What is The Princeton Review and how long have you been publishing this book?
The Princeton Review is an education services company headquartered in Framingham MA, with test-preparation locations across the country and abroad, and editorial offices in New York City. Our company was founded in 1981 to help students prepare for the SAT. Now we are known for our courses for several exams, plus our books, website, tutoring programs and online programs. We help students research, apply to, get into, and learn how to pay for college and graduate school. We also own and operate the Penn Foster Education Group, a global leader in online career and vocational education headquartered in Scranton, PA.
Of more than 165 of our Princeton Review books published by Random House, our annual "Best Colleges" book which we've published since 1992 is one of our most popular and different from all other college guides. That's because it's based on the largest and longest ongoing survey of students who rate their colleges and report on their experiences at them for our book. "The Best 373 Colleges" is the 19th edition of the book.
Why "373" colleges?
"Best 375 Colleges" might sound catchier, but The Princeton Review doesn't start from a fixed number, then add or subtract schools to fit it. The number is based on how many schools meet our criteria for "best" and for this edition, that magic number is 373.
What is your criteria for "best"? How do you choose the schools for the book?
We chose these schools primarily based on our assessment of their academics. On that end, we review data we that we gather annually from about 1,500 schools, and feedback we get from our staff who visit hundreds of colleges each year. We also value the opinions of our 28-member National College Counselor Advisory Board and suggestions from independent college counselors. Second, any college we consider adding to the book must allow us to conduct surveys of its students: they are the school's customers. What students at the schools candidly tell us about their campus experiences at them matters to us, as it would to most prospective applicants visiting a school. Third, we work to have a wide representation of colleges in the book by region, size, character and type. Only about 15% of the nation's 4-year colleges are in the book.
How do you compile the ranking lists in your book?
We tally our ranking lists in 62 categories completely based on the data we gather in our student surveys. Unlike other rankings based on "peer reviews" -- what college administrators think of other administrator's colleges, our ranking lists are entirely based on what students attending the schools – 122,000 of them for this edition -- reported to us about their campus experiences at them on our survey. Students complete our 80-question survey online. They can submit only survey one per year about their school and we validate the senders' .edu addresses. For each survey question, we give each college a mathematical score -- similar to a GPA -- for its students' answers to that question. This score gives us a base to compare student opinions from college to college—apples to apples, as it were—and tally our 62 "top 20" lists. Most of our lists are based on students' answers to one survey question, such as "How do you rate your campus food?" (for which they answer on a five-point scale). Some, such as our "Best Classroom Experiences" list -- are based on students' answers to more than one question.
Why do you have so many "top 20" ranking lists?
We have 62 lists because we believe applicants and parents need a broad base of information about schools to find the school best for them. Ideally one should visit campuses to make that decision. But college visits can be costly -- I personally visit more than 50 schools a year – so we survey students at the schools (about 325 per campus on average) and use that input to tally our ranking lists on behalf of students who can't visit them. (We also quote from surveyed students extensively in our narrative profiles of the schools.) Also, some our ranking lists report on campus issues that won't likely surface on a campus visit and be tough or impossible to discern from a college's view book or website – among them: our ranking lists on campus political leanings, race/class relations and LGBT-community acceptance.
Why don't you rank the schools in the book, overall, 1 to 373?
We don't believe such lists, especially those that rank schools solely for their academics, are useful. In fact we think they are counterproductive, as every school under the #1 school is perceived to be "lesser" academically, down the line. The fact is no one school is, in all subjects, for all majors, for all students, the academically best in the nation. It's not which school is best academically (there's no such thing) but which school is best for you that's important. It's easy to find an academically outstanding school it this country. But it's a challenge to find the academically outstanding school that will be the best-fit school for you.
Which of your ranking lists do students follow the most?
College-bound students seem to care most about our lists that report on campus amenities, services, and student body/campus culture. Schools are places they'll spend four years of their life (hopefully), so naturally they're interested in our lists "Best Campus Food," "Dorms Like Palaces," "Most Beautiful Campuses," "Best Athletic Facilities," etc. Next, they care about the student body –- will they fit in? –- so they may check our lists on campus political leanings ("Most Liberal Students/Most Conservative Students," religion ("Most Religious Students/Least Religious Students"), race/class relations ("Lots of Race/Class Interaction," "Little Race/Class Interaction"), or gay community acceptance ("LGBT-Friendly/LGBT-Unfriendly"). Applicants also pay attention to our "Great Financial Aid" list and a unique resource we have in the front of our book, "Great Schools for 15 of the Most Popular Majors."
