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)

 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Related Content

May 20-23: Crafty Kids, Night Hike, Marker Chromatography and “The Wizard of Oz” Outdoors

Here are some fun things to do the week of May 20-23 with the kids.

Triangle Summer Movies Under the Stars

Enjoy watch these free or discounted films under the summer night sky.

Triangle Summer Movie Deals for Families

Cool off on hot summer day at the movies with your kids.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

May 2019

For almost 200 years, farmers brought their wheat and corn to what is now Yates Mill to have their grains ground into flour and meal. Today, you can stop by the Yates Mill visitor center to see a...

Cost: Free

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


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Prior to opening to the general public, the museum will be open from 9am to noon for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder.  The museum's regular exhibits will be available, in addition to...

Cost: $4-$12

Where:
North Carolina Transportation Museum
1 Samuel Spencer Drive
Spencer, NC  28159
View map »


Sponsor: North Carolina Transportation Museum
Telephone: 704-636-2889
Contact Name: Ian J. Kuhn

More information

Ages 6-14 swim, walk and run to benefit Just Tryan It, an organization dedicated to supporting families facing pediatric cancer. Proceeds benefit families at UNC and...

Cost: $55

Where:
Chapel Hill Country Club
103 Lancaster Drive
Chapel Hill, NC  27517
View map »


Sponsor: Just TRYAN It
Contact Name: Sheryl Blackwell
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: 24.00

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
Website »

More information

Enjoy an Art Market with more than 170 visual arts and crafts exhibitors from across North Carolina and the nation; Kidsplosure, showcasing multiple interactive educational...

Cost: Free

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
Fayetteville St.
, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

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
View map »


Sponsor: Mindful Families of Durham
Contact Name: Adam, Laura, Josh, Sumi
Website »

More information

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: 24.00

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Website »

More information

The Triangle's annual agricultural festival showcases animals, home grown food, family entertainment, music, antique farm equipment, carnival rides and more. Gate admission and parking are...

Cost: See website for fees

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


Website »

More information

Take part in a day-long event created by local teen girls for local teen girls that features demonstrations and vendors, and successful and powerful women from the community who can show girls the...

Cost: Free with advance registration

Where:
Hilton Raleigh
3415 Wake Forest Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
View map »


Sponsor: Girls World Expo
Contact Name: Valerie Moore
Website »

More information

Celebrate our community and all things spring, with flowers, gardens, butterflies, shows, arts, crafts, treats and more to delight all ages.

Cost: Free

Where:
Downtown Chapel Hill
140 W. Franklin St.
Chapel Hill, NC  27514
View map »


Website »

More information

It`s 1863 at Yates Mill, and the yard is alive with activity! Step back in time with our 19th-century costumed interpreters and watch the millstones at work grinding corn into meal.  Tour fee:...

Cost: $5/Adult, $4/Senior (ages 60+), $3/Child (ages 7-16), Free/Child (ages 6-under)

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


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Get in the driver's seat with this hands-on experience with vehicles of all kinds. Children will be allowed to touch, climb on and ask questions about their favorite vehicles in a safe,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Apex Community Park
2200 Laura Duncan Rd.
Apex, NC  27511
View map »


Sponsor: Town of Apex
Telephone: 919-249-3507
Contact Name: Allie Prelaske
Website »

More information

Enjoy free, live performances from the best artists from around the Triangle in front of Stone Theatre as well as kid-friendly activities. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Park West Village
Morrisville, NC  27560


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Ages 2-5 enjoy movement and mindfulness. Learn basic yoga elements through age-appropriate breath-work techniques, games, storytelling, and creative visualization.

Cost: $15 or use your package/membership

Where:
Kids Mindful Movement - Pittsboro
184 East St.
Pittsboro, NC  27312
View map »


Website »

More information

Ages 5-13. Homeschool Yoga is a one-hour class designed to strengthen and stretch the entire body, balance the nervous system, improve body awareness. Weave in art and journaling before or after...

