THE BEST COLLEGE GUIDE: Branching out from ‘Fiske’

螢幕快照 2014-02-19 上午10.41.18

College Prowler

At times during my college search, I needed a politically incorrect, honest and totally biased viewpoint—something that the “Fiske Guide” couldn’t offer.

That’s where College Prowler, recently renamed “Niche,” came in. Although Niche began with printed school-specific guidebooks, it now focuses on its website (

Niche regularly sends out surveys to college students, asking them about their experience. The responses are converted to grades (A through F) in 19 categories, such as diversity, campus strictness and “guys and girls” (how attractive and dateable they are.)

To understand why a category got the grade it did, Niche compiles student quotes.

Are dorms given a C+ because the rooms are small or because they’re dirty? Did drug safety get a B because marijuana is abundant or because there’s pressure to imbibe?

The student testimonials provide answers to these questions.

I found the grades invaluable when narrowing down my college list. For instance, any school that had below a B for campus dining was quickly removed.

In addition to the grades, Niche periodically creates college rankings for “The Most Liberal Colleges” or “The Best Party Schools.” This week’s ranking is “Hottest Guys.”

And this is where Niche beats the “Fiske Guide” because the latter can discuss colleges only in the most unbiased of terms.

Sure, Fiske can have a little slant. But that’s nothing compared to the rants you see on Niche.

And the rankings aren’t a top-10 list. These lists include usually over 1,000 colleges.

For example, Vassar College and New York University are both open-minded campuses. But according to Niche’s research, the former is ranked 146 out of 1,401 for most open-mind- ed colleges, while the latter is ranked number 5.

This is where I start to wonder. What differentiates number 345 from 412? Or especially 345 from 346? For these rankings, colleges are given a rating out of 10, and ordered.

But I don’t see how they split hairs as definitively as they pretend they do.

However, one of the most useful features on the site is the “How do I stack up?” charts. Each chart has an SAT score for the x-axis and a GPA for the y-axis. Once you enter your information, you’re plotted on the chart.

Then you can click one or more of the following: attending, accepted, waitlisted, and rejected. If you were to click on “attending,” then a bunch of plot points would appear on the chart representing students who attend the school.

According to Niche, I’m in the 62nd percentile among those accepted to Williams Col- lege, where I was deferred.

Furthermore, Niche offers a “Chance Me” feature. Wanting to assess my chances at Wil- liams, I entered my data (grades, extracurriculars, scores, etc.) and my intended major. (I also rated my essays and recommendations as “pretty darn good” and “amazing,” respectively.)

Fellow users then vote on whether or not they think you can get in. So there’s really no credibility to this feature, but it has a magnetic pull. I couldn’t keep myself from trying it.

Each “Chance Me” costs two credits. I got four for free, but to gain more, I had to rate others’ chances at certain colleges—10 ratings for one credit. I felt very odd, unqualified and guilty telling people that they won’t be going to Yale. But I had to get my own credits.

Apparently I have a “high” chance of getting into Williams.

Psh. Okay.

Two people had the temerity to tell me it’s unlikely that I’ll be getting into Georgetown. Actually, I agree with them. But I don’t like anonymous people telling me that.

Then again, 15 people told me I have a fair to high chance of getting in.

So if you’re like me and worrying about college, “Chance Me” is a way to pass the time. Throughout my application process, I used Niche a lot. The Fiske Guide was informative but too objective, and everyone on College Confidential is looking for an ego boost.

Some of its features have questionable accuracy, but that aside, Niche gave the information I needed to finalize my college list.

And it’s nice to know that I’ll likely be accepted to Williams College after all…


螢幕快照 2014-02-19 上午10.42.26College Confidential

The first time I heard about College Confidential, I was told not to trust it.

“Don’t believe anything it says,” a former senior told me. “It’ll make you go crazy.” But being a skeptic, I decided to check out the site anyway, not knowing that I’d spend the next hour and a half clicking feverishly from post to post in its infamous

When I finally forced myself to stop, I realized it’s true: College Confidential does make you go crazy—but in two different ways. As with many things, one’s good and one’s bad.

Allow me to explain the differences.

