Are College Guidebooks Useful?


Published:

Photo courtesy of Michael Trivette

Prior to the advent of the modern internet, data-starved applicants had to head over to Barnes & Noble or another, now-defunct retailer (like Borders and Waldenbooks) to find insights beyond those contained in the official glossy brochures that arrived in the mail.

The internet has made some of these extra-thick volumes a bit less essential. After all, finding basic admissions data like a college’s SAT range, average GPA, tuition fee and acceptance rate can be done through a fast and free Google search. Yet, guidebooks remain quite relevant as their benefits and insights go well beyond sheer basic stats.

What follows are College Transitions’ reviews of some of the most popular college guidebooks on the market, with some of the pros and cons of each text. It’s important to note that our “cons” are not necessarily criticisms (although sometimes they are). Rather, this is our analysis of what each source lacks so that your student can properly identify the correct complementary source to fill in the gaps. After all, your student’s own learning process for a subject this expansive and important should involve more than one book.

“The Princeton Review: The 381 Best Colleges”

Since 1992, The Princeton Review has released its “Best Colleges” editions each year based on surveys of more than 140,000 students at institutions across the country. The 2016 edition costs $23.99.

Pros: This guide is an excellent starting point for any college-bound high school student. It covers many, but not all, of the finest institutions in the U.S., placing a spotlight on top programs, popular majors and notable campus attributes. Its wealth of lists will also help students looking to find like-minded peers by highlighting schools that are known for their LGBT friendliness, religious student bodies, intramural sports, quality college towns, study abroad opportunities, Greek or non-Greek-dominated social scene, and so on.

Cons: Anecdotes and generalizations of a less-than-helpful nature abound in this guidebook. Examples include statements such as “hard liquor is popular on campus” and “no one cheats.” In reality, there are students at every school who are more focused on illicitly purchasing bottles of hard lemonade than attending class, and it’s likely that someone at even the allegedly most honest campus is plagiarizing a term paper on the resurgent popularity of Alexander Hamilton as we speak.

“Fiske Guide to Colleges”

Now in its 33rd edition, this annual guide, authored by a former education editor of The New York Times, Edward Fiske, highlights institutions Fiske deems to be the “best and most interesting” schools in the U.S. Typically, around 320 colleges and universities make the cut. Cost: $18.

Pros: “Fiske Guide to Colleges” is extremely well-written and the school profiles are a pleasure to read. Incisive quotes from students and professors are interspersed throughout each school profile. Rich descriptions of the overall academic milieu, program offerings and notably unique extracurricular/recreational opportunities give the reader an excellent overview of the strengths of each school. In addition to detailed profiles of hundreds of colleges and universities, there are also some helpful lists breaking down the included schools by cost as well as by graduate debt load.

Cons: Do you care that Brown University has “a building that resembles a Greek temple and buildings in the Richardsonian tradition”? There is a healthy dose of space devoted to campus architecture, as well as the same type of generalizations about the student body that are spewed by the Princeton Review (i.e. students are happy, preppy, leaders, world citizens, etc.) that may or may not be helpful to your student’s college search.

“Colleges That Change Lives”

Loren Pope, another New York Times education editor, penned this classic book as well as other worthy reads such as “Looking Beyond the Ivy League.” Pope’s was the first national voice to popularize the idea that what actually takes place on campus and in classrooms is far more important than name recognition and prestige. In advocating for small, liberal arts schools, he highlighted 40 schools that are not highly selective but still provide students with a superior educational experience.

Pros: There are two groups of students who can benefit from this book — those with Ivy League tunnel vision who can be enlightened about amazing schools that have been off their radar, and solid but not spectacular students who may be unaware of the incredible and one-of-a-kind educational opportunities that are actually within their reach.

Cons: While this book is undoubtedly a worthy read and was groundbreaking in leading the charge encouraging high-schoolers to consider less prestigious but excellent colleges, there are some negatives. Many of the school profiles are purely observational and some of the anecdotes get a bit repetitive. For example, Pope will stroll by the library at night, see a pack of students studying and conclude that this affirms an atmosphere of serious scholarship. One other important note is that some of the material is outdated, and was so even at the time of publication. Most egregiously, Antioch College, included in the 2006 edition, actually shut down for a four-year period due to financial difficulties just months after the book’s release.

“The Enlightened College Applicant”

We authored this book to fill what we saw as huge gaps in the available guidebook literature: What can academic research in the field of higher education tell us about college selection? How can we measure return on investment by undergraduate institution and major? How can teenagers, even those unsure about their future paths, make decisions about college that will keep their lives flexible enough to pursue their dreams, as they begin to take form? $18.20.

Pros: Since we wrote this book, we’ll let the national book critics speak to its worthiness. As “Kirkus Reviews” stated, our book is a “destressing trove of data that will help readers make more well-rounded college decisions.” It arms families and students with research-based advice to help make their college decisions more “rationally and reasonably,” to quote The American Library Association (Booklist). We think our text should be the first college book you read, as it will provide you with a framework and philosophy to guide your search for an undergraduate home. Publisher’s Weekly agrees that “The Enlightened College Applicant” is “a voice of reason” that will “provide comfort and direction to those starting the application process.”

