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Books on College Admissions

In college admissions, knowledge is power. But with all the books and resources out there that are supposed to “simplify” the college admissions process, how can parents weed through them?

This is the list of books I recommend to families as they embark on their journey toward college.

The list is divided into the following sections:

  • Choosing the Right College
  • Selective College Admissions
  • Standardized Test Preparation
  • Athletic Recruiting

Choosing the Right College

Loren Pope’s guide to Colleges That Change Lives is a helpful place to start, especially for families whose children do not necessarily aspire to the pressure cooker that is the Ivy League. Loren Pope and his colleagues have identified 40 small colleges that are known for outstanding teaching. Some of the schools are selective; some are not. They each have different personalities and strengths. But what unites them all is an unwavering dedication to the education of the undergraduate.

If you like this book by Loren Pope, you might also be interested in his companion book, Looking Beyond the Ivy League.

Among the more traditional books with profiles of various colleges, I recommend Fiske’s Guide to Colleges and the Princeton Review’s listing of the 366 Best Colleges. Fiske provides quite a bit of insider information, while the Princeton Review offers most of the basic information anyone might need.

The weakness of both of these guides, however, is that they focus upon a very small fraction of the hundreds and hundreds of quality colleges and universities in America. By focusing upon the the 300 or so of the “name brands” in American education, they ignore many of the hidden gems that an experienced college counselor might identify.

Selective College Admissions

Don’t you just wish you could be a fly on the wall in an admissions committee meeting? Jacques Steinberg did just that, hanging out with the admissions office at Wesleyan College for a year. The resulting book, The Gatekeepers, is an insider’s view of the people and processes behind those closed doors. It’s a great read and a great way to gain some perspective on the admissions frenzy.

Perhaps the best guide to getting into the Ivy League is Michele Hernandez’ book, A is for Admission. Michele was an admissions officer at Dartmouth, who then worked at a swishy private secondary school. She wrote a tell-all book that made her no friends in the admissions world. But she does provide the information families need to assess whether they really want to go after the Ivy League. Michele is a private consultant, and if you like her book, you can hire her for about $35,000 to help you through the admissions process. Or you can hire me, another Dartmouth alumnus, for a fraction of the cost.

Standardized Test Preparation

Before you do anything else, buy these books. These two books provide you the easiest and most cost-effective way to start preparing.

I recommend purchasing the “official” guides published by the makers of the tests. For the ACT, buy The Real ACT Prep Guide

For the SAT, buy The Official SAT Study Guide published by the College Board. For a really in-depth preparation manual for the SAT, I recommend Elizabeth King’s Outsmarting the SAT

Of course, there are loads of other guides out there, but how many books are you going to have the time to wade through?

Athletic Recruiting

To my mind, there is really only one guide to athletic recruiting that is worth your money. It’s Nancy Nitardy’s book, Get Paid to Play. You should know that Nancy hates the title–her publisher, Kaplan Books, forced it on her. Nancy’s approach is more nuanced. She cares much more about education than the title seems to suggest. Her aim is to help students use their athletic abilities to get the best education possible. If you have an athlete in the family, you need this book.

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