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College Search: Researching Schools

Check Out a Few Guidebooks
Although college guides, such as The Best 331 Colleges, are excellent for your college search, don't take them as scripture. Visiting campuses will give you the best impression of campus life.

Fairfield University

There are a lot of different guidebooks from which you can choose. In general, it's best to look at those that are updated annually. Things change and you want the most current information.

The more objective guidebooks, such as the Complete Book of Colleges (Princeton Review, published every year), provide basic information about colleges, such as the academic programs available, requirements for admission, student demographics, cost of attendance, and so on. There are also more subjective guidebooks, such as The Fiske Guide to Colleges (Sourcebooks Trade, published every year), which offer opinions on the colleges they profile. They comment on things like quality of campus life, the effect of the location on student life, the strengths and weaknesses of different academic programs, and academic and social tone. Although they usually gather information from a large number of students and educators at the schools they profile, subjective guidebooks are just that--subjective. While it can be useful to see what students think about a particular school, keep in mind that other people who didn't get interviewed might disagree completely with the opinions offered about their colleges.

You might disagree, too. Remember, guidebooks weren't written specifically with you in mind and can't possibly know what you're looking for. They are well worth reading, and whatever they do have to say you can either validate or invalidate later by talking with your counselor or other students, and by visiting the schools and seeing for yourself.

Your high school may have printed materials from various colleges. If it doesn't, you can request materials directly from the college's admissions office. Keep in mind that materials supplied by a college are marketing aids designed to generate your interest in the school.

Even so, there is a lot to be learned from reading them. Pay attention to what the college emphasizes about itself, what majors are offered, the various rules and requirements, and the overall tone. Figure out what's near the college and what the housing arrangements are.

You should also request the school's course catalogue. This is the best source of information on what types of classes are offered and can help you figure out if this is the kind of curriculum that you can get excited about.

It's also a good idea to get a copy of the school's newspaper. Because students write the paper, it can give you a really good idea of what the student body is like. Pay attention to what things are highlighted, what kinds of issues are discussed, and what activities are taking place. This is a great way to get a feel for what the day-to-day is like at each college you're considering.

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From Choose the Right College and Get Accepted: How to Choose the Right College and Get in to Your Dream School by Students Helping Students. Copyright © 2005. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

If you'd like to buy this book, click here.

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