College Minded Resources: Books Galore

College-Minded Resources: Books Galore

(Reprinted with permission from the National Association for College Admissions Counseling- NACAC)

Whether you're in the library or the bookstore, the results are the same: you find yourself staring slack-jawed at a whole shelf (or shelves) of books on college admission. From slim volumes on writing the perfect application essay to guidebooks the size of doorstops, every minute detail of the college admission process seems to have a book devoted to it. And here you are, an innocent high-school student who can't possibly have enough time to read them all!

So which books are worth your valuable (and scarce) reading time? Here are some recommendations in various categories, along with some things to keep in mind as you read. (Note: Given the number of books available on these topics, no list of recommendations can claim to be totally complete. This is just to help you get started.)

The Big Ones: College Guidebooks
You know the ones we're talking about: those hefty tomes that list the vital statistics of seemingly every college in the country. These are great resources to find out basic information on a lot of colleges. It helps if you have some idea of what geographical area, major, or other characteristics interest you. Or, take some time to browse the listings to discover colleges you haven't heard of.

Your high school guidance or college counseling office probably has several guidebooks for student use. Public libraries usually stock them, too. Look for the latest editions in the library's reference section. Here are a few well-known titles:

  • Barron's Profiles of American Colleges. Barron's Educational Series.
  • College Admissions Data Handbook 2000-2001. Wintergreen/Orchard House. 4 volumes, so best to look for this one at your school or public library.
  • The College Board College Handbook 2002. The College Board. The College Board also has many other good books on various aspects of college admission.
  • Peterson's College & University Almanac 2001: A Compact Guide to Higher Education. Peterson's Guides. Peterson's also publishes guidebooks covering specific regions and types of colleges.
  • Complete Book of Colleges 2002. Princeton Review.

The Fun Ones: Narrative Guides
Narrative guides provide more detailed coverage of fewer colleges. Depending on the book you choose, you'll find interesting information about campus culture, the most popular majors, even reviews of the food in the dining hall. As you read, keep in mind that these are subjective opinions of the writer(s) of the book. Different narrative books may have different perspectives on the same college, depending on their focus.

  • Rugg's Recommendations on the Colleges by Frederick E. Rugg. Rugg's Recommendations. Written by a former counselor, this book lists recommended colleges by major and selectivity. You probably won't find this in your local bookstore. Check with your guidance office, library, or
  • The Fiske Guide to Colleges 2002 by Edward B. Fiske. Sourcebooks. Written by the former education editor of the New York Times, this guide offers in-depth analysis of each college's academic strengths and many other interesting details.
  • Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools You Should Know About Even If You're Not a Straight-A Student by Loren Pope. Profiles of great schools for students who are looking for a good fit, not just the college with the most competitive admission.
  • Arco 100 Colleges Where Average Students Can Excel by Joe Anne Adler. Arco.

The Off-Beat Ones: Unique Perspectives
If you're looking for colleges with particular philosophies or unusual majors, or you just want to look beyond the five colleges all your classmates are applying to, try one of these books.

  • Making a Difference College and Graduate Guide by Miriam Weinstein was recommended by John Zabor, director of admissions at Sterling College (VT). The first section contains essays written by various experts on education, the environment, community service, and other topics. The rest of the book gives information on undergraduate and graduate colleges and other programs for students interested in social justice, community service, and the environment.

  • Cool Colleges: For the Hyper-Intelligent, Self-Directed, Late Blooming, and Just Plain Different by Donald Asher. Ten Speed Press. "It is a collection of eclectically different schools across the country and what makes them standouts," says Tammy Small, counselor at Eastside Catholic High School (WA). "Two students I loaned it to found their top choices from it last year."

The How-To Ones: Books on the College Search and Application Process
You can find books on every aspect of admission, including campus visits, college interviews, application essays, and general advice on the entire process. The books below are just a sample of the many books available.

  • The College Admissions Mystique by Bill Mayher. Noonday Press. A practical, insider view of the admission process from a former college counselor.
  • 100 Successful College Application Essays by Christopher J. Georges, Gigi Georges (Editor). Mentor Books. One of several books available that offer samples of real student essays and comments on what made them stand out from the pack.
  • Peterson's Guide to College Visits 2001. Peterson's Guides. Information on visiting 250 colleges around the country. Keep in mind that college schedules and other time-sensitive information may have changed since the book was published. Always call ahead to the colleges to plan your visits.
  • Road Scholar: An Investigative Journal for the College-Bound Student by Risa E. Nye. No Flak Press ( A travel journal for students to use when they go on college visits.

For Even More Information
For more recommendations, check out the lists compiled by Bruce Hunter, director of college counseling at Rowland Hall-St. Mark's School (UT). Go to, scroll to the bottom of the screen, and click "College Admission Reference Books" to download a 14-page PDF document with recommendations, comments, and publisher contact information. (You'll need Acrobat Reader, a free program, to open the file.) For a shorter 2-page list, click "Abridged College Admission Reference Books."

In addition, ask your guidance counselor to recommend his or her favorites.

Written by Jennifer Gross.