Which of your ranking lists do parents follow the most?
Parents have always been interested in our financial aid lists. No surprise there. This year, given the tough economic times, and with both college costs and the need for financial aid higher than ever, I think our "Great Financial Aid" list will be the first one many turn to in our book. In fact the biggest concern parents we surveyed in early 2010 had about their children's college applications was that their child would get into his/her first choice school but they wouldn't have the funds to foot the bill. Another list parents care about – and which a college dad in fact inspired -- is our "Best Career Services" list which identifies colleges best at helping their students get jobs.
What is new in the book this year?
All of the school data in the book is of course updated -– we reach out directly to our contacts at the colleges to collect that info and we update the statistics in each of our school profiles every year. We also give every college the opportunity to review, fact check and report to us any incorrect information in their profile before our book goes to press.
Our 62 "top 20" ranking lists are also of course newly compiled, as are our Honor Rolls and our tallies of our eight rating scores for all 373 schools.
We added two schools to this edition: Austin College in Sherman, TX and the University of Missouri at Columbia.
We also added a special section titled "26 Tips for Getting Scholarships, Grants, and Financial Aid and Paying Less for College." It is authored by Kalman A. Chany, an expert on college funding widely sourced by national media. He is also author of our annually-updated Princeton Review book, "Paying for College Without Going Broke."
What's the difference between the rankings and ratings in the book?
That's a good question because people sometimes confuse ratings for rankings. Our 62 rankings are lists of the top 20 schools in the book in rank order, 1 to 20, on various topics. They are based entirely on survey of students at the 373 schools in the book who complete our 80-question survey that asks them questions ranging from how good their profs are as teachers to how they rate their college town.
Our eight ratings are numerical scores on a scale of 60 to 99 that we give to every school in the book. Most of them are based entirely on our survey of administrators at the schools who complete our 100+-question institutional survey. Some ratings factor in data from our student surveys. Our rating categories include Academics, Admissions Selectivity, Financial Aid, Fire Safety, and Green.
What information do you have in the book about how to pay for college?
Appreciating how concerned students and parents are about college costs this year, we put six financial aid-related resources into this edition of the book, and these are resources no other college guide has:
1. Financial Aid Rating scores for all 373 schools. Our scores are measures on a scale of 60 to 99 of how generous the schools are with their aid. They are based on data we collected in the 2009-10 academic year. We also have Financial Aid ratings on our web profiles of schools. We tallied these scores for 605 colleges in all.
2. Our "100 Best Value Colleges for 2010" list. It identifies 50 public and 50 private colleges we named as best values this year based on statistics we gathered in 2009-10: more than 30 data points covering academics, cost, and financial aid. We reported this list in January 2010 with USA TODAY (with whom we teamed up on this project). The list is also posted on our site and USA Today’s site in an interactive feature.
3. Our "Great Financial Aid" ranking list. It names the top 20 schools in the book at which students we surveyed were happiest with their financial aid. We also report an opposite list, "Financial Aid Not So Great" revealing the 20 schools at which students were least satisfied with their financial aid.
4. A Financial Aid Rating Honor Roll. It salutes 11 colleges that got our highest possible Financial Aid Rating score of 99.
5. A Tuition-Free Schools Honor Roll. It salutes nine schools we profile in the book that are tuition free.
6. Advice: A brand new section, "26 Tips for Getting Scholarships, Grants, and Financial Aid and Paying Less for College" authored by Kalman A. Chany, an expert on college funding widely sourced by national media. He is also author of our annually-updated Princeton Review book, "Paying for College Without Going Broke." With a foreword by Bill Clinton, it is a guide to maximizing one's eligibility for financial aid and the only annually updated book with line-by-line advice on completing the FAFSA (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form all aid applicants must complete).
You also have a Green Rating in the book – is this a hot topic on college campuses?
Yes, the "green" movement is growing tremendously on college campuses, just in the past few years. Many colleges have shown extraordinary commitments to environmental issues and to the environment in their practices and programs and this year 703 institutions (compared to 534 two years ago) supplied us with the data we requested to tally their Green Rating scores.
We are also seeing a rising interest among students in attending colleges that practice, teach and support environmentally responsible choices. Among almost 12,000 college applicants and parents of applicants we surveyed this year for our annual "College Hopes & Worries Survey," 64% of respondents overall (66% of students and 58% of parents) said they would value having information about a college's commitment to the environment. Among that cohort, 23% of respondents (25% of students vs. 18% of parents) said such information would "very much" impact their decision to attend the school. We are pleased to play a role in helping students identify, get into, and study at these schools via our Green Rating and our website resources. In April, we published the first free, comprehensive "Guide to 286 Green Colleges" in partnership with the US Green Building Council.