When you first enter the site, you have a choice. You can click the conspicuous link that takes you to “College Discussion” (the forum), or you can click on the other tabs on the page such as “College Search” and “College Admissions.”

For your sake, I hope you click on the latter tabs, for they are more likely to lead you to the good crazy. And by that I mean your eyes will be glued to the wealth of mostly helpful information shown on screen, and you’ll just want to keep reading forever.

The feature “College Search,” similar to that of College Navigator and BigFuture, allows you to choose the different qualities you want in your ideal college—school size, Greek life, campus setting, etc—and gives you a list of matching colleges.

Although this feature is nothing different from that of other college-search sites, the results are better. Eight of the 12 colleges that it produced were already on my carefully crafted list, so accuracy is pretty spot on.

The other tabs are equally helpful. “College Admissions” contains numerous articles that range from “SAT Scheduling Strategies” to “College Admissions: Dealing with Deferrals and Waitlists.” Or you can click on the tab “College Life” to learn about college survival tips and what kind of computers students generally find best for colleges.

The tab “Ask the Dean” allows anyone to submit a question to the “Dean,” and the Dean may publish the answer on the page. While the questions may not always concern you and the Dean’s identity and credibility remain nebulous, the answers are usually thoughtful and can potentially answer one of your questions or debunk myths.

I know that most people skip these tabs or find them useless, but I disagree. The articles in these sections aren’t the vague, general tips that you’ve heard a million times. Yes, it takes some button-clicking to get around, but the information provided makes it worth it.

However, if you’re anything like me, you’ll go through all the articles pretty quickly, since there are only a handful; new articles aren’t posted as often as I’d like.

But don’t worry—that’s what the discussion forum is for. Posts pop up like newborn rabbits, and you’re guaranteed to waste more time than you’d like to. There are four major dis- cussion areas encompassing 33 sub-forums, which include even more sub-sections.

The forum, however, doesn’t have a very good reputation. It is the “bad crazy” of College Confidential (not always—but more on that later).

The forum is much like any other forums on the web, meaning anyone can sign up, become a member and post. Therefore, you’re guaranteed to find personal biases, outdated informa- tion, assumptions, facts, exaggerations or myths.

The bottom line is don’t trust the answers entirely—they are usually not authoritative.

This is especially true of the “What Are My Chances?” sub-forum, where you can post your “stats” and ask other members to predict your chances of getting into particular colleges.

This sub-forum, as intriguing as it is, is pretty useless.

As you will find out later, admission is dependent on so many factors, and there are no certainties. Therefore, this sub-forum is only good for people looking to a) boost their ego by bragging about their achievements, b) be assured of answers that they already have in mind, and c) have an anxiety attack.

Why? Because this sub-forum, along with the “XXX University Class of 2018 Decision Results,” is the real culprit driving people like me insane.

After reading about how a student A) has gotten 5’s on all of his 12 AP classes; B) is the president of seven clubs; C) has started his own business; D) has perfect SAT and ACT scores; E) is the captain of three varsity sports teams, and F) has volunteered and built houses for poor children in developing countries—yes, you will feel like you have wasted 17 years of your meaningless life as well.

The “Results” pages are addictive because you see the real “stats” that people had when they’re accepted, deferred or denied. A week before hearing the results of my Early Decision to University of Penn- sylvania, I was constantly reading these pages to deduce the chance of me getting in. But I ended up concluding nothing, and the sleep sacrifice wasn’t worth it.

However, the worst part is that these pages make you want to read on, mostly so you can find someone with not-so-impressive stats with whom you can console yourself.

My advice? Don’t take the answers too seriously. If you can’t help it, then don’t come to those forums.

Despite the negatives about the forum, it’s not completely useless— you just need the time, patience and intellect to process everything. The volume of information found here will overall make you more knowledgeable about the whole college application process.

College Confidential is definitely a tool—one that can be extremely helpful. It’s difficult to describe how useful it is or how insane it’ll make you because everyone defines “helpful” differently.

But do give it a try when you have time to spare. It’s not as terrible as some say it is.

Just don’t go on a College Confidential run the night before a test— you’ve been warned.

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