Colleges That Change Lives

Changing Lives. One Student at a Time.

Students FAQ

top ^
What do colleges like the CTCL group look for in applicants?

Though admission requirements vary across colleges, most admission officers are looking for evidence of "fit" with the school. That's not to say that they are looking for people who are all the same—rather, admission officers seek to enroll diverse populations of students from all over the country and around the world who will likely succeed on their campus. For a good fit with a CTCL college, admission officers would hope to see students who are prepared and enthusiastic about the opportunities for college-level learning, leadership, and responsibility.

It's important to stress that there is no set formula for admission: admission officers hope to see outstanding results in challenging courses, grades that represent the student's best continued efforts, solid standardized test scores (unless the college is "test-optional"), and involvement or leadership in sports, clubs, activities, after-school work or volunteer service.

Admission officers take recommendations seriously, so it's important to choose teachers and others who know the applicant well and can write about what makes that student a good fit for that college. The student's essay should answer application questions clearly, illustrate a particular talent or characteristic, and reflect the student's unique personality.

Students should spend some time thinking about who they are, what makes them special, and what they hope to accomplish in college before sending in an application. What talents or insights can they contribute to the campus community? Which life experiences help to make them an uncommon individual? What areas of interest do they hope to develop? Why is this school the right choice for the student's future?

The application is an opportunity to shine. The students who can best demonstrate that they are motivated, eager learners will make the biggest impact on admission committees.

top ^
How do so many colleges get my name and address?

Colleges search for prospective students based on information from several sources, including the PSAT, ACT, and surveys distributed on-line and in high schools. If you are receiving information from a college, it may be because you checked a box on a standardized test or a survey indicating you’d like to receive information from colleges and universities whose profile matches your academic interests and abilities.

Colleges also collect student names based on certain criteria that they believe indicates students will be a good fit for their institution. They may be interested in you because of factors such as your academic record, extracurricular interests, test scores, or intended college major.

If you are no longer interested in receiving information from any particular college or university, contact them directly to ask to have your name and address removed from their database. They will be happy to heed your request.

top ^
What should I look for and try to accomplish on a college visit?

The college visit is your chance to assess the school for "fit," just as they may be assessing you as a qualified applicant. Some students will tell you they visited a campus and had a "gut feeling" that it was the right school for them. While hard to pin down, the "gut feeling" is really the result of many factors—everything from the aesthetics of the campus to the friendliness of the people. Ideally, you should feel welcome on campus and excited about going to school there. It should be a place where you feel comfortable enough to grow and take risks. If you can visit the campus when school is in session, you’ll get a clearer picture of what its community is like and understand more about the community of learners who have chosen to attend the college.

The more time you can spend on campus, the better you’ll get to know the school. Be sure to take the student-led tour and try to sit in on at least one class, preferably in a subject that interests you. Most colleges will arrange meetings with professors; it's a great chance to ask them about the school's academic culture and values. If you can eat lunch in the dining hall, you’ll get to see what the food is really like. Try to talk to different students in the campus center, and always grab a copy of the student newspaper. If you’re interested in an activity like theater or a particular sport, check out the facilities. Visit the campus spiritual center, or ask about religious resources close to campus. Staying overnight in a residence hall will give you a sense of what students do for fun, how much they study, and what issues are hot on campus. Some schools ask their student hosts to report back on what the visit was like, so remember that the choices you make on your visit can have consequences.

Most importantly, ask questions—and don’t rely on just your tour guide or host. Ask current students why they chose the school, what other schools they considered, what they’re involved with on campus, and what their future plans include. Ask them what they like best and least, what they think of life in the residence hall, how often they go home or to the nearest city, what they do for fun, and which classes they like best. Do students attend sporting events? How up-to-date is the technology across campus? If there is a Greek culture, how does it affect the campus? Do different groups interact? How's the library? Read the student paper, attend a campus event, and take a stroll off campus to see what you think of the surrounding area. It may help to take notes or pictures, especially if you’re planning to visit a number of colleges.

top ^
What are interviews all about?

Some schools require formal interviews in person, over the phone or via Skype. Many schools offer informal interviews with admission officers or alumni, either during your campus visit or in your hometown. If you're considering applying for admission to a college, contact their office of admission for information on their interview policies.

Informal information sessions are generally not required or considered as part of your application. Sometimes an interview can help your chances of admission by placing you a little more firmly—and positively—in the admission officer's mind. The interview is also a chance for you to ask questions and express your interest in the college, and it's a chance for the interviewer to get to know a little more about you, your passions, and your aspirations. It's not meant to be intimidating, so relax and be yourself!

