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Homeschool 1-on-1 with Colleges That Change Lives

(please note this is purely an opinion piece - a passionate, but a genuine one. No financial incentive or compensation was offered to the author or to our organization in promoting Colleges That Changes Lives. We just feel very passionate about sharing this resource with our community!)

Please enjoy this video from our Homeschool 1-on-1 with Colleges That Change Lives (CTCL) on June 4, 2021, to learn more about CTCL from Board Member, Lauren Sefton.



Colleges that Changes Lives - learning about this amazing organization and its network of schools has changed my family's approach to the college search.

By Paige McKinney (updated May 2021)

When I first learned about Colleges that Change Lives I was a single homeschool mom with one middle schooler, and two high schoolers enrolled with a California Independent Study Public Charter school: homeschooling them through this unique type of educational system while juggling work and family life. And unfortunately, I had deep-seated fears and anxieties towards the college search process. What college path would my children want to take? Which college path would be the soundest financial decision for each of my children, and for my family as a whole? My most pervasive fear was about which colleges my children could even get into when so many majors and so many schools in California's college system are impacted and therefore the admission process has become highly selective? Would community college be their only choice if my kids didn't have the GPA and testing numbers for the competitiveness of many of California's state colleges and universities? Should we not even bother looking at four-year schools? Had homeschooling, and more specifically, had unschooling spoiled our chances for an affordable, quality college education?

Beyond my fears about college admissions for my children, as I dug deeper, was an even more important concern. What kind of college experience was best suited for my children's pursuits and their individual learning styles? What were their pursuits, truly? That would take some deep diving and soul-searching (and is the subject of another blog post!), but if attending college was to be a step along their paths, if that's what they needed to do, I wanted it to be a good fit for their personalities, too. I did not want them to just attend college for the sake of attending college and end up anywhere that would take them, just because they got accepted, without regard to their individual needs and personhood.

These concerns and questions are prominent, recurring, and can shift and change depending on how kids shift and change in their thoughts about a potential college path. A decision to pursue a Bachelor of Arts is an altogether different focus than a Bachelor of Science. There are different classes, a different set of rigor, and a different set of pressures to contend with. Alternately, making a decision to pursue a professional certificate program at a California community or vocational college can be an equally intense and challenging process, which begins when your student enrolls, navigating the pressure of impacted vocational and professional programs. I've witnessed how impacted programs resulted in a delay of a student's progress towards obtaining an education and starting their career -it happened to friends of ours. Which direction then, is the best path with so much to consider? It can feel incredibly overwhelming when you and your student first start thinking about all of this.

In my family's timid, reluctant first steps toward the college search experience, we stumbled across Colleges that Change Lives (CTCL) by word of mouth from another homeschooling parent who mentioned it to me in casual conversation. I bought the book off Amazon a couple of months later, hearing about it a second time when this same friend was talking about it with another friend. I realized if she feels this strongly about it maybe I should look into it, too. But then the book sat on my bedside table for another month before I even opened it (life gets busy, especially as a single mom!). Once I finally picked it up to try reading it, I didn't want to stop. I even switched purses to one that could hold the book in it when I went out! I often skipped through it to the different chapters (you don't have to read it sequentially, since it highlights different schools), just to find delight in every section that I read. It was a feel-good book, and that was what I needed since I had been dreading the college search. I started going to the website and reading bits and pieces there, too, and I soon discovered that CTCL had college fairs happening locally. We attended one of them, all three of my kids and me, at Universal City. We made the trek on a weekend morning just for this. And all of us were so glad we did. You see, it not only opened my eyes, but it also opened my kids' eyes as well. Talking to the CTCL college reps gave my children encouragement that their learning styles, personalities, interests, and philosophies about life could all fit into a college environment, and more than that - there are colleges that might want them and would be so happy to have them. Maybe it seems silly that this is what we needed to feel, to be encouraged by college reps whose job it is to recruit students, but it was a genuinely warm, engaging exchange that I'm so grateful we experienced. Coming from a state with impacted colleges everywhere we look, while the costs continue to rise, while our process of applying continues to get more difficult, and our chances of admission slimmer, talking with the CTCL rep was truly like experiencing a breath of fresh air.

