If you only get one book for your college search, get The College Solution: A Guide for Everyone Looking for the Right School at the Right Price by Lynn O’Shaughnessy. Why? You mean because I said so isn’t enough?
Okay, here’s the deal about buying a book about a subject you don’t know much about. If your knowledge approaches zero then any book you buy will provide you with dramatically more information than you had and will be useful. But that doesn’t mean you are getting all the information you need. You are obviously better off than before but you could be much better off if you read even more books. But getting more books at this point will mean that at least half the information will be a repeat of the first book you bought. So wouldn’t it be nice for the first book to cover as much as possible to begin with?
This is why there are book reviews and when browsing the reviews at Amazon can be very useful. Often you’ll find reviewers who have read more than one book on the subject and will explain why they think one book is better than another. But now you’re having to do research to do research that you probably aren’t thrilled about doing in the first place.
So in an attempt to short-circuit the process, you ask someone for a recommendation. Ideally, this person will have read more than one college search book and can point you in the right direction. For the record, I have read more than one college search book, not all by a long shot, but enough to confidentially recommend The College Solution as the first book to buy.
Lynn O’Shaughnessy approaches the topic as a financial journalist. She starts where too many books end, financial aid. It’s a basic fact that trips up many families in their college search. After all, if you can’t afford it, you can’t go. In many ways, this is more of a problem for middle income families looking to get into the more competitive schools.
She starts off explaining the ways you can afford college and knowing this will help you define your college search. Just because you can’t afford to pay full tuition doesn’t mean that you can’t find a great college. It does mean that you will have to carefully consider what is most important to you and go beyond the popular college rankings. You can see the approach we used for our son on My Personal College Ranking Example page.
O’Shaughnessy does a great job explaining the various aspects of “academic fit.” After reading these chapters, you’ll realize it’s not just a cover for choosing a lesser known or poorly ranked college. There are important differences even between large schools that can dramatically affect the quality of the education you receive. ? And she goes over the easily available tools for doing the basic research yourself, including one of my favorites, www.collegeresults.org.
The book includes a section on “Overlooked Academic Choices” and how to get the most out of your local public university. Nor does the book ignore community colleges and explains why you might consider attending one.
Part Six, which is more than half-way through the book, discusses the “College Admissions Nuts & Bolts.” She provides the usual timeline for preparing for college beginning as a high school freshman. Another chapter covers reviews the various sources of admission advice, including private counselors. There’s a chapter on essays, one on interviews, and one on visits””the usual getting into college stuff? that most college admissions books start with. In fact, it is the only topic of many “how to get into college” books.
I think it is this difference that makes The College Solution an ideal first book to buy. It’s like the difference in business management books where you have those telling you how to climb the ladder where others help you find the right wall to climb. Too many college search books focus just on how to climb the ladder (the application process) while others use a very limiting set of criteria to evaluate which wall to climb in ranking the colleges. The College Solution won’t tell you which wall to climb but will help you figure out how look for walls worth climbing.
The book ends with a discussion of student loans and college saving accounts which will be relevant for any school you happen to choose. O’Shaughnessy includes a nice appendix which has a “cheat sheet” of the main points of each section of the book.
After reading The College Solution , you will have a better idea of if you need or want to get a more specialized book about the application process or guide to the colleges. The chances are that you won’t simply because The College Solution provides an excellent grounding for the college search process.