Setting college students on the right path
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Setting college students on the right path

Which school for you?

A s the school year begins, it’s not too early to think about where to apply for the next school year.

“It’s important for students choosing a college to know as much as they can about it,” says Rebecca Lessem, senior editor of the Princeton Review’s “Best 368 Colleges ““ 2009 Edition” (Random House / Princeton Review, $21.95). “We provide as much information as possible so that students can make their own decisions.”

Based on 120,000 student surveys, the book, now in its 17th year, provides college rankings (from 1 to 20) on 62 topics “exploring all aspects of student life in and out of the classroom, for example, food, religious, political leanings, race/class relations, social scenes, and sports interests. We try to cover as wide a range as possible,” she said.

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The book also includes a new “green rating” based on the schools’ environmentally related practices, policies, and course offerings.

“When you visit a school,” she added, “you get the ‘school’s version’ and the opinions of three or four students, at most. This book gives you 300 student opinions per school.”

Among other things, students are asked to agree or disagree with the following question: “Students are very religious at my college.”

The results this year indicate that Brigham Young University in Utah is ranked “most religious,” followed by the University of Notre Dame in Indiana and Wheaton College in Illinois, while Lewis and Clark College in Oregon is considered “least religious,” heading a list that includes Eugene Lang College ““The New School for Liberal Arts in New York and Reed College in Oregon.

According to Lessem, 13 out of the top 20 “most religious” schools are, in fact, religiously affiliated institutions, whether Mormon, Catholic, or Baptist.

In addition, while the “most religious” colleges tended to be located in the southern or western part of the country, with the exception of two colleges in Oregon, the “least religious schools” are in the northeast.

Lessem pointed out that the Princeton Review “tries to include schools with great reputations,” varying by geography, size, and other factors. Students are asked to answer 80 questions.

“Anyone at the college can do it,” said Lessem, noting that 95 percents of students complete the survey online. “We work with college administrators to advertise it,” she added. “Some schools even provide paper copies of the survey.”

“The book is helpful all year round,” said Lessem. “Not only does it help students narrow down choices [when choosing colleges], but it’s also bought by college graduates to see how their school has changed and to read students’ quotes in the school profile.”

This year’s results indicate that the best professors are at Middlebury College in Vermont, while the tastiest campus food is at Wheaton College, Illinois, and the best dorms are at Loyola College in Maryland. In addition, the students happiest with their financial aid attend Princeton University, which also tops the list for the most beautiful campus.

Lessem pointed out that “after students use our book to narrow down their college choices, students and parents can call the schools to find out if they have a Hillel organization and how they accommodate students who wish to keep kosher, as well as how they accommodate students whose religious holidays conflict with classes or tests.”

She noted that the section devoted to Brandeis University speaks about the school “as a popular destination for Jewish students” but quotes students who stress its inclusive nature.

“There are a lot of Orthodox Jews here, more than at your average college, yet there are also a lot of non-religious students, observant Muslims, and Christians. So the school just teaches us to recognize each others’ religions,” reads one quote. In addition, says another, “you never feel like your fellow students are judging you…. A nice-sized international community … helps diversify the school.”

In general, said Lessem, the rankings remain consistent from year to year.

“We would be surprised to see Lewis and Clark suddenly in the list of most religious schools,” she said. “Some come on or fall off, but would it would be a surprise if they changed lists. It’s a vote of accuracy,” she noted.

Lessem said that the New York-based Princeton Review – founded in 1981 with a focus on SAT preparation – now holds free “getting-in events” in hundreds of cities throughout the country. For additional information, call 1-800-2review or visit princetonreview.com.

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