CTCL has created an entire paradigm shift for our family. The college search is now about my kids feeling like they want to choose the right college path, not about them feeling like they have to find a college that will finally accept them, and we should just be grateful for that. We never felt this way while we were homeschooling, that we just had to accept limited options or accept being excluded. We expanded our educational options when we began homeschooling. Discovering Colleges that Change Lives has recentered us on the path we've always been on; a student-centered path. We don't need to worry and fret that our choices are diminished for homeschooling the way we have, with a relaxed, eclectic, and unschooling-based approach. In fact, many of the student experiences that make Colleges that Changes Lives stand apart resonate with our homeschooling lifestyle: low student-to-teacher ratio, a focus on mentoring, engagement with the community, plenty of opportunities for travel, and an emphasis on building career and foundational life skills.

What exactly is Colleges that Changes Lives and how did it get started?

Colleges That Change Lives began as a book that was written in 1996 by Loren Pope, a student-advocate and NY Times education editor who had a true passion for empowering students to find the kinds of colleges that offered them meaningful, student-centered experiences that would support them in their life-long journey. Mr. Pope wrote Colleges That Changes lives as a college educational guide that addresses college admissions in the United States. He selected small Liberal Arts colleges with high acceptance rates and unique, stellar programs that provided students with what he felt was far more than an Ivy League education could provide. He advocated for students to find a college that matched their needs and whose mission and identity they related to.

The user-friendly website that accompanies the book, is a non-profit created to support the mission of Colleges that Change Lives. It was started independently of Loren Pope, but with his consent. maintains and updates a list of 40+ small, liberal arts colleges with high acceptance rates, and designed with special student experiences. Both of these CTCL resources (the book and the website) are designed to help families focus on a student-centered college search. CTCL organizes and hosts free Colleges That Change Lives info fairs each summer where students and families can meet with representatives from all of the schools in one place (during the pandemic this has been a virtual experience utilizing Zoom)

I have enjoyed reading this book and visiting the website over and over again, sometimes late into the night, to learn about the most interesting small private (and a couple of public!) Liberal Arts Colleges, most of which I have never heard of.

But I had heard of a few of these colleges. I just didn't know it at the time! Reed College, in Portland, Oregon, The Evergreen State College in Olympia Washington, and the University of Puget Sound, in Tacoma, Washington were schools I was aware of in the 1990s. I just assumed these were the rare hippie colleges, that a couple of people I knew happened to attend. Neither of the people I knew who attended these schools was traditional inbound college freshmen. They took gap years, they traveled (I traveled together with some of them) and they took their time approaching a school, working in the interim, and building financial plans to help get them through college. These students have all gone on to build successful careers in mostly academic fields. And while I have chosen a different path, devoting my life to raising three wonderful human beings, whom I’m blessed to be a mother to, I truly value the type of college education that I knew they obtained from these unique schools. I just assumed that this type of college experience was so rare (or too expensive for a working-class family like mine) and therefore it just wouldn't be possible for my own children to attend a college like this. These schools were certainly unlike any of the prestigious ones I had taken college tours of and visited with my teens. Before I discovered CTCL I was beginning to get frustrated, thinking college entry had only gotten more competitive and harder to obtain for my homeschooling kids, here in California. I had no idea just how accessible a quality student-centered education might be in other states, at other schools, until I began reading the CTCL book, and website.

What does it mean for a school to be Student-Centered? Aren't all colleges Student-Centered since they serve enrolled students?

The answer to that depends on how you define student-centered. Here are a few important points I've learned about how schools can truly be student-centered:

  • All of the Colleges That Change Lives have high admittance rates. If a college is too selective, it will not meet the requirements to be included in the list of 40+ Colleges That Change Lives. This is one of the single most inspiring and eye-opening facts, which has caused me to rethink my idea of private colleges being too exclusive and too selective for my children. I’m now very excited about the possibilities for my children to possibly attend very unique 4-year universities, which we had never considered before now.

  • Each of the CTCL colleges was chosen for its uniquely student-centered programs. The Evergreen State College, for example, doesn’t issue grades, but instead, professors issue evaluations. It also ranks as having one of the best first-year experiences, with seminars built in to bring first-year students together with faculty and staff on a regular basis, for a more supportive environment, which first-year students often need. This is in stark contrast to first-year students being left on their own at large state colleges and prestigious universities to navigate lecture classes with 200+ students in each lecture. These large lecture classes are often taught by students, not faculty.

