Do the “Colleges That Change Lives” Measure Up to Their Ratings?

College campus in the fall

Do the “Colleges That Change Lives” Measure Up to Their Ratings?

Published August 2, 2020

College campus in the fall

When it comes to putting together a college list, there are many factors that students and parents need to consider.

Price, of course, is an item that tops the list of criteria for many.

From there, students can jump to size, location, choice of majors, the social scene on campus and Greek life, sports, etc. until, hopefully a balanced list is the finished product.

To facilitate things, there are numerous books on the market that one can purchase that can assist students with their research. 

Colleges That Change Lives

One such book, Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges, was first published in 1996.

It was originally written by Loren Pope, a former New York Times education writer and college placement counselor who wanted to promote lesser-known liberal arts colleges that he believed were just as good as the Ivies.

The book’s most recent edition was completed by education journalist Hilary Oswald.

Oswald spent an entire year touring colleges and speaking with students and faculty to present a comprehensive picture of every school.

Described by Penguin Random House as “indispensable” for any rising college student who wants more than football and frat parties, Colleges That Change Lives is a great book for parents and students alike to pick up.

As with all glowing recommendations, one must really do a deep dive into researching their validity.

While the schools mentioned in the book fit the criteria the author has set up, it may not be the criteria you or your child will agree with, but it’s a good place to start.

And the belief, as the author embraces, that one can get a solid education outside of an Ivy League school, is one that should be perpetuated.

Information on the Top Five “Colleges That Change Lives” Schools

Here’s an overview of what the book covers plus more information on the top five CTCL schools.

Book Overview

Covering 40 colleges total, the book is structured by geographic location (Northeast, South, Midwest, Southwest, and Northwest) so you can easily navigate to the schools that are best for you.

In each school profile, you’ll find information about admissions; curriculum; extracurricular activity options; and more, including statistics about how former students have fared after graduation.

Colleges That Change Lives also presents a list of “Myth Busters” to help with your college search, debunking common yet untrue advice such as “a name-brand college will give you a better education and ensure your success.”

The most recent edition of the book also includes a chapter with advice for students who have learning disabilities. These students are likely trying to navigate the college application process of higher education and decide how much personal information to disclose. 

The colleges in the book are ordered by geographic location, not ranking.

According to the U.S. News list of the best national liberal arts colleges in 2020, however, the following five schools are the best in the book: Wabash, Centre, and Rhodes tie for #55, with Whitman at #48 and Denison at #39. Here’s more information about each school so you can decide whether to add them to your college list.

Wabash College

Wabash is an all-men’s college located in Crawfordsville, Indiana — one of the last all-male colleges in the country. The college is small, with just under 900 students (meaning the student-to-teacher ratio is also very low), and highly focused on academics. Popular majors include biology, economics, and political science; many Wabash graduates have gone on to become CEO’s or hold other high-level jobs. 

Wabash truly cares about its students and prospective students: According to one parent in the Paying For College 101 Facebook group, the school offered to reimburse a high school student half of his travel expenses up to $400. Wabash may be the right college for any male student who has big ambitions and the drive to succeed. 

Centre College

Centre College was founded in 1819 and stretches over 106 acres in Danville, Kentucky. The school is well-known for its commitment to giving all students a chance to study abroad and have an internship or research opportunity. 

Centre has a 72% acceptance rate and nearly all students receive financial aid. The school also stacks scholarships. Former and current students say the professors act as mentors to the student body, helping guide students through their years at the school and beyond. For anyone looking for extra financial aid and professors who will work with students one-on-one, Centre College can’t be beat.

Rhodes College

Rhodes College is a liberal arts school located in Memphis, Tennessee. The student-faculty ratio at Rhodes is 9:1, according to Niche and the average class size is 14. Rhodes offers financial aid based on both need and merit. Parents appreciate the on-campus safety measures that are in place at this liberal arts college. 

Rhodes uses a Foundations curriculum, where students take core classes but have more flexibility to select courses that are of interest to them. The final Foundations course wraps up with either research, an internship, or studying abroad; 75% of students spend at least one semester either studying abroad or at American University with the D.C. Semester Program. Off-campus volunteer opportunities are also easy to find with the Kinney Program, which matches students with service programs in Memphis.

Rhodes offers a comprehensive education taught by some of the most experienced faculty members 94% of them hold the highest degree possible in their fields. Students hoping to expand their horizons through both small class experiences and travel should benefit.

Whitman College 

Located in Walla Walla, Washington, Whitman College has been around since 1883. This school has an undergrad enrollment of 1,559 and offers 50 majors. Students also have the option to partner with other schools and work toward a combination undergraduate/graduate degree. Former Whitman students describe the professors as being accessible, and the school has a student-teacher ratio of 9:1. The average freshman retention rate is 90% at this small liberal arts college, which backs up the student satisfaction. 

Whitman College is a beautiful school with lots of outdoor activities available. Both the faculty and student body are described as being highly engaged and ready to learn. The small campus size allows professors and students to truly connect. Students looking for a traditional liberal arts education will appreciate the atmosphere and academics at Whitman. 

Denison University

Granville, Ohio is home to Denison University, a small school founded in 1831. Denison has an undergrad enrollment of 2,272. The school prides itself on the Denison Internship Program, where students can participate in leadership programs and get on-the-job experience. 82% of students graduate on time. On average, alumni from Denison make a starting salary of $57,435. 

Denison is small and offers lots of one-on-one attention for students. The school also offers good scholarship and merit aid. Denison helps students build critical thinking skills and offers a warm community where students can be supported academically and as they move on into their career.

Are the Colleges That Change Lives “Good Schools?”

College and graduate school advisor, Stuart Nachbar, set up his own list of criteria for the schools in the book. One of which was “Can it successfully graduate a freshman class on time, within four years?”

He then judged each school based on the five attributes he narrowed it down to, and gave them a letter grade.

Aside from Mr. Nachbar’s assessments, something that should be kept in mind  is that the schools in the book were rated by the author based largely on interviews rather than on data. 

So, much of their labeling is predicated on opinion rather than science.

Regardless, students shouldn’t discount these schools. They should cast a wide net and not limit themselves to only those recommended in one book.

In addition, parents and students should create a list of their own criteria.

Another fine point to remember is that colleges themselves don’t necessarily “change lives.”

Much of the “life changing” that goes on during the four or more years of college comes inherently from the student and what he/she does during their time there.

The Colleges That Change Lives Website

Another thing to consider is that the book is now almost a decade old and schools have likely changed a lot since it was published. The concept of “Colleges That Change Lives” continues. Several of the schools featured in the book came together to form the Colleges That Change Lives organization in 1998, a non-profit that focuses on “the advancement and support of a student-centered college search process.”

The organization is of the same name and was formed, according to the site, with the blessing of the publisher and author of the original book. They are not affiliated with one another. 

The website hosts profiles for the schools in the book, and has added a few more on to the list. If you are looking for the most updated information on the schools featured in the book, consider giving the site a try. It may be instrumental in making the college choice. 





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