Best Value Colleges from Princeton Review: Information You Can Lose

The Princeton Review has published its latest list of “best value” colleges.  This list sells nice glossy magazines, but provides precious little information to help consumers of higher education (i.e., high school juniors and seniors and their parents) figure out where they will bet the best educational deal.


Case in point:  the top 10 “best value colleges” in the United States just happen to be some of the most selective colleges in the country.  So this year perhaps 9,000 students (out of about 3 million) will become first year students at the top ten “best value colleges.”  What about the rest of America?slide11


More to the point, however, is the fact that Princeton Review’s ostensibly rigorous and objective criteria are based on averages and reported numbers, not on individual cases.  While the aggregate numbers are interesting when comparing how different institutions manage themselves (how they construct a budget, how they distribute financial aid, the kinds of students who are most likely to receive grants as opposed to loans, etc.), these aggregate data are NOT helpful to individual students when selecting the college that will provide THAT INDIVIDUAL with the best value.


Buying a college education is not like buying a television set.  It is relatively easy for Consumer Reports to test the picture quality, sound fidelity, ease of operation, and the repair histories of inanimate objects like television sets.  But an education is highly dependent on the person seeking that education.


To take the television analogy one step further:  Consumer Reports can tell you which television rates best on certain criteria.  Princeton Review, however, is trying to tell you which channel will be best for you.  But a guide cannot tell me which channel is best for me without knowing a whole heck of a lot about me:  my preferences, my daily schedule, my ability to pay for premium or cut-rate cable packages, and other variables.


Even when it comes to “value,” a guide like Princeton Review is virtually worthless to the consumer, because colleges reward solid financial aid packages to different kinds of students for different reasons.  The financial aid package you receives depends as much upon YOU (your abilities, qualities, interests, commitments) as it does upon the college to which you apply.


So if you want to buy the Princeton Review’s new book, please do so.  The economy needs the boost from your spending.  But don’t expect to become instantly informed about which college is the best for you.  For that sort of information, you need to look elsewhere.


Mark Montgomery

Ratings Skeptic and College Counselor


ADDENDUM: Check out my follow up posts about Kiplinger’s “best value” ratings, and about the “best value universities” as judged by Princeton Review.




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Published by Mark Montgomery

Mark is a leading educational consultant. His experience as a professor, college administrator, and youth mentor help him guide students from around the country and around the world.

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  1. Better was the listing from Smart Money — in the article that says “Why the Ivies aren’t worth it” — with “Return on Tuition.”

    This assumes that you pay full freight, of course.

    Best returns were based on average payback of the out of state degree cost vs. median salary 15 years after graduation.

    Georgia won, Texas A&M second.

    They didn’t look at everything.

    So yeah, I’m not a big fan of rankings either.

  2. Thanks for the heads up from Smart Money. All these averages and attempts to measure “value” based on statistics also forget the “value” of learning for learning’s sake. If it’s all about jobs, we need only apprenticeships and technical schools. But I personally take a more Socratic view: “the unexamined life is not worth living.” We can’t put a value on most of the stuff I learned in college. But I value my education much more than dollars can ever represent.

  3. What? This is a best value. Good education for low price. I got into Pomona and they gave me 44,000 leaving our family to pay only 8,000. That is cheaper than how I would pay in my state school or even community college. You telling me that that is not useful? there is something wrong with you man. Princeton Review publish these information, so those who get scared by the college prices can see that they are quite affordable. Sure, slackers in high school never have a chance of getting into these top schools, but it is quite a value. So I gotta point out that Princeton Review did an excellent job.

  4. Dear Draco,
    Thanks for your comment, and congrats on your award to Pomona. Indeed, Pomona is a great value for those who are accepted. But as you know, admission to Pomona is enormously competitive. I’m very happy for you. But keep in mind that there are many, many fine students who were denied admission to Pomona. Will they find a similar value? It depends very much on which colleges they applied to and which accepted them. I stand by my belief that Princeton Review’s stats are not great for most students who want to find the best value. But that does not negate your accomplishment in any way. I wish you all the best!

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