College Admission and Financial Aid Books

Copyright © 2013 Karl M. Bunday, all rights reserved.

Sources of College Ratings

The books listed under this heading, or earlier editions of those books, were my sources for the Colleges Rated by College Rating Guides page, which lists 514 supposedly selective or good colleges.
Best 331 Colleges, Year 2000 edition with CD-ROM, by Edward T. Custard, John Katzman, and Christine Chung (1999) (ISBN 0-37575411-3) (ISSN 1008-8454) (abbreviated Best3xx).
The Princeton Review Best 331 Colleges guide used "completed surveys from over fifty independent college counselors" to develop a list of best schools. It uses student questionnaires to gather some information about colleges. Most lists of "selective" or "good" colleges of the size of the Princeton Review guide have a remarkable number of overlaps with other lists, as will be seen below. Unique among the sources I consulted, the Princeton Review guide includes a few Canadian colleges. The Princeton Review guide also includes more art institutes and other specialized schools than most of the other guides I referred to.

The National Review College Guide: America's Top Liberal Arts Schools, edited by Charles J. Sykes and Brad Miner (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993) (ISBN 0-671-79801-4) 272 pages (abbreviated NatRev).
The National Review guide rated schools
"1. By the quality and availability of the faculty;
2. By the quality of the curriculum, with special regard for schools with a liberal arts 'core' (sometimes called a general education program) that respects the tradition of the West;
3. By the quality of the intellectual environment, that elusive interaction among students, faculty, administrators, alumni, and townspeople--the entire university community."
The guide goes on to discuss these criteria in detail, and to discuss some competing "best college" lists with which it disagrees. Several colleges listed in this guide were not found in the other guides I consulted, doubtless because of the differing selection critera used in the National Review guide. I omitted from this page one college listed by this guide, because that college is not yet accredited.

Peterson's Competitive Colleges® 1998-1999, Seventeenth Edition (Princeton, New Jersey: Peterson's [link to a different Web site], 1998) (ISBN 1-56079-988-9) (ISSN 0887-0152) (abbreviated PeteCompet).
The publisher of the Peterson's Guides, whom I had occasion to meet in 1987, turned a personal interest in getting his children ready for college into an occupation. The staff of Peterson's gathers information directly from colleges and enters it into an elaborate database. The information is considered so reliable that The World Almanac uses the Peterson's Guide information to compile its own college list. Peterson's Competitive Colleges® explains that when choosing colleges for listing in the book the "focus has been on the competitiveness of the admissions environment at those institutions, as evidenced by the quality of the students applying each year." Information on this issue is useful to anyone who wonders how hard it is to get into a particular school, because some colleges and universities admit almost any applicant, but the competitive colleges grant admission mostly only to applicants with high SAT scores or other signs of superior academic promise. I consulted the thirteenth edition of the Peterson's guide the first time I compiled my list of "selective" or "good" colleges, and find that the Peterson's list has added more entries in recent years than it has dropped, a characteristic in common with several other college guides. The new edition of the Peterson's guide includes a special listing of competitive art and music colleges, which adds several of those colleges to this Web page for the first time. The only Web page address listed in the Peterson's guide is the address for Peterson's own site ( [link to a different Web site]), which is a very useful Web site. Note that Peterson's doesn't believe in ranking colleges [link to a different Web site], because the right college for one person may not be the right college for another person. One should not interpret a listing in the Peterson's guide to competitive colleges as an endorsement of that college by Peterson's.

Rugg's Recommendations on the Colleges: Compiled and Edited by the College Staff of Rugg's Recommendations, Fifteenth Edition, by Frederick E. Rugg (Atascadero, CA: Rugg's Recommendations, 1998) (ISBN 1-883062-22-5) (abbreviated Rugg100).
Frederick Rugg has been a college counselor in secondary schools and he views such counselors as his main readership. There is much interesting information in this book; I noted the colleges listed on page xii, "Fred Rugg's One Hundred Colleges . . . Just Darn Good Schools" for inclusion in my master list of "selective" or "good" colleges. Rugg notes that over 900 secondary school counselors responded to his survey asking, "What colleges do you believe offer students the best opportunity to maximize their education?" There are actually 107 entries on the Rugg list in this edition, a slight expansion of the list since earlier editions. There are several entries on Rugg's list that are not duplicated in any of my other sources.

