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Princeton Review’s Titillating Tidbits Cause Confusion

The newest edition of Princeton Review’s The Best 368 Colleges is out. Just hit the bookstores.

Most of this tome is a helpful starting place for searching for college that best fit a particular student–though with 368 schools, it is difficult for a newcomer to the college search process to digest all the information between its covers.

The most tantalizing part of the book, however, is its series of “Top 20” lists, which schools imbibe, toke, party–oh, and perhaps study–the most. Or the least.

These Top 20 Lists are not scientific. They have more in common with Cosmopolitan‘s “15 Secrets For Gorgeous Skin” and Men’s Health‘s “7 Grooming Secrets Your Girlfriend Wishes You Knew.” While Princeton Review’s Top 20 Lists are based on “reports” from 120,000 students around the country, we should not fall into the trap into taking these lists for anything more than what they are: gimmicks to sell more books.

The lists make for fun reading. They are creative. They’re funny. And the mainstream media (MSM, as it is known in the blogosphere) laps it up. Both the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News ran what really amounts to a press release in their papers yesterday: the Post actually had the story on the front page of its Denver and the West section.
To give you an idea of what sort of tidbits we’re talking about, consider what the Princeton Review has to say about colleges and universities in Colorado:

University of Colorado:

  • 3rd in “reefer madness,” because marijuana usage reported high
  • 8th in student dissatisfaction with financial aid
  • 13th best “party school”
  • 14th in the use of hard liquor
  • 16th best college town

Colorado College

  • 7th in “reefer madness”
  • 8th in having strained town-gown relations
  • 9th in high participation in intramural sports
  • 13th in the number of Birkenstock-wearing, tree-hugging, clove-smoking vegetarians
  • 14th in the level and encouragement of class discussions (finally, a criterion that relates to education!)

US Air Force Academy:

  • 1st in having the most accessible professors
  • 4th in “don’t inhale”: marijuana usage is low
  • 4th in “future Rotarians and Daughters of the American Revolution” (what??)
  • the 5th most conservative students in the US (really? more conservative than those at Liberty College or Wheaton College in Illinois? really?)
  • 6th most “stone-cold sober” school
  • 10th worst campus food
  • 13th in the number of students participating in intramural sports
  • 14th most religious students in America (again…more than hundreds of other religiously affiliated colleges? really?)
  • 17th for having the least happy students (philosophy question: define happiness)
  • 17th for “scotch and soda, hold the scotch:” the use of hard liquor is reported to be low

Colorado State University

  • 7th place university in which class discussions are the most rare

University of Denver: didn’t make any of the top 20 lists.

Nor did Adams State, Western State, University of Northern Colorado, Mesa State, or Fort Lewis College.

My next post will critique these “Top 20” lists in greater detail, and provide some tips for how you might actually sift through the information in the Princeton Review’s book. It’s not half bad.

But if you’re really looking for the college that’s best for you, it’s best to leave these “Top 20” lists to David Letterman, Playboy Magazine, or Oprah.

Mark Montgomery
Ranked 14th of the Top 20 College Counselors in America

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