This book is a pretty good compromise between facts and opinion, but it's not flawless. While it does a substantially better job than US News & World Report, a few of Princeton Review's ratings and sidebars probably need to be improved. Here are some examples:
First, what does an "admissions selectivity" rating of four stars mean? To many it means that the school has a four star reputation and admission to a "four-star" school will open doors to grad schools and job opportunities. To others it means that their sons and daughters who don't have A averages ought to think of applying elsewhere.
The problem is that schools like Harvard and Elon College both receive four stars. No one is saying that Elon is anything but a good school, but it's a bit misleading if it makes students think their shot at getting into Elon is only a few little points better than getting into Harvard. Then there's the problem of interpreting selectivity. Princeton Review says that the percentage of admitted students who enroll at George Washington is low while Millsaps College has a high percentage of acceptees who enroll. Meanwhile, according to their own statistics GW has an acceptee enrollment rate of 32% while Millsaps is at 30%. What's up with that? Barron's does a much better job with accurate, understandable selectivity.
As far as awarding academic stars, it's very interesting to note the pronounced differences between public and private universities. If you analyze Princeton Review's findings, your conclusion will be "you get what you pay for." Students apparently get lost in the shuffle at big public universities and teachers are largely inaccessible. A three-star academic rating for a public university is really quite excellent while three stars is a bit low for a private school.
However, student opinion skews the ratings against schools known for engineering and sciences. Very high-powered schools like CalTech, Case Western, Johns Hopkins and Cooper Union all received only three stars despite very favorable student-teacher ratios and very low levels of classes taught by TA's (if any). Are these low ratings the result of having many foreign professors who are difficult to understand? Could it be that students were forced to go into the sciences by their parents and didn't really want to go to CalTech in the first place? Princeton Review doesn't do enough to explain why students might feel less than fully satisfied.
Another problem is their sidebar of competing schools. If you look at George Washington University, the sidebar will tell you that students offer prefer Boston University over GW. Then if you look at BU's, it says that students often prefer GW. Can you have it both ways? Much more confusing is the phrase "students rarely prefer" because it can mean two very different things. It could mean that there is heavy overlap in applicant pools, but student rarely pick the second school or it could mean there is rarely an overlap, but if there is, the student will usually pick the second school.
Princeton Review is better than a lot of the guides when it comes to finances. Some books, such as Fiske, don't mention specific tuition costs. Princeton Review analyzes each school's financial aid policies pretty well. Princeton Review does not match Fiske when it comes to information on each school's strongest departments.
The book also does a better job than many at showing student perspective which is helpful, but readers should remember that college students are often world champions at sarcasm. I think students would prefer this book over something dry that only presents facts, but this book pays too much heed to its own opinion to be considered truly unbiased.