The Fiske Guide to Colleges 2000, by Edward B. Fiske with Robert Logue and Fiske Guide to Colleges staff (Random House [link to a different Web site], 1999) (ISBN 0-8129-3171-8) 700+ pages (abbreviated Fiske).
The Fiske guide describes, on page xxii of the 1999 edition, the somewhat impressionist criteria used to develop a list of about 300 "best and most interesting" colleges in the United States. I referred to the 1996 and 1997 editions of the Fiske guide the first times I prepared my list of "selective" or "good" colleges. The 1999 edition added a few more entries compared to the previous editions. Here again there is substantial overlap with the Princeton Review guide and the Peterson's guide.

Barron's Students' #1 Choice Profiles of American Colleges 23rd Edition, compiled and edited by the College Division of Barron's Educational Series (Hauppauge, NY: Barron's Educational Series [link to a different Web site], 1998 (ISBN 0-7641-7134-8) (ISSN 1065-5026) (abbreviated Barron50).
The Barron's Profiles of American Colleges guide includes a "College Admissions Selector" beginning at page 223 with information about which colleges have the most selective admission criteria. Its list of the "most competitive" colleges is the most selective list I consulted. The criteria for selecting colleges to be on the competitive colleges list were "median entrance examination scores for the 1997-98 freshman class . . . ; percentages of 1997-98 freshmen scoring 500 and above and 600 and above on both the verbal reasoning and matematics reasoning sections of SAT I; percentages of 1997-98 freshmen scoring 21 and above and 27 and above on the ACT; percentage of 1997-98 freshmen scoring who ranked in the upper fifth and the upper two-fifths of their high school graduating classes; minimum class rank and grade point average required for admission (if any); and percentage of applicants for the 1997-98 freshman class who were accepted." The Barron's editors note that other factors go into college admission decisions and not all colleges put the same weight on the factors mentioned by the Barron's list of most competitive colleges. Thus the Barron's guide list is a "most selective" college list more than a "best" college list, but even so particular applicants may find other colleges equally hard (or equally easy) to get into. The Barron's guide I consulted for this revision of this Web page replaces Barron's Top 50, Third Edition: An Inside Look at America's Best Colleges by Tom Fischgrund (Hauppauge, NY: Barron's, 1995) (ISBN 0-8120-9053-5), a reference book that has gone into a more recent edition, but which is harder to find at public libraries than the general Barron's guide. The larger Barron's guide listed here also has much other useful information for college applicants, including interesting essays about the college application process.

America's Best Colleges: With an Updated Directory of Colleges and Universities 2001 Edition (Washington, DC?: U.S. News & World Report [link to a different Web site], 2000) (abbreviated USNews).
The annual U.S. News & World Report college guide (which is published in one issue of the weekly magazine and also as a separate special issue, both of which quickly sell out at newstands) provides what may be the most widely known, and perhaps for that reason the most controversial, ranking of United States colleges. The methodology of the rankings is described in each annual guide. I had just referred to the 1996 college guide reprint when the 1997 college issue of the magazine came out just after I first prepared this page about college rankings. I own the 1997 reprint edition and have just referred to the 1999 annual guide in both its weekly magazine version and its special issue version to update this page. For my master list of "selective" or "good" colleges, which at first didn't include information from U.S. News & World Report at all, I have now included all national universities ranked "best" to "second tier," the best (top forty) national liberal arts colleges, the top three regional universities from each of four regions (with some ties for second or third place), and the top two regional liberals arts colleges (from each of the same four regions). I have included fine arts, business, and engineering schools listed in the U.S. News guide in instances where I could confirm that those schools were as selective (as measured by acceptance rates) as schools in those categories already listed on this page.