What is the Green Rating based on?
Our Green Rating is a measure of how environmentally friendly, responsible, and committed a college is. Like all of our eight ratings, it is a score from 60 to 99. We developed it in 2008 with input from ecoAmerica (www.ecoAmerica.org), a non-profit environmental organization, and a board of advisors working in higher education and environmental/sustainability programs. We tally it based on data we gather on everything from energy use, recycling, food, buildings, and transportation to academic offerings (availability of environmental studies degrees and courses) and action plans concerning the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
What do college administrators think of your rankings?
Colleges that are in the book are generally very pleased we chose them for it and they reference it on their website, publications, news releases, and advertisements. Many university presidents and other administrators have been quoted in newspaper stories and other media expressing gratification about their school's making various Princeton Review ranking lists –- because the rankings are wholly the result of how their students –- their customers -– regard them. Administrators who criticize our rankings are nearly always those at schools that are on unfavorable lists (despite the fact that they're on the lists entirely as a result of what their own students have reported to us about their campus experiences). Some say there is no merit in our survey. Others have been quoted by reporters saying we "make this all up."
Do your rankings draw interest beyond the annual publication of your book?
Former President Bill Clinton mentioned our rankings at speech in Chicago at DePaul University in August 2000 where he saluted the school for being #1 on our Princeton Review "Happiest Students" list. We are also gratified that he wrote the foreword to our book, "Paying for College Without Going Broke."
Former Vice President Dick Cheney, speaking at the Brigham Young University commencement in April 2007, praised the school and students for their #1 ranking on our Princeton Review "Stone-Cold Sober Schools" list.
Former U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, in a July 2005 interview in Time magazine, said that she was checking our Princeton Review rankings because she had a daughter applying to college that year.
Our rankings have also been the subject of: quiz questions on national shows ("Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" and National Public Radio's "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me,"), syndicated comic strips (Doonesbury and Tank McNamara), editorial cartoons (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel), newspaper editorials (a USA TODAY editorial writer called our reporting of some of our ranking lists "a public service"), and mentions in programs from NBC's "Saturday Night Live / Weekend Update" to Comedy Central's "The Daily Show."
What's the most important advice you have for students applying to colleges this year and for their parents?
We ask this question every spring of college applicants and parents who complete our annual "College Hopes and Worries Survey." What would they tell students, moms and dads in their shoes going through the process next year? The advice we see over and over, the tip most frequently written in by students and parents alike, and I might add, for the past seven years we've asked this question: "Start Early." Several people write it in all caps. One parent (a mom) added, "I wouldn't wish the last few weeks we've had on anyone."
"Start Early." We echo that heartfelt and wise advice. And, with best wishes to the applicants hoping to be entering college in fall 2011 (and to their anxious parents), we offer these additional tips:
1. Work hard to get good grades and good test scores. They are important both for getting in to colleges and getting financial aid from them. Take as many AP courses as you can. Admissions
officers like to see you've taken challenging courses, plus high scores on AP exams can earn college credits, thus saving on tuition.
2. When winnowing your hit list of colleges, don't make the mistake of picking schools only by their academic reputations. Get information about the campus culture, the student body, the town, the majors offered.
3. Never cross a school off your list because of its sticker price. More than 70% of students get financial aid and with aid it can cost less to go to a private or expensive school than a public or inexpensive one.
1. Relax. There are hundreds of great colleges out there and the majority of students get into their first or second choice college. Be as supportive as you can of your child, and when it comes to dealing with the schools, let your child make the calls and write the letters, etc.
2. If you are hoping to get financial aid, learn all you can about the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) well before you begin filling it out, ideally a year in advance (our annual book, "Paying for College Without Going Broke," explains why this is so important). The FAFSA is a form all aid applicants must submit and your /your child's answers on it are used to determine your "EFC" (Estimated Family Contribution) --- that's what the colleges will expect you to pay out of the family coffer. Be sure to get up-to-date information about the FAFSA, as the form changes every year. "Paying for College Without Going Broke" explains the FAFSA line-by-line, and has strategies for completing it to get the most aid possible. It has a foreword by former President Bill Clinton and it has gotten rave reviews from journalists and parents alike.
Where can people find information about The Princeton Review and this book?
We invite everyone to visit our free Web site for information on all of our resources for applying to colleges and graduate schools.