Feb. 11, 2002
There is a ton of college information out there. The best source of information about a college does not always come from the college itself.
The problem with information that comes from a college is obvious. It tends to have a natural positive bias toward the institution. That makes sense, doesn't it? If a school has a problem with its housing facilities, you won't find any mention of the problem in literature that comes from the school. You may find a statement that mentions the fact of a new dorm in the works, but you'll never see a college or university come right out and say their housing (or whatever) is a problem.
Undoubtedly, the ultimate source of information about a particular school is the student body of that school. I have always recommended that high schoolers visit the campuses of the schools to which they are applying. Perhaps the most important point of that visit, next to the subjective gut-level feeling that always presents itself, is the opportunity to ask questions of students on campus.
Most college students will respect your need for knowledge about their school. They won't pull any punches. Be certain, though, to ask a sufficient number of students for their opinions so that your sampling rate is not too low and, therefore, skewed.
The next-best source of college information comes from the so-called guidebooks. These are the ones published by The Princeton Review (America's Best 331 Colleges), the Yale Daily News, (The Insider's Guide to the Colleges), and other authors like Robert Fiske (The Fiske Guide). These are good because they compile student survey data. The next-best way to get a student's opinion is to read what they wrote, instead of asking them in person.
And there's always the Internet. You can find news groups on the World-Wide Web that deal with college life. This might be almost as good as talking to students. The only disadvantage is that you won't be on campus to see the physical sights yourself.
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