Choosing the Right College: The Whole Truth about America's 100 Top Schools, researched and written by the staff of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans, 1998) (ISBN 0-8028-4537-1) © 1998 Intercollegiate Studies Institute. US$25.00, xv and 672 pages (abbreviated ISI100).
Choosing the Right College is a new guide with back cover blurbs from Thomas Sowell, Michael Medved, Richard John Neuhaus, Walter Williams, Laura Schlessinger, and John Silber. Its criteria for selecting colleges are "1) academic excellence, as evidenced by competitive admission standards, and 2) comprehensiveness, which involved an effort to include many different types of institutions from all parts of the country." I omitted from this page one college listed by Choosing the Right College (the same one I omitted from the National Review guide's list), because that college is not yet accredited. Sources previously consulted, but eliminated from this revision of this page, include
The Public Ivys: A Guide to America's Best State Colleges and Universities, by Richard Moll (Viking, 1985).
This guide to public colleges and universities that might be regarded as "Ivy League" quality is the oldest, most restrictive in scope, and I think fairly considered the most debatable, of all the sources I consulted for earlier versions of this page. The author is himself a college officer, who has also written a book about the "selective college admissions game," as he terms it.

Cass & Birnbaum's Guide to American Colleges 17th Edition, Julia Cass-Liepmann, editor (New York: Harper Perennial, 1996) (ISBN 0-06-273404-1) (ISSN 1075-3443) xxxvi and [58] and 826 pages.
The Cass guide claims that it originated the idea of rating colleges by selectivity in 1964 in order to answer the basic question many applicants have, "Can I get in?" The measure of selectivity is based mostly on "the percentage of applicants accepted by the college, the ranking of recent freshmen in their high school classes, the average test scores of recent freshman classes," and other data. The Cass guide includes a summary table ("Selectivity Index") near the front of this huge one-volume guide giving selectivity information for most colleges listed.
I earlier referred to another widely available college guide, which listed "200 selective colleges." I recently looked at an updated college guide prepared by the same research group, which has an even broader scope. But I have ceased noting that research group's opinions on which colleges are "competitive" because of the many peculiar rankings, not to mention outright errors in identifying colleges, found in that guide. When a college guide lists a college that has long had an open admission policy as "more competitive" than many of the "200 selective colleges" that appeared in a list compiled by the same research group a few years earlier, it loses credibility with me. Perhaps the research was good, but the proofreading was not, for the recent edition of that guide.

A completely different approach to rating colleges, which I don't find very plausible in its current version but is an important attempt to rate by useful criteria, is that of the Templeton Foundation Honor Roll for Character-Building Colleges [link to a different Web site].

There has been an on-line response to annual college ratings [link to a different Web site] posted on the[newsgroup link] Usenet newsgroup, which I think is thought-provoking, and may cause you to think twice about some methods of rating colleges. Check the link to see whether or not you agree with the college ratings you read about in magazines.

If you just want a large database of colleges, organized by criteria that you may be interested in, take a look at the United States federal government's IPEDS College Opportunities On-Line [link to a different Web site] site with its database of 9,000 colleges. Another site that is developing a searchable database of colleges, based on characteristics applicants may be interested in, is College Board Online [link to a different Web site], the Web site of the hundred-year-old consortium of colleges that publishes the The College Handbook 2000 and administers the SAT, CLEP, and AP testing programs.

General Works on College Admission

A great source for general information about the college admission process is Thomas Sowell's book Choosing a College: A Guide for Parents and Students (New York: Harper and Row, 1989) (ISBN 0-06-096354-9). Sowell reviews the mythology and the reality of the higher education scene, and especially of the admission process. Many parents and professors say that Thomas Sowell's book is the one that most "tells it like it is" about the admission process. Three more recent books, by admission officers or college admission counselors, fill in specific details about the admission process. Read Sowell's book first, then read Hernandez's book. Believe the three books below for all points on which they agree with Sowell's book. The first of those books is Playing the Selective College Admissions Game by Richard Moll (New York: Penguin, 2nd rev. ed. 1994). The second is The Fiske Guide to Getting into the Right College by Edward B. Fiske with Bruce G. Hammond (New York: Times Books, 1997). The newest is A Is for Admission: The Insider's Guide to Getting into the Ivy League and Other Top Colleges by Michele A. Hernandez (Warner Books, 1997) (ISBN 0-44667406-0), which has become somewhat controversial for its refreshing honesty about the admission process.

