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Education Reporter

Book Review
Choosing the Right College, editor John Zmirak, ISI Books 2011, 1047 pages, $29.95.

The eighth edition of Choosing the Right College continues its tradition of providing in-depth, independently funded research on 140 Ivy League institutions, state universities, liberal arts colleges, Christian (and ex-Christian) schools, military academies and small schools devoted to the Great Books.

While U.S. News and World Report ranks schools on subjective prestige and mixes useful statistics with those of dubious value (such as faculty salaries), the ISI guide takes a decidedly different approach. The organizing principle behind the academic evaluation of each school is how well (or poorly) it provides students with a classic liberal arts education — that is, a chance to explore the riches of Western and other cultures and become a well-rounded, responsible citizen of a free society. For schools lacking such a core curriculum, the guide suggests eight classes drawn from the school's catalog.

Other aspects of academic life are also addressed, including the rigor of various academic departments, names of the best professors, courses that ought to be avoided, student-faculty ratio, and the percentage of classes taught by graduate students (when available). Readers also get the inside scoop from current students, professors and graduates on whether the school encourages intellectual freedom, or is stifling in its aversion to Christianity and its commitment to politically correct speech.

The editors also give the gritty truth about student life outside of class, considering things like whether a school is known for its party atmosphere or "hookup" culture; the prevalence of alcohol and drugs; whether dorm floors, bathrooms, and even dorm rooms are coed; and the frequency of serious crimes on campus. Student clubs, athletics programs, Greek life, and cultural opportunities in the surrounding communities are also given attention.

Quirky details like the Naked Quad Run at Tufts and the group "primal scream" during finals at Grove City provide readers with a sense of each school's personality and what it might be like to attend. Parents and prospective students will also find information on tuition and expenses, how generous schools are with financial aid, and the average debt-load of each school's graduates.

The appendix provides a list of questions to ask during campus visits that will prove useful for evaluating schools not listed in the guide. Additionally, ISI offers a free one-year subscription to its companion website, CollegeGuide.org, with the purchase of the book. The website profiles dozens more schools, offers tips on the admissions process, and more.

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