institutions that already turn down 80-90% of their applicants? If ranking guides are truly useful to consumers, why do disproportionate numbers of students apply to schools where the chances of gaining admission are less than one out of four? How supportive are they to agendas of access and completion when barely half of the students entering college this fall will graduate from any college in 4-5 years? There are no shortcuts or easy substitutions for thoughtful and reflective research in the college planning process. At the end of the day, rankings are, at best, artificial metrics for quality in education that detract from sensible, student-centered decision-making. The choice of a college is one of the most important decisions in the life of a family. Avoid unhappy outcomes by establishing the student, not the destination, at the center of your deliberations.