Scheduling an interview can be a good way for you to talk more in depth about something in your application that merits explanation, whether it's a talent you want to emphasize or an issue like slipping grades. Most interviewers will be sympathetic to difficulties, especially if you can explain what happened and prove that you’re back on track.
Don't hesitate to tell the interviewer what makes you special, but be careful not to exaggerate the truth. If you are shy, be sure and mention this so that your shyness is not misinterpreted as lack of interest or preparation. If you're excited about the college or enthusiastic about a particular program, let the interviewer know.

You should be familiar with the college before you interview, but don’t hesitate to ask questions about specific interests you have or anything not covered in the college's materials. Take a deep breath, think before you respond, speak clearly, and listen carefully—the best interviews are balanced conversations.

top ^
What’s the difference between Early Decision and Early Action?

Early Decision plans allow students to apply early and receive notification about whether or not they are admitted by December. Early Decision is binding, meaning that students admitted under this plan are required to turn in a non-refundable deposit and withdraw applications from other colleges. Students may reject an Early Decision offer if their financial aid package is insufficient (financial aid packages are typically distributed sometime after the first of the year). Unlike regular admissions in which you can apply to many schools, you may apply to only one college in the Early Decision plan.

Early Action plans also allow students to apply early and receive notification in December, but they are non-binding; students may apply to several colleges under Early Action and choose which one to attend based on several offers. Some students prefer Early Action because they can hear from colleges early in their senior year and have more time through the spring to make their final selection and compare scholarship and financial aid awards.

Early Decision is best for students who are 100% certain that a college is the right fit for them; many counselors discourage students from applying this way because preferences and interests often change during the last year of high school. Not all schools offer Early Decision or Early Action admission; it's best to check with the college to determine how their admission process works and to ask for statistics about application numbers and decisions in recent years.

top ^
What’s the Common Application?

Some schools allow students to apply using the Common Application, which allows them to fill out one application and send it to a number of schools. Schools that accept the Common App pledge to give it the same consideration as their own application under the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC) Statement of Principles of Good Practice.

Many students prefer the Common App because it saves time—it can be filled out and submitted online, and many browsers will allow you to save your work so you can make changes. It is also possible to print a PDF document and fill it out offline, or your college counselor will have paper copies.

Some schools require a supplement to the Common Application. If you’re interested in using this tool, check with the schools on your list to see if they participate, and if they have specific policies on transfer or international students and the Common App. Never assume that your application and materials have reached a college, if you do not receive an acknowledgement from them. It is important to follow up, so that you do not miss important application deadlines.

The Common App is free to use, but the application fee set by the school remains the same whether you use their application or the Common App. Some schools will waive their application fee if you apply online.

top ^
How many schools should I apply to?

There's no right answer to this question, but many counselors recommend applying to six to 8 colleges. Even though many schools now offer free applications online, it doesn’t make sense to apply to lots of schools if you only like a few—instead, focus on a manageable number of schools you know you’d be happy attending.

The list should include schools that fit you well academically and socially, based on your research and you should never apply to colleges just because you can get in, but have no desire to attend! You should try to imagine receiving your acceptance letters and if you wouldn’t be excited to be admitted to all the colleges on your list, revise your choices.

It's impossible to predict the admission process, so expect surprises and prepare yourself for whatever comes. Being admitted to college is not a "trophy hunt" and if you have a range of matches on your list, you’ll likely have several excellent choices when the envelopes bearing admission decisions arrive in the mail.

top ^
What’s the difference between being put on a wait list and deferring admission?

Being placed on a wait list means that the school is not ready to make a final decision about your application. It's not a rejection, but it's not an acceptance, either. After colleges offer spots to Early Decision or Early Action candidates, they offer admission to a list of students they have selected from the regular admission pool. Since not all of the admitted students will send in enrollment deposits to the college, schools make offers to more students than they hope to ultimately matriculate. They also wait list those students they aren’t ready to admit, but who they will consider later depending on several factors.

If you've been wait listed, the college has looked over your file and determined that though you’re qualified, there are other students they've decided to admit ahead of you. The school will wait to hear from the students with offers and, if there is space left in the class, offer spots to students from the wait list. Some schools will tell you where you are on the wait list and how often they’ve admitted students from the wait list in the past. If you’re far down on the list or know you could be happy at another school, it can be a good idea to withdraw from the list and deposit at another school. It's also important not to miss deposit deadlines at other schools because you may be waiting to hear from one school about your status.

Some schools may request more information from you in order to make a decision about your case, such as senior year grades or new test scores. If you applied under Early Decision, you will be added to the regular decision pool and considered alongside those students. You are no longer bound by Early Decision guidelines and may consider offers from other schools.

Unless the school requests something from you, it's not worth your time to send in more information to help your application—there's very little that will affect your position. Avoid sending additional recommendations or having people call on your behalf unless the school specifically requests this information. It's best to be patient, keep your grades up, and stay involved with activities. There are lots of great schools out there, so if it doesn’t work out with one, odds are you’ll be happy and successful at another.

