Letter of recommendation: 2 great books to help you in your college search

college admissions
By Madison

College boundThank you for checking in to the final post in my 3-part series on resources for creating your college list! So far, I have written about my top podcast and website suggestions that can help you on your college search . If this is your first time coming across my blog, you may want to go back and read up on those suggestions, as each resource is entirely unique.

To wrap things up, I’m going to discuss my top two book recommendations to guide you in choosing schools. If you’d like something physical to highlight, dog-ear, and even pack with you on your college trips to take notes in, these sources are for you! “But wait,” you may ask, “why only two books?” Great question! Unlike the online databases I wrote about in my previous post, books, tend not to be as comprehensive or up-to-date as the online databases I previously wrote about. Also, although books have the added advantage of author’s point of view, they can also be more narrow, reflecting only that author’s point of view. Therefore, for this post, I’ve picked 2 books, which are both time-test and highly credible. I personally use these as supplements to the online databases I wrote about in my last post. The more information you can get your hands on, the better!

Now….let’s start turning pages!

The Fiske Guide To Colleges

Author: Edward Fiske

The Fiske Guide To Colleges is a continuously updated guide of close to 400 schools, widely heralded for its no-nonsense tone and credible data. Offering cross-analysis of universities as well as an in-depth look at each school, this book is a must-have for every family embarking on the road to college.

One of the most unique features of this guide is showcased in its table of contents. Not only are schools organized by location, but they are also organized by categories extremely relevant to the consumer: price range and the average debt accrued for attending students. Many families love the insight offered by these lists. Furthermore, for every featured university, the book delves into on-campus aspects beyond the academic, such as the quality of campus life, social environment, and student feedback.

The guide also offers helpful advice for applicants that can aid both in your college search and in your application process. Some sections of note include a guide for pre-professionals - offering tips for specific fields from architecture to dance to engineering - as well as the application details for each university – with requirements for each school.

Special bonus(es): One strong advantage to this book is the “overlaps” feature. In the write-up for each college, a list of similar universities will pop up. What makes a school similar to another school? Anything from location to student lifestyle to academic rigor that inspires the same kinds of students to apply for a comparable college experience. Why is this helpful? If you like a particular school, you might want to add some of the overlaps to your search list. Chances are you might find some new colleges you have never heard of!

Minor drawback: As mentioned before, while this book is thorough, it only covers a few hundred schools out of the thousands around the world. It is an excellent starting place, but don’t forget that there are other schools out there that may fit you that aren’t mentioned.

Colleges That Change Lives

Author: Loren Pope

I actually first heard about Colleges That Change Lives through The College Checklist Podcast, one of my recommended podcasts in an earlier post. Loren Pope wrote this book with the assumption that there are other factors, rather than merely “prestige,” that make a college truly great. Often times, students only know about the schools with recognizable names. In response, Colleges That Change Lives explores and champions schools that you may not know as well by name but that strive to tailor the college experience to individual students. What does this mean exactly? Well, each school goes about the student-centric experience in different ways, from exceptional teacher communication to customizable education to thorough assessments of a student’s overall maturation to encouragement of student innovative impact on campus. The colleges’ biggest selling point? They are schools that are not excessively selective and are therefore great colleges to explore for kids who may be intimidated by some of the admissions rates of the most well-known colleges.

Special bonus(es): One of my favorite parts of this book is that it really focuses on how you can get to know the school by asking current or previous students targeted questions about their experience. It even gives a list of suggested questions, such as how long it takes for instructors to answer emails and how easy it is to establish a club on campus. Another bonus? This book actually inspired the creation of a non-profit by the same name! There, you will find in-depth profiles of participating colleges as well as further information about college fairs and seminars. If you’re looking for more books on the college admissions process, they even have a list you can check out here.

Minor drawback: While there are many updated editions of this book, originally published in 1996, the latest one was published in 2013. However, I still consider this book a great place to begin getting acquainted with these special schools.


I have so enjoyed sharing all of these college search resources with you, from books to websites to podcasts, and I hope they have proved helpful in giving you some insight into the many wonderful institutions out there that can become your new home. Remember…stay calm in the search process and resist the pressure to be overwhelmed as you get ready for college. Apply for the schools that fit YOU and that will excite you for years to come.

Make the college application process less of a bear. Enlist the help of a college application coach, like Madison, during any part of your process, whether it’s academic and extracurricular advising, school selection, managing deadlines, or essay writing.

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Want to learn more about the college admissions process? Check out some of our previous blog posts below!

How to Write a Successful Personal Statement

College Interviews: Dos, Don'ts, and Common Questions

Writing a Thesis and Topic Sentences in your Personal Statement