  • Many CTCL colleges have unique campus experiences and programs that offer alternatives to mainstream educational paths. St. John’s College, for example, with two campuses, one in Annapolis, Maryland, and another campus in Santa Fe, New Mexico, utilizes the Great Books Program as a foundational, mandatory curriculum for their school. The program requires students to read and discuss the classics of Western Civilization throughout their four years of college at St. John’s. St. John’s also avoids modern textbooks, lectures, and examinations in favor of a series of manuals. And tutorials, seminars, and laboratories are all discussion-based.

  • Most of the CTCL colleges have a small student body, compared to the bigger public and private colleges. This smaller student body can be especially appealing to homeschool students and families, who are used to having a small student/teacher ratio. Beloit College, in Wisconsin, for example, has an average class size of 15 students, with 1/3 of their classes constituting 10 students or less.

  • Each of the CTCL colleges has different tuitions and financial aid packages, and this can be a benefit, depending on the college your child is interested in. It is eye-opening to consider that several (if not many) of the CTCL colleges might be a financial possibility for your student that is competitive with the in-state tuition of a public university that is highly impacted and selective.

  • The CTCL colleges regularly rank high in overall student satisfaction and academic excellence in the Princeton Review, a well-regarded college review book many college-bound families purchase to guide them in their college search.

Students can and should be encouraged to have an active role in looking at this book for themselves. They can safely evaluate different kinds of colleges, expanding their parameters to find the right-fit college from a list of colleges that have high admittance, and most importantly– life-changing experiences. I highly recommend students and families attend a CTCL college fair to meet representatives from these colleges and learn more about them, all in one place. They are all FREE to attend.

Information from the Source:

Lastly, more details about the story and mission of this student-centered approach to the college search can be found on their website. (posted here with permission from the organization):

Our Mission: Colleges That Change Lives, Inc. (CTCL) is a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement and support of a student-centered college search process. We support the goal of every student finding a college that develops a lifelong love of learning and provides the foundation for a successful and fulfilling life beyond college.

The Colleges That Change Lives, Inc. (CTCL) story begins in 1996 when a book by the same name — Colleges That Change Lives — was published by retired New York Times education editor and journalist Loren Pope. A longtime student advocate and independent college counselor, Mr. Pope sought to change the way people thought about colleges by dispelling popularly held myths and challenging the conventional wisdom about college choice. His groundbreaking ideas were welcomed by students and the college counseling community alike. As a result, many of the colleges featured in the book began working together to further promote this philosophy of a student-centered college search. In 1998 the CTCL organization was formally organized, independent of Mr. Pope (although with his blessing) and his publisher.

Today, CTCL is regarded as a leading advocate on the subject of higher education access and college choice. In addition to the resources available through this website, CTCL offers printed materials and numerous outreach efforts to students, families, college counselors, schools, and education agencies. Additionally, CTCL supports those in college counseling roles who ascribe to a similar philosophy and are working to help students frame their college search beyond the ratings and rankings.

Furthermore, CTCL was founded on a philosophy of building the knowledge, character, and values of young people by introducing them to a personalized and transformative collegiate experience. Although the member colleges approach this challenge with varying perspectives, institutional missions, and pedagogical strategies, a student-centered mission is common to all campuses. As an organization, CTCL will provide information and the opportunity to pursue a best-fit college to all students regardless of race, color, religion (creed), national origin (ancestry), sex, gender, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic status, political affiliation, marital status, disability, military status, or any other means by which a student could be discriminated.

Governed by a voluntary board comprised of college counseling professionals, Colleges That Change Lives is leading national voice in the field of college choice and is recognized by the IRS as a non-profit, charitable 501(c)(3) organization, and donations to CTCL are tax-deductible. For information about how to contribute and support our mission, contact Executive Director, Maria Furtado.


CTCL: Great Homeschool Parent Summer Reading

Reading the CTCL book and its website can change your perspective about college in a rewarding, fulfilling way. It can definitely change your student’s life if they find themselves intrigued by a college they never heard of and find themselves on a path to discover what it can offer them. I highly recommend adding this book to your summer reading list. Take it with you to the beach, buy a copy for your teen and leave it somewhere for them to read. Spending some time on is a great way to transition towards thinking about college for your children. The high school years often come upon us so quickly and as homeschoolers and unschoolers we don't need to bury our heads in the sand, thinking that a personalized and affordable college experience is out of our budget and the realm of possibility. It's refreshing and exciting to have more possibilities to consider. And for some of us, these new options might be more appealing than the college paths we've been taught to think are our homeschooling/unschooling students' only options.


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