Deferring admission refers to the decision students make to delay their matriculation (after having applied to and been accepted for admission) to a college or university until they have pursued an alternate activity for a year or two. A deferred admission is a commitment on the part of the college to take the student; a deferred acceptance is a commitment on the part of the student to attend after one year. Many students each year take advantage of this option, choosing to serve in Americorps, travel and study abroad through programs such as Rotary International, or even work. Students should be sure to contact the colleges and universities they’ve been admitted to to get specific details on the school's policies.

top ^
Do CTCL schools offer athletic scholarships?

A large percentage of CTCL students play intercollegiate sports, and many participate in club or intramural sports as well. Only NCAA Division I and II schools are allowed to offer sports scholarships under NCAA guidelines, and most CTCL schools complete at the Division III level. Nevertheless, they welcome and value student-athletes and their teams are often very competitive in their divisions.

CTCL athletes have won national and division titles or championships, competed in post-season tournament play, and won awards for their achievements both on and off the playing field, including All America and Academic All America honors. Several CTCL colleges do not offer intercollegiate sports, but they feature popular intramurals, club teams, and recreational opportunities. A complete list of the athletic programs offered at the CTCL schools can be found here. Additionally, students interested in playing sports in college should contact the college's office of admission for more information.

top ^
Will there be enough fun things to do at a small school? Will there be enough people to make friends with?

You already know that there aren't many guarantees in life—and you get out of anything what you put into it. That said, it's pretty hard not to have fun at a small school, where there are endless opportunities for participation. If you’ve visited small schools, you probably noticed the flyers and posters hanging all over campus, announcing improv comedy nights, festivals, dances, dinners, prayer meetings, and protests.

Students at small schools show up at campus events because they know what's going on and they want to support their friends. Living on a small campus or within closing walking distance of campus allows students to stay involved long after classes end for the evening; people stick around to attend concerts and lectures, work with clubs, play sports, form study groups, watch DVDs, or just hang out. If you’re not involved in that day's events, it's likely you’ll know someone who is. Small campuses are supportive, engaged communities—the axiom “work hard, play hard” is unmistakably true of the Colleges That Change Lives schools.

Students at small schools always seem to be involved in great conversations—in the residence halls, with professors over coffee, or hanging out on the campus lawn. They’re sharing stories from classes, volunteer experiences, and travel abroad, and it's not unusual to overhear long conversations in other languages. Graduates of CTCL schools will tell you that some of their favorite memories from college are of these conversations and the spontaneous fun they lead to—everything from late-night runs for burritos to sledding on the campus quad.

top ^
What if I am homeschooled?

Homeschooled students should also contact colleges to determine requirements for admission. These students are generally welcome at CTCL schools and viewed as favorably as other applicants, especially because home schooling suggests initiative, independence, and dedication. Along with regular admission materials, students (and parents) may be required to sit for an interview or provide additional documentation on course work. Schools will be attuned to the student's social maturity and readiness for college life, motivation to learn, and ability to handle college-level work. Homeschooled students should spend extra time crafting their personal statement and essay, as admission committees are likely to regard these as important sources of information about character, experience, and values.

top ^
What if I have learning challenges?

Loren Pope writes, "If you have a learning problem in today's literate society, you are likely to have the aptitude and talents needed to prosper in tomorrow's post-literate society. And that is the one in which you will make your own career, or more likely, two or three careers."

One of the best things about CTCL schools is that they emphasize a mix of talents and experiences among their students. Students with learning differences often thrive at these schools because of their small class sizes, committed professors, and nurturing environments. Professors are frequently willing to offer extra help to students who need it, and smaller campuses tend to have excellent, personalized resources for students who want assistance with homework, advice on improving study skills, or tips for test-taking. Some CTCL curriculums, however, may not be the best choice for a student with learning difficulties—it's best to contact the schools with questions about their programs, expectations, and resources.

top ^
Why are some of these schools in certain editions of the book and not in others?

When Colleges That Change Lives was published in 1996, Loren Pope sought to profile a small group of lesser-known, small liberal arts colleges that met his high standards and lengthy criteria for the distinction of being named as a "college that changes lives"—where faculty were dedicated teachers, the learning environment was engaging, and graduates achieved significant and measurable outcomes, in spite of not being nationally recognizable.

When revising the book in later years, Mr. Pope replaced colleges that had become more well known or those for whom rankings had indeed become a more important part of their admission process with colleges that he thought better fit the focus of the message in his book.

Mr. Pope passed away in 2008. To keep Loren’s legacy alive and his message current, his family worked with his longtime literary agent to chose a writer to update future editions of Colleges That Change Lives.