The 8 Best College Guide Books

Kick off your search for the perfect school on the right foot.

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Heading off to college and looking for some guidance? There are thousands of college and universities in the U.S., so it can be difficult to narrow down exactly which ones might be a good fit for you. College guidebooks are a helpful first resource that can whittle down the options. Are you looking for a large undergraduate student body? Does the school have the major you're interested in? Do you want to go to school in a city or rural environment? Do you have the grades or test scores that are generally required to get accepted? How much are you willing to pay for tuition? With so many important questions to ask yourself, you'll find college guidebooks provide great answers. Keep reading to find the best college guidebooks to buy, so you can start your research.

Most Comprehensive: Fiske Guide to Colleges 2020

Often touted as the “gold standard” of college guidebooks, the Fiske Guide to Colleges is a great investment if you want a comprehensive look into your options when it comes to your college or university. (And not for nothing, but the author, Edward Fiske, was the Education Editor of the New York Times.) This college guide is best for you if you’re just starting out in your college prep or if you’re having a hard time deciding what direction to go in with your approach to higher education. And it’s many students’ go-to resource, so it's become both the bestselling and top-rated college guide in the country.

The Fiske Guide to Colleges has three overall college indexes: one categorized by state and country, one by tuition and one by average debt. It’s heavily skewed towards economics, handpicking the “Best Buys of 2018” according to a wide range of statistical data about the cost of living in a college’s region, available student loans and scholarships, tuition prices and more. The Fiske Guide also helps you compare colleges according to various criteria, eliminating some of that labor in your search. The guide also allows you to size yourself up in comparison to other applicants according to your GPA, SAT and ACT scores, and desired preprofessional major.

Best Organization: Princeton Review’s The Best 388 Colleges

Every year, the Princeton Review releases a definitive guide to their selections for the “best” colleges. The Best 388 Colleges includes a ranking of schools based on various criteria, including academic excellence, atmosphere, social life, financial aid and others. The book, which is available via Kindle or paperback, includes a guide to financial aid and getting the most out of every dollar when it comes to your higher education.

You can look up a given school in The Best 388 Colleges based on your own preferences and needs. Concerned about your budget and future job potential? The Princeton Review’s “200 Colleges That Pay You Back” list is your best friend. Want to be around like-minded students? Look up “Most Religious Students” or “Most Liberal Students.” Want to be involved in student government or campus theatre? There are lists for those, too. There are also lists of colleges by major, as well as more lighthearted lists such as “Biggest Party Schools.” The book finishes up with indexes of the Princeton Review’s “best schools” according to tuition and location.

Best for Students & Families: The U.S. News and World Report’s Best Colleges

The U.S. News and World Report’s Best Colleges is an inexpensive guide that delves into the mechanics of getting into and choosing a college from start to finish. The book is helpful for the whole family and is great for parents who want to be deeply involved in the college selection process. The comprehensive college directory in Best Colleges includes statistics and descriptions that cover over 1,600 colleges and universities.

The features, here, are worth noting, as Best Colleges profiles several real students who made it from applications and college visits to successful college careers. Best Colleges also includes application essay tips, a financial aid guide, as well as explanations of college-to-career plans that will take you from high school to university major to full-fledged professional.

Best Admissions Tips: A Starter Guide to College for Clueless Students & Parents

If you’re looking for a comprehensive guide to today’s college application process from start to finish, this college guide is the ideal reference book for you that you can return to again and again over the years. Designed for eighth graders up to high school seniors, Jake D. Seeger’s A Starter Guide to College for Clueless Students and Parents is available on Kindle and in paperback and is the perfect partner in the stressful college search and application process.

A Starter Guide to College covers every aspect of the college search, including how to know what kind of school to attend, how to begin preparing for a college career as early as middle school or freshman year, and how to select a college based on your career goals, budget/finances, personality, academic background and desired location. With in-depth tips on everything from navigating college visits (and asking the right questions when you’re there!) to admissions interviews and penning the perfect application essay, this college guidebook will give you and your family reasonable, evidence-based advice no matter which stage of the process you’re going through.

Best Guide to Financial Aid: The Ultimate Scholarship Book

Concerned about how to fund your education? Let The Ultimate Scholarship Book, written by Gen Tanabe and Kelly Tanabe, be your guide to finding funding sources for your college career. It's on Kindle and comes in paperback.

This is the quintessential college funding guide, which is particularly important at a time when most college students graduate with debt. The Ultimate Scholarship Book features information on 1.5 funding sources, including prizes, contests, grants and scholarships for high school, college, graduate school and adult/returning students. The sources are categorized by academic major, future career, ethnicity, special skill and more. This hefty tome spans over 816 pages, making it well worth the price.

This essential college funding guidebook also includes tips on successful scholarship application essays, how to avoid scams, as well as how to look for even more funding sources.

Best for Liberal Arts: The Hidden Ivies: America’s 63 Top Liberal Arts Schools

Liberal arts colleges offer a well-rounded education that prepares you for a variety of careers and equips you with a broad knowledge base and critical thinking skills. Often, small liberal arts colleges also offer more individualized attention and personalized academic guidance than is usually possible at a vocational school, community college or public university. If a small liberal arts college is of interest to you, you can learn more about your options in The Hidden Ivies: 63 of America’s Top Liberal Arts Colleges and Universities, written by Howard Greene and Matthew W. Greene.

The book’s authors begin by laying out the reasons to choose a liberal arts college over any other kind of institution of higher education, followed by the criteria they used to select the list of the 63 best liberals arts schools in the U.S. Each school description delves into the college’s community, tuition, areas of specialty, notable features and faculty, and features interviews with students who give the inside scoop of what it’s like on campus. The book also includes tips on how to apply successfully to today’s liberal arts colleges and an appendix listing of “honorable mention” schools that didn’t quite make the cut.

Best for Perfect Fit: College Match: A Blueprint for Choosing the Best School

For students who want an in-depth guide to finding their best-match college, College Match: A Blueprint for Choosing the Best School for You, by Steven Antonoff, Ph.D., is the ideal college guidebook. Rather than making you thumb through lists and compare schools to one another yourself, College Match does the heavy lifting for you, handpicking colleges for you based on your preferences, background, academic stats, test scores and goals.

College Match is an interactive college guide. Dr. Antonoff asks readers to complete a series of questionnaires and worksheets in order to help you reflect on your own desires. The book goes above and beyond surface-level preferences such as geographic location and campus size, asking you to dig deeper and think about what you really want out of a college experience and match you up with a school accordingly.

Best Bonus Online Resources: Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges

Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges is another high-quality college guidebook and a top pick among high school guidance counselors. Profiles of American Colleges features profiles of over 1,650 schools and guides to campus facilities, admissions requirements, scholarships, extracurriculars, tuition prices, safety and admissions contact information. Barron’s college guidebook also includes listings for select colleges in Canada and American colleges with overseas campuses.

The Index of College Majors can save you valuable time and painstaking Google searches, as it includes a complete guide to every major degree program available at hundreds of schools. With your purchase, you can also access Barron’s College Search Engine for free. The College Search Engine allows you to search for the best colleges for you based on your academic background and goals, as well as other preferences such as location.

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Dorwart, Laura. "The 8 Best College Guide Books." ThoughtCo, Sep. 6, 2022, Dorwart, Laura. (2022, September 6). The 8 Best College Guide Books. Retrieved from Dorwart, Laura. "The 8 Best College Guide Books." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 27, 2023).