“To find a life changing college you must pay attention to how a college educates its undergraduates.” – Loren Pope, author of Colleges That Change Lives.
In 1996, Loren Pope, the former editor of the New York Times Education section, wrote a little book called Colleges That Change Lives (CTCL). It featured 40 schools that offer more than just an education. With small personal classes taught by professors, close relationships between professors and students, and a strong liberal arts education, the CTCL schools offer students one-on-one attention and flexible educations. Many of these colleges admit a large percentage of applicants, yet turn out a great number of students who go on to pursue and complete PhDs, attend medical school or law school, or win Fulbright scholarships.
A factor that was important to Pope was selectivity: some of these schools admit B and C level students. They are welcoming to students with learning disabilities, late bloomers, and nontraditional students (such as homeschoolers). The schools on the CTCL list take students who need a more personal touch and turn them into graduates with the same knowledge and abilities as students from the Ivy Leagues.
The National Science Foundation regularly conducts a survey of those who complete PhD programs in a variety of disciplines; one question it asks is where students received their bachelor’s degree. This allows us to compare the CTCL schools to more prestigious ones, such as Ivy League and the University of California. The results are surprising. Many of the schools on Pope’s list rank just as high or higher than their Ivy League counterparts (and most consistently outpace the few UCs that even make the list). Students from the Colleges That Change Lives show remarkable academic abilities even though they might not have had those abilities when they entered as freshman.
So how is this possible? How can less selective institutions compete with Ivy League colleges in graduate outcomes? How can they outperform schools like UC Berkeley and other University of California schools? As Pope says, the difference is in how students are educated. Each college on the list is a small school that focuses on teaching; the faculty is there because they love to teach and they love working with students. Student-professor mentoring relationships start early and professors have the opportunity to see each individual student from his or her first semester until graduation. The end result is a student who is well prepared for the next step, be it graduate school, professional school, or the world of work. Professors know their students well enough to provide career mentoring, as well as excellent references for internships, jobs, or graduate school.
As a homeschool/charter school parent, I know that my child will thrive in an academic environment where he receives significantly more attention. That’s why I homeschool, after all. Schools on the CTCL list offer a variety of educational approaches, from more rigid programs to student-designed majors. A significant number of schools on the list consider the SAT or ACT test optional and look at both GPA and holistic measures when making admission decisions. Some offer full-need-based financial aid (which can make a private school less expensive than a UC), while others offer merit aid or a mix of the two.
The goal is not to just get into college; the real prize is what you have once you’ve finished your degree. The schools on the CTCL list offer their students more than just a degree at the end of four years: they offer a truly life changing experience.
Take a moment to look at the Colleges that Change Lives website. Tours come to California in July.