Cons: None, because we wrote it! Just kidding. Our guidebook does highlight colleges that excel in particular areas (i.e. top feeders to medical schools) but is not a comprehensive list of hundreds of schools with institution-specific admissions data. For that, we recommend “Fiske Guide to Colleges,” “The Princeton Review: The 381 Best Colleges” or any number of free internet sites.

Other Helpful Books About College Admissions

“The College Solution” by Lynn O’Shaughnessy ($17.15)

“How to Raise an Adult” by Julie Lythcott-Haims ($8.79)

“The Gatekeepers” by Jacques Steinberg ($11.63)

“Conquering the College Admissions Essay in 10 Easy Steps” by Alan Gelb ($14.99)

 

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October 2018

Run Club meets every Sunday at 8 a.m. in Midtown Raleigh or Wake Forest. Stroller friendly; children invited. 

Cost: $10/run or $100/annual pass

Where:
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5900 Whittier Drive
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Cost: See website for fees

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Cost: $30-$75. Free for ages 5 and younger.

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The Angus Barn
9401 Glenwood Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27617
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Enjoy pottery demonstrations, kiln openings, raku firings, glass blowing demos, food trucks, live music, a raffle and more. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Cedar Creek Gallery
1150 Fleming Rd.
Creedmoor, NC  27522
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Join Mindful Families of Durham, a Buddhist-inspired spiritual community that supports area parents, caregivers, and their children in the practice of mindfulness and the understanding of the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Erwin Road
Durham, NC  27705
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Sponsor: Mindful Families of Durham
Contact Name: Adam, Laura, Josh, Sumi
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Shop antiques, crafts and art, and enjoy food trucks at this artisan and vintage market in downtown Cary.

Cost: Free

Where:
Fidelity Bank Parking Lot
100 W. Chatham St.
Cary, NC  27511
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Contact Name: Leslie & Jessica
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Ages 5-8 embrace science and nature while developing skills and knowledge about the natural world. Register online.

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Kids (ages 6-10) learn to identify the tracks and skulls of common animals that live in or near the preserve. Make a plaster cast of a track to take home. Weather permitting, take a hike to...

Cost: $5

Where:
Wilkerson Nature Preserve
5229 Awls Haven Drive
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Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
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Explore the uses of pumpkins, past and present, and study pumpkins inside and out. Paint a small pumpkin to take home. All ages. Meet at the Upper Pavilion. Registration required for all family...

Cost: $1/person

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd.
Apex, NC  27539
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Telephone: 919-662-2850
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Enjoy live music and delicious soups, breads, sandwiches and desserts from some of Chapel Hill and Carrboro's leading chefs. Unique, handcrafted bowls donated by local artists will also be...

Cost: $15-$75

Where:
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101 E Weaver St
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Sponsor: TABLE
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Join the Raleigh Community Orchestra as it presents its fall concert, “Where Have I Heard That? Music from Cartoons, Commericals, and Classics” for all ages.

Cost: $10/adult, $5/youth, one free youth per adult ticket

Where:
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N.C. State Fairgrounds
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Where:
Providence Baptist Church
6339 Glenwood Avenue
Raleigh, NC  27612
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N.C. State Fairgrounds
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Kids hike, make projects and engage in nature activities. Ages 5-8. Register online.

Cost: $9/resident, $12/nonresident

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Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
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This event, designed for academic students with disabilities in grades 6-12 who are performing at or near grade level, gives attendees a chance to meet role models with disabilities who have...

Cost: Free

Where:
N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences
11 W. Jones St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Where:
Providence Baptist Church
6339 Glenwood Avenue
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Sponsor: Raleigh Community Orchestra
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See Happy Dan perform magic, comedy and more.

Cost: $5/person

Where:
Renaissance Centre
405 Brooks St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

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Join the Raleigh Community Orchestra as it presents its fall concert, “Where Have I Heard That? Music from Cartoons, Commericals, and Classics” for all ages.

Cost: $10/adult, $5/youth, one free youth per adult ticket

Where:
Providence Baptist Church
6339 Glenwood Avenue
Raleigh, NC  27612
View map »


Sponsor: Raleigh Community Orchestra
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More information

Show More...
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North Carolina's signature event features live music, carnival rides, delicious food, kids' entertainment and more. See website for hours and ticket prices.  

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
N.C. State Fairgrounds
1025 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Ages 1-5 and caregiver take a relaxing stroll to experience nature. Register online. 

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

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Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Parent and child ages 2-5 water plants in the native wildflower gardens. Register online. 

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Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
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Durham, NC  27701
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Celebrate Raleigh's creativity under the beautiful lights and cobblestone streets of City Market. Find locally-made goods and enjoy a night filled with music and entertainment with over 30...