Cost: $15 or use class pass/membership

Where:
Kids Mindful Movement - Pittsboro
184 East Street
Pittsboro, NC  27312
View map »

More information

The flowers are in full bloom at the park! Create a craft bursting with color inspired by nature. We will bring the materials if you bring the imagination! For all ages (adult accompaniment...

Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
Apex, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

More information

Ages 5-13 enjoy a one-hour yoga class designed to strengthen and stretch the entire body, balance the nervous system, improve body awareness, encourage the development of communication and social...

Cost: $15 or use class pass/membership

Where:
Kids Mindful Movement - Pittsboro
184 East St.
Pittsboro, NC  27312
View map »


Website »

More information

Ages 11 and older with disabilities make New Orleans creole. Register online. Choose course #120057.

Cost: $19/resident, $24/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC  27513
View map »


Website »

More information

Enjoy free, live performances from the best artists from around the Triangle in front of Stone Theatre as well as kid-friendly activities. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Park West Village
Morrisville, NC  27560


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Enjoy free, live performances from the best artists from around the Triangle in front of Stone Theatre as well as kid-friendly activities. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Park West Village
Morrisville, NC  27560


Website »

More information

Come celebrate Turtle Day by stopping by the park’s visitor’s center to learn some cool facts about North Carolina’s turtles! Meet our live park ambassador – Frankie the...

Cost: Free

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


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Making a kite is the perfect fun spring project! Learn about the forces that make kites fly and listen to the story of Benjamin Franklin and his kite (did he really draw electricity from lightning...

Cost: Free

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


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Enjoy the classic story as presented by Rags to Riches Theatre for Young Audiences. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Century Center
Carrboro, NC  27510


Website »

More information

Connect with your baby, other parents and yourself during this adult-focused postpartum yoga class. Recommended for babies newborn to walking. Take a mat, a blanket for your little one, and...

Cost: $15 or use class pass/membership

Where:
Kids Mindful Movement - Pittsboro
184 East Street
Pittsboro, NC  27312
View map »


Website »

More information

Enjoy tea time for the whole family. Samples of hot tea, cold tea, and kombucha will be provided, along with games and family fun.

Cost: Free

Where:
IngenuiTea Kombucha Coffee & Tea
514 E Williams St
APEX, NC  27502
View map »


Sponsor: IngenuiTea Brews
Telephone: 919-438-3684
Contact Name: Mark Poole
Website »

More information

Discover the joy of cooking with storybook characters. Ages 3-5 with parent. Register online. Choose course #120084.

Cost: $23/resident, $30/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Enjoy free, live performances from the best artists from around the Triangle in front of Stone Theatre as well as kid-friendly activities. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Park West Village
Morrisville, NC  27560


Website »

More information

Come celebrate Turtle Day by stopping by the park’s visitor’s center to learn some cool facts about North Carolina’s turtles! Meet our live park ambassador – Frankie the...

Cost: Free

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


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Help monitor and keep bluebird and wood duck boxes clean throughout our park, create or place additional habitat boxes and assist with other natural resource tasks. Come prepared to learn and work...

Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
View map »


Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
Website »

More information

This after-school class for kids in grades 3-5 offers fun learning yoga poses and mindfulness techniques to reduce stress. Grades 3-5. 

Cost: $15/class, or use your class pass/membership.

Where:
Kids Mindful Movement - Chapel Hill
781 Mt. Carmel Church Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC  27517
View map »


Website »

More information

Bring your curiosity and creativity and explore a variety of art media. Grades 3-5. 

Cost: 0

Where:
Orange County Public Library
137 W Margaret Lane
Hillsborough, NC  27278
View map »


Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
Telephone: 191-924-52539
Contact Name: Libbie Hough
Website »

More information

Enjoy a family-friendly movie and a slice or two of pizza. Purchase tickets online.

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

Where:
The Halle Cultural Center
237 N. Salem St.
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Website »

More information

Ages 11 and older with special needs enjoy karaoke. Take a dish to share. Register online. Choose course #121043.