A book about homeschoolers and college admission is helpful for specific homeschooling-related concerns. The newest and best book of that kind is And What about College?: How Homeschooling Leads to Admissions to the Best Colleges and Universities (Cambridge, MA: Holt Associates [link to a different Web site], 1997) (ISBN 0-913677-11-6) by homeschooling mother and university graduate Cafi Cohen. Mrs. Cohen is fulfilling the wish of her fans on the Prodigy® computer network that she write a book now that both of her homeschooled children are in selective colleges of their choice. She did very thorough research in preparing her book, which is full of hands-on advice for homeschooling parents. Mrs. Cohen keeps the information in her book current with her Web page [link to a different Web site] (

There are other books about college admissions you may find interesting, such as those listed below.

A Parent's Guide to College Entrance Exams
Jay Blumenthal and Andrea Blumenthal (ISBN 1-57685266-0). New book recommended by parents in on-line discussion groups.

The College Admissions Mystique
Bill Mayher (New York: Noonday Press, 1998) (ISBN 0-374-52513-7). xii and 228 pages. KMBseen_RamseyCounty

Getting Your Child into College: What Parents Must Know
Susan Newman with Janet Spencer King (New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 1996) (ISBN 0-312-14107-6). US$10.95, x and 146 pages; resource list; appendix, index. Special focus on how parents and children must work together in the college admission process. KMBseen_HCO

The Portable College Adviser: A Guide for High School Students
Wendy H. Robbins (New York: Franklin Watts, 1996) (ISBN 0-531-15790-3 [pbk.]). 176 pages; appendixes, index. Step-by-step guide for choosing and applying to colleges. KMBseen_HCO

Books on College Selection

Researching Colleges on the World Wide Web
Kerry Cochrane (New York: Franklin Watts, 1997) (ISBN 0-531-11294-2). 207 pages; selected bibliography, index. Useful book by a librarian about on-line research on colleges. KMBseen_HCO

Choosing the Right College: The Whole Truth about America's 100 Top Schools
researched and written by the staff of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans, 1998) (ISBN 0-8028-4537-1). xv and 672 pages. KMBseen_HCO

Books on Student Financial Aid

Don't Miss Out: The Ambitious Student's Guide to Financial Aid
Robert and Anna Lieder (25th edition). General discussion of many approaches to finding money for college, including means not mentioned in other sources.

Bear's Guide to Finding Money for College
John and Mariah Bear. Comprehensive guide to organizations that fund college study and other sources of money for college.

College Financial Aid: The Best Resources to Help You Find the Money
Mike Osborn, editor (Seattle: Resource Pathways, 1997) (ISBN 0-9653424-5-X). US$24.95, 266 pages. Comprehensive resource guide to print and on-line resources related to financial aid for higher education. KMBseen_HCO

The A's and B's of Academic Scholarships, 19th Edition 1997/98
Ann Schimke, editor (Chicago, Illinois: Dearborn Trade, 1996) (ISBN 1-57509-010-4). 177 pages. Lists college scholarship programs based on academic criteria rather than financial need. KMBseen_HCO

Books on Doing Without College Attendance

The Uncollege Alternative: Your Guide to Incredible Careers and Amazing Adventures Outside of College
Danielle Wood How people can be successful without college degrees--just for people who have forgotten that that is possible.

Bears' Guide to Earning Degrees Nontraditionally
John Bear and Mariah Bear (13th edition). John Bear writes some of the most engaging and thought-provoking books around about gaining credentials without typical college attendance.

How to Get a College Degree via the Internet
Sam Atieh (Rocklin, CA: Prima, 1999). Guidance about participating in college distance learning programs.

College Degrees by Mail & Modem 1998
John Bear and Mariah Bear (Berkeley, California: Ten Speed Press, 1998). 204 pages; appendixes, index. Overall guide to college study by distance learning, with warnings about dishonest schools. KMBseen_HCO

Barron's Guide to Distance Learning
Pat Criscito (Hauppauge, NY: Barron's, 1999) (ISBN 0-7641-0725-9). Bulky reference book listing many distance learning programs.

The Best Distance Learning Graduate Schools: Earning Your Degree Without Leaving Home 1999 Edition
Vicky Phillips and Cindy Yager (New York: Random House, 1998) (ISBN 0-679-76930-7). 322 pages; indexes. Directory of distance learning programs for graduate degrees, with explanations of the pros and cons of distance learning at that level. KMBseen_HCO

[Last revision 9 March 2013]

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This School Is Dead: Books on College Admission and Student Financial Aid page is copyright © 2013 Karl M. Bunday, all rights reserved.

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