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Articles / Admissions / College Guidebooks

May 20, 2020

College Guidebooks

Read any good books lately? Read any good college guidebooks lately?

I love college guidebooks. Since I'm a pack rat, my office bookshelf still contains old college guidebooks from the '80s. In fact, I have one from the '60s: How to Be Accepted by the College of Your Choice (Completely Revised 1961-1962 Edition), by Benjamin Fine; Paperback - 419 pages, (March 1960), Popular Library.

Care to be amazed? Have a look at Ivy League and other college costs from 1960:

1960-61 Costs
2001-02 Costs
Princeton University
Harvard University
Yale University
Swarthmore College
Williams College
Amherst College
Penn State University


Penn State University


UC Berkeley


UC Berkeley


Michigan State University


Michigan State University


University of Texas


University of Texas


University of Chicago
Duke University

Here's an excerpt from my review of Fine's classic:

Now why would I review an out-of-print book from 1960? Well, because it's great fun to see what the state of higher education was like four decades ago, when many current parents of college-bound high schoolers were just little kids. I rediscovered this tiny-print, now musty smelling volume in a box out in my garage, where most of my lost important stuff is hiding. I remembered it fondly because I bought it (for 75 cents!) when I was in ninth grade and obsessing about how I was going to get into MIT to study nuclear physics (yeah, right). See there, elite college admissions angst isn't a recent phenomenon.

The cover blurbs proclaim "As many as nine out of ten applicants are rejected by the colleges of their first choice." Things were tough even in 1960 for Ivy League and other selective school applicants. "The bestselling [sic] book in its field!" It may well have been one of the only books in its field back then, very unlike today. Also, "231 splendid colleges seeking applicants!" "Splendid"? 'Gotta love those exclamation points. And let's not forget "A Special Bonus Section showing for the first time how your application will be judged against others by nearly 1,000 accredited colleges in the U.S.A." I'm wondering why I would want my application to be judged by nearly 1,000 accredited colleges. Time to call in Strunk and White.

A quick tour of the table of contents reveals a book not all that different from those of the same genre today. We find chapters on high school grades, the SAT, ACT, high school curricula, extracurriculars, recommendations, college visits, applications, an in-depth college profile (Connecticut College), money matters, and an application timetable. The usual fare. One chapter did catch my eye, though: Quota Systems. In it, I found this amazing statement from the author:

"I asked the country's accredited colleges to tell me frankly if they employed quota systems. The 16% replying affirmatively were for the most part Southern institutions that either barred or discouraged Negroes from attending. No Northern universities admitted to quotas against the colored races, and yet it is common knowledge that such barriers exist in Vermont as well as in Virginia. No West Coast universities told me that students of Mexican or Japanese ancestry were denied entry-but surveys show that they are. An atmosphere of hush-hush and shame pervades when quotas are formulated on the basis of faith, nationality, or skin pigmentation; and it is particularly ironic that institutions of higher learning, which might be expected to lead the fight against discrimination, sometimes tend to foster it, in class, on the campus, and in fraternities and sororities."

After reading this, I promised myself that I would recall those words whenever I pine for "the good old days" of my youth. It's hard for me to imagine that that text was written a mere 40 years ago, here in America. We've come a long way . . .

Anyway, I thought I would give you some idea of how you can do an armchair tour of colleges within the pages of some of these nifty guidebooks. So, here's my daily dose of Dave's wisdom on that topic:

You won't get the full flavor of most colleges from their Web sites. While the Web provides a valuable source of such information as application requirements, financial aid options, academic programs, etc., most colleges quickly start to sound a lot alike on the Web. Thus, I urge you to borrow or buy ONE of the following books:

-The Princeton Review's Best 366 Colleges

-The Fiske Guide to Colleges

-The Insider's Guide to Colleges

My favorite is Princeton Review's, but it's a close call. Unlike the giant guides that provide information on several thousand colleges, these books listed above cover only several hundred, but the information is far more revealing than those dry, statistical-laden capsules in the mega-tomes. Many colleges on your list (but probably not all) will be included in these listed guides, regardless of which book you get, and each book covers some colleges that the others don't.

It's not necessary to have a brand-new version, as long as you realize that some specifics (e.g., test requirements, deadlines, tuition) may have changed. (I wouldn't even trust new guidebooks for that sort of info. Web sites are far more reliable.) You can get used copies of older versions cheaply on Amazon.com.

You can get most of the information that's in the Princeton Review book for free by going to their Web site: www.princetonreview.com. On the left hand side of the page, where you see "Search," check "School" and then type in the name of the college you're looking up and then click "Go." That will either take you right to the listing for that school or to a list of schools with similar names, and you'll again have to click on the one you want. You'll have to register to access the info, but it's a quick process.

When you read each school's profile, be sure to click on some of the options on the left-hand side of the page, especially "School Says" and "Students Say." Of course, don't take any of the opinions on this site (or in the guides) as 100% truth, but they will help you get a general sense of whether a college might be a good fit for you, or not.

So, boys and girls (and Moms and Dads too), head to the bookstore and flip through some of these tasty tomes. There are many more than I mention above. Just take a gander at that long shelf in the reference section.

Oh, and be sure to have your easy chair's tires checked after 5,000 miles. Might as well check the oil too. Great gas mileage, huh?


Don't forget to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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