The Other College Guide—a New Book From the Washington Monthly

As noted here a couple of weeks ago, a new book addressing a topic near and dear to the hearts of Washington Monthly editors and readers for many years is on the way.

Today we’re pleased to announce the formal release of a new college guidebook unlike any other on the market, featuring our unique “Best Bang for the Buck” ranking system applied to more than 1500 four-year schools and broken down by region.

Check out the rankings here to see how your alma mater measures up.

The book is The Other College Guide: A Roadmap to the Right School for You, by Jane Sweetland, Paul Glastris, and the editors of the Washington Monthly, published by The New Press. Our aim was to take the knowledge we’ve acquired from years of producing our magazine’s annual College Guide and Rankings, which is mostly meant for taxpayers and policymakers, and turn it into shrewd, news-you-can-use advice for high school students—and their parents, teachers, guidance counselors and others—on how to get into and succeed at college in an era when a degree has never been more important (or expensive).

The result is a guidebook that is quite different from others in several ways:

First, other books cater (though they don’t come right out and say so) mostly to students from well-to-do families trying to get into the most exclusive, priciest schools. The Other College Guide is for every student. Whether they’re rich, poor, or in the middle, or get straight As or mostly Cs, this book will help them find a challenging, high-quality school that’s right for them.

Second, other guidebooks, like the one from U.S. News & World Report, rank schools based on how many students they turn away, or how much money they raise and spend, or how other college presidents rate them.

But these metrics tell you next to nothing about how much actual learning goes on in the classroom. They are mostly measures of inputs, not outcomes. So The Other College Guide ignores such criteria and instead
ranks colleges based on the best available data about what really matters (or should matter) to typical students. Which schools will charge a fair price and not bury a student in debt? (Hint: look beyond the sticker price.) Which help students graduate? (Going to college but not getting a degree is an almost complete waste of a student’s time and money.) Which provide degrees that allow graduates to earn a decent income? (They should at least have enough to pay off student loans, and hopefully a whole lot more.)

Third, other guidebooks are full of happy talk about how wonderful America’s higher education system is and how every college has something to offer. Not true: There are a lot of terrible colleges out there. The Other College Guide names names and helps you avoid them. The system is confusing, complicated, full of trap doors, and often unfair. We guide students through it safely.

Fourth, other guidebooks profile the most prestigious colleges or the “Best Party Schools.” We offer detailed profiles of 50 great schools that will maximize a student’s chance of succeeding, academically and in life.

So if you’ve got a prospective college student in your family, or you’re a high school teacher, administrator or guidance counselor struggling to advise students—especially lower-income, first generation, and minority students—on how to pick a school where they won’t get ripped off but will succeed, this is the book for you.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.