Guides To Higher Learning

Finding the right fit between college-bound high schoolers and the nearly 3,000 institutions of higher learning in the United States is a complicated process.

During the past decade, there has been an explosion of college guides to help with these decisions. Nothing beats getting on campus to attend classes and soak up the atmosphere. But these guidebooks provide an avenue of entry for high schoolers who are beginning to plan their futures.

THE FISKE GUIDE TO COLLEGES 1994, by Edward B. Fiske (Times Books/Random House, 800 pp., $16). Edward Fiske, a former education editor for the New York Times, first published his guide in 1982, and it has since become a bestseller.

The new edition identifies 14 public colleges and universities that have high quality liberal-arts programs yet offer affordable tuitions.

Fiske reviews 315 of ``the best and most interesting institutions in the nation.'' Each essay covers a range of issues including: academics, student makeup, financial aid, housing, food, social life, and extracurricular activities.

Colorful quotes from students and faculty flesh out the statistics. The colleges are ranked from inexpensive to very expensive and are given ratings from 1 to 5 in three areas: academics, social life, and quality of life.

THE INSIDER'S GUIDE TO THE COLLEGES 1994, compiled and edited by the staff of the Yale Daily News (St. Martin's Press, 736 pp., $14.99). Billed as ``the only college guide written entirely by current students,'' this review's writers reveal a close connection to the college scene. Although nearly all these guides offer an advice section, this one is particularly useful. Without being flip, the reviewers speak with the authority of someone who has recently been in the high schoolers' shoes.

Without attempting to rate the colleges, this guide offers insightful and wide-ranging essays on the characteristics of about 300 schools.

THE PRINCETON REVIEW STUDENT ACCESS GUIDE - THE BEST 286 COLLEGES 1994, by Tom Meltzer, Zachary Knower, Edward T. Custard, and John Katzman (Villard Books, 651 pp., $17). Although exhaustively researched, this guide has a flip, sarcastic tone. It boasts of surveying 40,000 college students in the largest national opinion poll of college students.

But much of the information appears intended to entertain rather than inform. At the beginning of the guide, the top 20 schools are ranked in 61 categories ranging from ``the toughest to get into'' to ``professors suck all life from material.''

THE MULTICULTURAL STUDENT'S GUIDE TO COLLEGES, by Robert Mitchell (Noonday Press/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 839 pp., $25). As more minority students enter colleges, there is a growing interest in institutions' multicultural records. This guide grew out of Robert Mitchell's experience as an English teacher at a public high school in New York City. He often advises college-bound students and detected a lack of information for minority students interested in higher education.

The guide lists the percentage of minority faculty and students at 239 of the top American schools, along with scholarships offered exclusively for minority students, ethnic-studies programs, and retention rates of minority students. Mitchell also describes the racial atmosphere on campuses and notes schools where racial unrest or hate crimes have occurred.

THE COLLEGE FINDER: 475 WAYS TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT SCHOOL FOR YOU, by Steven R. Antonoff (Ballantine, 517 pp., $12.95). This is more a book of lists than a comprehensive guide to the nation's colleges and universities.

Using 475 ``quick-reference lists,'' the former dean of admissions at the University of Denver profiles more than 1,000 schools. The book is divided into chapters on such issues as admissions, academics, social, athletics, cost, and enrollment.

The lists range from ``Colleges with the Highest Admission Standards'' to ``Top Colleges for the Late Bloomer'' and ``The 40 Largest College Libraries'' to ``Colleges for the Shy Person.''

Steven Antonoff does not confine himself to simply ranking the colleges in obscure categories, however. He also includes such lists as the five most useful college guidebooks (his is not on the list) and what factors admissions officers consider most important.

One of the most helpful sections lists the top schools in a variety of fields and majors. Much of this is arcane information. But for students with specific questions, this book might come in handy.

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