June 15, 2017


Colleges That Create Futures: 50 Schools That Launch Careers by Going Beyond the Classroom. By Robert Franek. Princeton Review/Penguin Random House. $14.99.

     The ability to slice and dice data makes it possible to take essentially the same information and present it in multiple ways, resulting in – among many other things – the numerous Princeton Review college guides, which focus mostly on the same schools but arrange them in different orders according to each book’s emphasis. Princeton Review (which is not affiliated with Princeton University but, as a producer of guides to higher education, surely benefits from its name) generally produces lengthy oversize paperbacks crammed with small-type information on schools’ requirements, student-body statistics, financial information and the like. With Colleges That Create Futures, though, it goes beyond those data, or more accurately into a subset of them, to create a standard-size volume purporting to show schools that excel at getting students satisfying post-college work because of their non-classroom programs. These include internships, alumni networking opportunities, high-quality career guidance, student-faculty collaborative projects, and the like.

     This specialized volume is not one of Princeton Review’s strongest, although some college-bound students wavering between or among specific schools may find it useful. The problem here is that the underlying premise of Colleges That Create Futures is inherently subjective. Much of a student’s success in college depends on his or her ability to navigate campus and off-campus life, making his or her own opportunities by developing networks of fellow students on campus and going beyond the basic requirements of courses when it comes to interactions with professors. This is true at virtually all colleges except highly regimented institutions, such as the nation’s military academies. So the fact – if it is a fact – that some colleges make this easier than others do is of only modest significance. But do the 50 colleges here make this sort of outside-the-classroom exploration easier than other colleges do? That is a subjective judgment, for all that Princeton Review explains about its methodology for selecting these schools.

     A student trying to decide whether this book will be helpful might well be inclined to start with an alphabetical list of the colleges included; but, oddly, there is none. The schools are presented in alphabetical order throughout the book, but there is no listing of them at the front, and the listings at the back are by location, tuition and enrollment – useful categories all, but they do not take the place of a simple master list. As for the reasons colleges are included here, they vary. Oberlin College, for example, is praised as “open-minded, incredibly inclusive, equality-embracing, and socially mindful,” with “feel-good, freethinking, granola-crunching vibes” that are environmentally sensitive and LGBT-friendly. Marist College is said to strike “the perfect balance between a liberal arts campus and a high-tech university system” and have “the same kind of balance between aesthetics and power.” These are clearly subjective comments, but some colleges get more-objective treatment, as in the note about one of the many special offerings at DePauw University: “Blending a traditional liberal arts curriculum with real-world experiences in business and entrepreneurship, the Management Fellows Program also includes a full-time, semester-long, credit-bearing business internship.” Colleges That Create Futures is thus a blend of opinion and fact to a greater degree than many other Princeton Review books. Thumbing through it and stopping to read a bit about the colleges chosen for highlighting here is a must to determine whether the approach will be useful for any given student or family.

     The unusual nature of Colleges That Create Futures is largely shown through the colleges that are not included. Stanford University is here, but not Harvard or Yale (indeed, no college at all in Connecticut); in New Jersey, there are Drew University and Stevens Institute of Technology, but no Princeton. The selection of schools could easily be described as “quirky” if Princeton Review (where author Robert Franek is editor-in-chief) chose to say that the selections were made by, say, team debate and eventual consensus. But no – data are foundational here, and the underlying concept is to give students objective information on schools that excel in non-classroom ways at preparing students for life after college. The book nevertheless does not feel entirely data-driven – and in truth, a touch of the opinionated human is not a bad thing in today’s highly intense college search. Whether the balance of personal and impersonal material in Colleges That Create Futures is genuinely useful will be a matter for individual college-bound students, and their families, to decide – by forming their own opinions of the book’s inclusions and exclusions.

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