Colleges That Change Lives

As a homeschool mom with one middle schooler, and two high schoolers enrolled with Inspire, I have college on my mind. What college path will my children want to take? Which one is best suited for their pursuits, and their learning styles? Which college path is the most sound financial decision for each of my children, and for my family as a whole? These questions are prominent, recurring, and not always answerable, as students will naturally go through several ideas, mulling them over, and considering things in their own, unique ways. It can feel like a lot of pressure to a child, when asked to determine so early in their lives, which career path they should commit to. 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 vocational education at a community college can be an altogether different, but equally intense and rigorous process, which begins when your student enrolls, navigating the pressure of impacted vocational programs, which unfortunately affect many of our community colleges, and which can make planning a manageable course-load quite a challenge.

(Antioch College – Yellow Spring, Ohio)

In my own search for the optimal approach to weigh and assess the college preparatory experience, as a homeschooling charter school parent, I have come upon two amazing resources, true gems, in helping parents navigate the sea of decisions.

(New College of Florida – Sarasota, Florida)

The first resource I have found is the book and non-profit by the same name, Colleges That Change Lives; created by a student-advocate and NY Times Editorialist who had a true passion for empowering students to find the college that offered them the kinds of meaningful, and student-centered experiences that would support them in their journey. Colleges that would partner with them, to truly provide each student with an impactful and stellar education (both academically, and holistically –the kind of educational experience so many of us naturally provide, in homeschooling our children).

(University of Puget Sound – Tacoma, Washington)

The second resource I will detail in a second blog post. The mini-preview is that this second resource is compatible with the first resource; it’s provided by a local homeschooling parent, who has worked as a college admissions counselor, and who now offers college workshops for parents and teenagers. These workshops detail the type of colleges, the types of experiences those colleges can offer their students, and the types of financial aid packages available at these colleges. This superstar mom admittedly has a bias–for small, Liberal Arts Colleges, many of which are included in the Colleges That Change Lives– but she gives a comprehensive overview of all the types of colleges available, depending on a student’s interests and specific needs. Her website, Homeschool College Explorations, lists the types of services she offers: classes, workshops and college tours (I will touch on that in more detail, later – but please note that she is an Inspire vendor!).

The first resource, Colleges That Change Lives, is an incredibly affordable and accessible resource! It is essentially a paperback book regularly sold on Amazon, and an organized, and user-friendly website, with various online support tools. Both of these CTCL resources (the book and the website) are designed to help families navigate this student-centered college experience. CTCL also organizes and hosts free Colleges That Change Lives Info Fairs throughout the summers. After I purchased the book off Amazon for $11.00, and spent some time on their website, I began to understand just how invaluable this resource is! I have also made plans to attend a summer CTCL College Fair!

I have spent the last week, reading late into the night, about 40 of the most interesting small private (and a couple public!) Liberal Arts Colleges, most of which I have never heard of. The few that I’m familiar with, Reed College, in Portland, Oregon, The Evergreen State College in Olympia Washington, and the University of Puget Sound, in Tacoma, Washington, I just assumed were the rare hippie colleges, that my closest friends happened to attend. 🙂 My friends reported loving these colleges, and I always knew they would find their place in this world, which I assumed was because they each took their time coming to their careers.

None of my friends were traditional inbound college freshman. 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. This was in the 1990s. They have all gone on to build successful careers in mostly academic fields (teaching Sanskrit at Harvard and Columbia, leading creative writing workshops for distinguished creative writing programs, and creating public health programs for Washington State University students). 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 value the type of college education my friends obtained. They each received an incredibly rewarding, and fulfilling college experience, partly due to the types of unique and wonderful students they were, and partly because they had each attended one of the Colleges That Change Lives. I had no idea just how accessible and just how rare this type of education was–and still is–until I began reading the CTCL book, and website.

Here are a few of the bullet points that I have learned so far:

  • 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 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 highschoolers to possibly attend very unique 4 year universities, which we had never considered before now.

  • Each of the CTCL colleges were chosen for their uniquely student-centered programs. The Evergreen State College, for example, doesn’t issue grades, but instead, teachers issue evaluations. It also ranks as having one of the best freshman experiences, with seminars built in to bring freshman students together with faculty and staff on a regular basis, for a more supportive environment, which freshman students often need.

  • 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, seminar and laboratory are all discussion-based.

  • The CTCL colleges regularly rank high in overall student satisfaction and academic excellence, in the Princeton Review, which is a valuable college review book to consider purchasing.

  • 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 have different tuitions and finanical aid packages, and this can be a benefit, depending on the college your child is interested in. Our Inspire vendor, Homeschool College Explorations, who I plan to showcase in my next blog post, focuses in detail during her series of College Workshops, on the different financial aid structuring and options available at many different types of colleges, and how to find that info. While this varies, depending on the college and the student’s educational path and needs, it is refreshing to consider that several (if not many) of the CTCL colleges may be a financial possibility for your student.

  • 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.

  • It is a great idea to attend one of the FREE CTCL College Info Fairs this summer in California to meet representatives from these colleges and learn more about them, all in one place. They are all FREE to attend and do not require preregistration!

The CTCL offers the following College Info Fairs in California, over 4 consecutive days at the end of July/beginning of August:

Saturday, July 29th, San Diego: 10:00 AM

Sunday, July 30th, Los Angeles: 11:00 AM and 3:00 PM

Monday, July 31st, Santa Clara: 7:00 PM

Tuesday, August 1st, San Rafael (Marin County): 7:00 PM

Reading the CTCL book and perusing its website may change your perspective, even if it doesn’t change your life immediately — though I’m sure the information contained in it can change your student’s life, if they find themselves intrigued by a college they never heard of before and find themselves on a path to discover what it can offer them! It can definitely get you ready to attend one of the free CTCL fairs, as well. I highly recommend adding this book to your summer reading list. It’s a great way to move into thinking about college for your highschoolers, or soon-to-be highschoolers– as many parents express, the highschool years can come upon us so quickly!

Lastly, it is truly worth learning more about the story of this informative, invaluable book, and its student-centered college search approach. With permission from the organization, here is information from their website:

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 ideals 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 web site, 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.

Teenagers are truly awesome, and deserve to know about all of the interesting college options available to them. I hope this info helps some of you, as it’s helped my teenagers and I think differently about college. We are truly excited to have more possibilities to consider! 🙂

Paige McKinney is an Inspire Family Liaison serving the Orange County area.