The Best College Guidebooks

The Best College Guidebooks

With thousands of US colleges and universities to choose from, it’s no wonder students and parents alike find the application process to be daunting.

There’s no clear consensus on what the right school even is, as it differs for every student.

That’s why a well-written, well-researched college guide book can prove to be an indispensable tool.

Some break down schools by region and price, and others are further divided by factors like environment, acceptance rate, student population, student-to-teacher ratio, and retention rate.

Some include personal anecdotes from students and alumni, and detail lesser-known, high-quality schools you may not know of (but totally should).

There’s even guide books on how to get the most bang for your buck via scholarships, grants, and all kinds of financial aid.

 

What Is the Best College Guidebook?

While there is no one guidebook to rule them all, so to speak, there are a select number of detailed books about college that should be at the top of your reading list. 

Here are, in no particular order, ten of the best college guides on the market (though this list is certainly not exhaustive).

The Best 386 Colleges, 2021: In-Depth Profiles & Ranking Lists to Help Find the Right College For You by The Princeton Review and Robert Franek

In their 29th edition, The Princeton Review surveyed 143,000 students from across the country on where to find the best college food, career services, housing, social scene, and of course, academics. This list of 386 exceptional schools is broken down into lists by categories like demographics such as LGBT+ Friendly, quality of life including the Happiest Students, and social scene with a list titled Lots of Greek Life. The in-depth guide is compulsively fun to read through, simplifying an otherwise extremely complicated process.

Fiske Guide to Colleges 2021 by Edward Fiske

According to former New York Times education editor Edward B. Fiske, every college and university has a unique story to tell. For more than 35 years, Fiske’s comprehensive college guidebook – which includes more than 320 four-year schools – has been updated yearly with quotes and info from real college students. Including a self-help quiz to get your child started, this book indexes schools by region, price and average debt, as well as general stats on average SAT/ACT scores and financial aid. Everything you need to begin your research is right here.

Colleges Worth Your Money: A Guide to What America’s Top Schools Can Do for You by Andrew Belasco, Dave Bergman and Michael Trivette 

Featuring meticulous profiles of 150 of the top colleges and universities in the United States, this guide offers over 75 key statistics on each school presented, as well as solid facts on career outcomes from alumni, schools’ connections to recruiters, post-graduation employment rates, and where students land jobs and internships. If you want to think ten steps ahead, read this book that’s rife with data and commentary on how these schools can help a student before and after graduation.  

The Enlightened College Applicant: A New Approach to the Search and Admissions Process by Andrew Belasco and Dave Bergman

In this guide, two experienced education consultants address parents of college hopefuls in an easy-to-follow, six-step process. Belasco and Bergman, co-founders of education consulting firm College Transitions, share their insight into selecting and getting into more selective institutions. Less of a traditional college guidebook and more of a personal guide to higher education, this book is research-based and combines humor and hard data with big-picture thinking.

The Complete Book of Colleges, 2021: The Mega-Guide to 1,349 Colleges and Universities by The Princeton Review

If you’re looking for a mega-guide that covers over 1,000 schools, you’ve come to the right place. This guidebook offers thorough and user-friendly profiles on pretty much every US college and university imaginable with savvy advice from the people at The Princeton Review. This is an especially great resource for those looking to expand their options.

The Ultimate Scholarship Book 2021: Billions of Dollars in Scholarships, Grants and Prizes by Gen Tanabe and Kelly Tanabe

For the financially focused, this book on scholarships is a priceless, common-sense approach to college scholarships. From information on various awards and where to find them to tips on essay writing and interviewing, this guide has got you covered.

Best Colleges 2021: Find the Right Colleges for You! by US News and World Report, Anne McGrath and Robert J. Morse 

The Princeton Review isn’t the only organization that has the low down on America’s best colleges. In this 2021 edition of the colorful, magazine-style guidebook that many consider to be the definitive guide, leading education journalists explain emerging trends in higher ed, including the way COVID-19 has affected universities, as well as state-by-state profiles of nearly 1,600 US schools.

The Hidden Ivies, 3rd Edition: 63 of America’s Top Liberal Arts Colleges and Universities by Howard Greene

While it’s no secret the Ivy League is the most coveted collection of colleges in the United States, the Ivies aren’t alone in their high caliber nor competitiveness. This book provides an inside perspective on 50 renowned institutions that go toe-to-toe with Yale and Princeton in terms of value, education, and specialty programs. 

A Starter Guide to College for Clueless Students & Parents: For a State College or the Ivy League: Here’s What You Need to Know by Jake D. Seeger 

Whether your child is an eighth-grader or a rising high school senior, this handy starter guide has you covered on all the things they should be doing right now. This guide book offers exhaustive checklists for grades 8 to12, as well as calendars, admissions statistics, college degree levels, and websites so you don’t have to search for all of the pertinent information separately. 

Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania by Frank Bruni

Finally, it’s great to finish off with a sobering and empowering reminder on why where your child goes for college ultimately doesn’t define them as a person. The admissions process can be terrifying and frenzied, but here author Frank Bruni, a columnist for the New York Times, illustrates through statistics, surveys, and the stories of hugely successful people that many different types of colleges can become the ideal springboard to an amazing career. 

 

Five Bestselling College Guides on Amazon

If you’d rather go by pure sales in selecting a good college guide book, here are Amazon’s five finest sellers.

Fiske Guide to Colleges 2021 37th Edition by Edward Fiske

The Ultimate Scholarship Book 2021: Billions of Dollars in Scholarships, Grants and Prizes 13th Edition by Gen Tanabe and Kelly Tanabe

The Complete Book of Colleges, 2021: The Mega-Guide to 1,349 Colleges and Universities by The Princeton Review

The Best 386 Colleges, 2021: In-Depth Profiles & Ranking Lists to Help Find the Right College For You by Robert Franek and The Princeton Review

Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges 4th ed. by Loren Pope and Hilary Masell Oswald

Many guidebooks and books about college are updated yearly or every few years with new information, so it’s worth reading the most up-to-date version you can find.

With so many books about college out there, it would be impossible to read them all, but choosing a few off this list should inspire and inform your child’s college search. 

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Julia Lynn Rubin

Julia Lynn Rubin

Julia Lynn Rubin is the author of BURRO HILLS and the forthcoming young adult novel, TROUBLE GIRLS. She received her MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from The New School in 2017, and her work has appeared in various online media publications, including Wetpaint Entertainment, Fatherly, and The Content Strategist. She lives in Brooklyn.
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