Cost: $2/resident, $3/nonresident

Where:
Cary Senior Center
120 Maury O'Dell Place
Cary, NC  27513
View map »


Website »

More information

Enjoy free, live performances from the best artists from around the Triangle in front of Stone Theatre as well as kid-friendly activities. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Park West Village
Morrisville, NC  27560


Website »

More information

Come celebrate Turtle Day by stopping by the park’s visitor’s center to learn some cool facts about North Carolina’s turtles! Meet our live park ambassador – Frankie the...

Cost: Free

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


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Enjoy Raleigh’s premier Japanese animation and culture convention. Concerts, educational panels, limited merchandise, unique artwork and more highlight the event. Purchase tickets...

Cost: $65/person

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


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Relax in the courtyard with live music and food. All ages.

Cost: Free

Where:
Edison Johnson Community Center
500 W. Murray Ave.
Durham, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Enjoy fun, games, friendship and more every Friday.

Cost: Free

Where:
Sanderford Road Center
2623 Sanderford Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27610
View map »


Sponsor: Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department
Telephone: 919-831-1898
Contact Name: Adam Sproles
Website »

More information

Enjoy free, live performances from the best artists from around the Triangle in front of Stone Theatre as well as kid-friendly activities. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Park West Village
Morrisville, NC  27560


Website »

More information

Each Fourth Friday of the month join us for a night of art, film, food and fun. This is free and open to the public.​

Cost: Free

Where:
SummerStage
800 Taylor St
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Sponsor: Hi-Wire Brewing and abc11

More information

Enjoy Raleigh’s premier Japanese animation and culture convention. Concerts, educational panels, limited merchandise, unique artwork and more highlight the event. Purchase tickets...

Cost: $65/person

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


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Get inspired by the park's natural beauty and contribute to a community art project celebrating the season of flowers. Head to the Finley Center to make a few paper flowers and help to...

Cost: Free

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


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Dogs, face painting, animal tattoos, a bounce house, dog contests and canine demonstrations, handmade bandannas, photo booths and local vendors highlight this annual festival to benefit the...

Cost: $15-$30

Where:
Duke University East Campus
Durham, NC


Website »

More information

One Saturday of the month join us for our family fun series. This is free and open to the public. Here is what you can expect: 10am-12pm: Come to the plaza for family-friendly activities for...

Cost: Free

Where:
SummerStage
800 Taylor St
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Sponsor: Hi-Wire Brewing, abc11, and Offline

More information

Take a walk in the woods and discover the animals and plants that call our park home. Help collect data for our Natural Resource Inventory Database and other citizen science projects. All...

Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
Apex, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

More information

Learn basic canoeing skills and a bit about the millpond's history, then head out to explore the pond's many features as seen only from the water. Canoes, paddles, and life jackets are provided,...

Cost: Free

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


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Want to get inside Historic Yates Mill? Join us for a half-hour tour (starting at 1, 1:30, 2, 2:30 or 3 p.m.) to view the main power drive and milling machinery while exploring the mill's...

Cost: $5/Adult, $4/Senior (ages 60+), $3/Child (ages 7-16), Free/Child (ages 6-under)

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


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Stop by our FREE discovery table to learn about songbirds! Registration is not required. The display table is located at the Upper Playground.

Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
Apex, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

More information

Geocaching is a treasure hunt where participants use GPS coordinates to track down hidden “caches.” Learn what geocaching is all about and head out to find a real geocache in the park....

Cost: Free

Where:
American Tobacco Trail
1309 New Hill-Olive Chapel Rd.
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park and the American Tobacco Trail
Telephone: 919-387-2117
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
Website »

More information

Enjoy free, live performances from the best artists from around the Triangle in front of Stone Theatre as well as kid-friendly activities. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Park West Village
Morrisville, NC  27560


Website »

More information

Enjoy Raleigh’s premier Japanese animation and culture convention. Concerts, educational panels, limited merchandise, unique artwork and more highlight the event. Purchase tickets...

Cost: $65/person

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


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Directories

Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Annual Guides

Education Guide

The 2018-19 Education Guide offers 678 education resources in the Triangle, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools, academic resources and an Exceptional Child special section.

The Triangle Go-To Guide

Our Triangle Go-To Guide connects you to family fun resources across the Triangle. Plus, find out who our 2018 Readers' Favorites are.