Cost: Free

Where:
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Contact Name: Sara Buxton
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Join the Raleigh Community Orchestra as it presents its fall concert, “Where Have I Heard That? Music from Cartoons, Commericals, and Classics” for all ages.

Cost: $10/adult, $5/youth, one free youth per adult ticket

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Providence Baptist Church
6339 Glenwood Avenue
Raleigh, NC  27612
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North Carolina's signature event features live music, carnival rides, delicious food, kids' entertainment and more. See website for hours and ticket prices.  

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
N.C. State Fairgrounds
1025 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

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Cost: $10/person

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about tummy time alternatives, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to...

Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr
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Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
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Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about carry positions, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to crawl,...

Cost: $18

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Open Arts
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Read the book by Rebecca Emberley and build your own monster out of recyclable materials. All ages with adult. Registration required.

Cost: Free

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2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
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Enjoy live German music, traditional Bavarian food and fare, German cars, a "Kinder Platz" zone wiener dog races, nail-driving competitions and more. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $5-$20

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8003 Regency Pkwy.
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Take the family to carve pumpkins and take part in a pumpkin-carving contest later that evening, Prizes awarded for scariest, funniest and most original pumpkin creation. Enjoy a video game...

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Friday, October 19; 6:00–7:00 p.m. Did you know there are over 40,000 different species of spiders! Join us as we explore a few arachnids found in our park as we search out these 8-legged...

Cost: $1/Person

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Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
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Telephone: 919-662-2850

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Cost: $10/adult, $5/youth, one free youth per adult ticket

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Show Less...

North Carolina's signature event features live music, carnival rides, delicious food, kids' entertainment and more. See website for hours and ticket prices.  

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Take part in a walk to benefit the Triangle Festival of Hope. Proceeds benefit and support caregivers and families living with dementia in North Carolina. The event features live music, kids'...

Cost: Free

Where:
Knightdale Station Park
810 N. First Ave.
Knightdale, NC  27545
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Sponsor: Dementia Alliance of North Carolina
Telephone: 919-832-3732
Contact Name: Kacy Hall
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Enjoy a craft fair presented by the Junior League of Raleigh. See website for hours and to purchase advance tickets.  

Cost: $10/person

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Take the family for live entertainment, a bounce house, a costume contest, trick or treat training, princess hair braiding, face painting, music and more. The Aspen School's preschool programs...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Aspen School for Exceptional Children
1050 A NW Maynard Road
Cary, NC  27513
View map »

More information

Ages 1-5 and caregiver take a relaxing stroll to experience nature. Register online. 

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Step back in time with 19th-century costumed interpreters and watch the millstones at work grinding corn into meal. Preregistration encouraged. Purchase tickets at the mill. 

Cost: $5/Adult, $4/Senior (ages 60 & over), $3/Child (ages 7-16), Children ages 6 & un

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Children's booksellers read their favorite picture books. All ages.

Cost: Free

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Quail Ridge Books
4209-100 Lassiter Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Website »

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Join costumed interpreters Jon and Karena Potter to learn 19th-century country dances. Drop-in program; registration not required.

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Enjoy a festival celebrating work, food and harvest. This event explores the season for all people on one of North Carolina's largest plantations, through games, music, food,...

Cost: $5/person. Free for ages 2 and younger

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Historic Stagville
5828 Old Oxford Hwy.
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Koka Booth Amphitheatre
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Triangle Beagle Rescue of NC hosts Beaglefest. Enjoy vendors, food, dog-related games, a dog costume contest, swag, photos with your pup and with beagles. All leashed dogs welcome.

Cost: $10 for adults; $5 for children under 12

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Learn about the history of candy at a display table. Taste penny candy and take a trip around the globe to explore the world’s favorite sugary treats. All ages. Registration not required.

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North Carolina Botanical Garden
100 Old Mason Farm Rd.
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Sponsor: North Carolina Botanical Garden
Telephone: 919-537-3770
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Explore the historic heart of downtown Raleigh on a walking tour of Fayetteville Street. Tours highlight the people, places, architecture and political movements that have shaped...

Cost: Adults (18+) $10; Youth (7-17) $4; Children (6 & under) Free.

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City of Raleigh Museum
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Mark your calendars! Our annual Halloween event, Creepy Crabtree, will return in October! This free park wide event will investigate the darker side of nature. Join the freakish festivities,...

Cost: Free

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Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Pkwy.
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Join us on October 20, 2018, for the Harmony Playground Gala fundraiser at the Farm at 42, 1075 Lynchburg Road,  Selma, NC, from 5 pm - 9:30 pm.  The event will benefit the first...

Cost: $100 per person

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The Farm at 42
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Wilkerson Nature Preserve
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Cost: $10/adult, $5/youth, one free youth per adult ticket

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Each year over 35,000 visitors come to BugFest to experience over 100 exhibits, crafts, games and activities. Interact with entomologists and other scientists so you can continue learning about the...

Cost: Free

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