The Best 371 Colleges, 2010 Edition Paperback – Jul 28 2009
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"The Best 371 Colleges (2010 Edition)" (832 pages) is similar to last year's edition. After holding the number of best colleges at 368 last year (remember this book started off in 1992 with the best 350), this time there are 5 new "best" colleges and 2 that didn't make the cut anymore, and so now we have 371 (if the inflation of "best" colleges continues, I surmise we'll get to 400 eventually). Those 5 new colleges are Angelo State University, Green Mountain College, Marywood University, Stonehill College, and the University of Charleston. There is a fun-to-browse 62 lists of best/worst, such as "Most Beautiful Campus", "Students Study the Most", "Party Schools", and "Most Politically Active Students" (my daughter is attending the No.2 ranked school on that list, it was ranked No.1 last year, so yes these rankings change from year to year).
The best feature of this guide remains the 2 page layout for each of the colleges, with in-depth information on campus life, academic selectivity (the number of applicants, how many were accepted, and of those how many actually decided to attend), up-to-date tuition and room/board costs (I checked the numbers of the college that my daughter is now attending, and they are accurate), etc. Another aspect that is very helpful is the "Survey says" sidebar, in which the essence of the university is distilled from the college students themselves, and "The Inside Word" segment on how tough it really is to gain admission when all is said and done.
The proof is in the pudding: of the many college guides out there, my daughter spent more time with this book (when she was looking at colleges a few years ago) than with any other. This book is not the first place to start the college search, but once your son or daughter has narrowed down his/her colleges of choice, and assuming those colleges are featured in the "best 371", this book clearly is the best resource, the last step before a campus visit, and can be used again following the campus visits. I've looked at a lot of college-search books and if I was forced to recommend only one book among all the college search guides, this book is clearly it.
The major shortcoming of this book, as I see it, is that it says virtually nothing substantive about the college's actual academic programs and requirements. My son is looking at Ivy League schools, and there is no info in this book about the differences in core requirements between the different Ivy League schools. It wasn't until we were on the student tour at Princeton that we learned that Princeton has a required senior thesis that averages, according to our guide, 80 pages, and that, because of this, virtually no student double majors. This same guide informed us about Columbia's Core Curriculum, heavily based on the Classics, that every student must take. Brown, he told us, is the most flexible Ivy, and has no core requirements. Well, for my son, anyway, all that was vital information and it mattered a lot more to him than some subjective student comments such as 'Everyone likes the Tigers' or 'All the students here are really friendly.'
The info we were seeking is all available online, at each college's website, of course. But it sure would be nice if college guide book writers would actually do a bit more work and write some substantive information about the academic requirements of each school.