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Colleges that Change Lives: Should You Attend One?

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What Defines Colleges That Change Lives (CTCL)?


In 1996, the retired New York Times education editor and longtime independent college counselor, Loren Pope, wrote a book titled Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College which was published by Penguin Books. His book featured 40 colleges with holistic admission policies and a focus on each student’s potential transformation between orientation and graduation, rather than on their past accomplishments. 


Pope’s goal was to promote a student-centered college search and change the way people evaluate colleges—challenging conventional wisdom. He dismissed the importance of college rankings based on test scores and alumni-giving as valid indicators of quality. 


Pope’s message resonated with students, parents, and school counselors. Two years after the book was published and with the blessing of both the author and publisher, the CTCL organization launched as a non-profit. Its mission is to advance and support a student-centered college search process, with the goal of every student finding a college that develops a lifelong love of learning and provides a foundation for a successful and fulfilling life beyond college. 


How Were the Colleges That Change Lives Selected?


While the CTCL member schools have varying perspectives, institutional missions, and pedagogical strategies, they all share a student-centered mission. CTCL’s common characteristics include:


  1.     Learning is collaborative, not competitive
  2.     There is a discussion of values in the classrooms and elsewhere on campus
  3.     There is a sense of community and connection that goes well beyond 4 years of attendance
  4.     Students are there to learn, not to just get a degree
  5.     Students want to tell the story about how the college has changed them 


What Colleges are on the CTCL list?


Today, CTCL includes 44 member colleges and universities that excel at developing students’ potential. These schools are located across the United States. We’ve listed a few to give you a sense of the diversity of schools on the CTCL list.


Antioch College


Location: Yellow Springs, Ohio

Acceptance Rate: 84%

Undergrad Enrollment: <200


With Horace Mann as its first president and Coretta Scott King a graduate, it’s not surprising that Antioch’s mission is to prepare students through self-directed interdisciplinary studies and experiential learning to live lives of intention. The very small school calls itself a college of action. It takes pride in helping students break boundaries to solve contemporary challenges. 


Learn more about Antioch College and what it takes to get accepted.


Austin College


Location: Sherman, Texas

Acceptance Rate: 55%

Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,200


Austin College enrolls a diverse student body with approximately 50% ethnic minority populations from 30 states and 14 countries. 100% of students participate in an applied learning experience, such as an internship, research project, or international experience. Students only take one class in January each year, either on or off-campus, to explore an interest or passion. 


Learn more about Austin College and what it takes to get accepted.


Beloit College


Location: Beloit, Wisconsin

Acceptance Rate: 56%

Undergrad Enrollment: 1,200


Beloit touts that it intentionally blurs the lines between curricular and co-curricular, campus and community, career and classroom. It offers grants for summer research, internships, and creative projects. The school sets up job shadowing with alumni and ensures international students can intern or work legally in the country. It even has a fleet of cars for students to borrow for work experiences downtown. And Beloit offers course credit to students who start their own businesses.  


Learn more about Beloit College and what it takes to get accepted.


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Goucher College


Location: Towson, Maryland

Acceptance Rate: 80%

Undergrad Enrollment: 1,500


While Goucher accepts the Common Application, it provides an opportunity for students to submit The Goucher Video App to show the admission committee what makes them unique, why they would flourish at Goucher, and how they will fit into our community of learners. Another unique aspect of the school, in the fall of 2006 they became the first liberal arts college in the country to require all undergraduates to study abroad for a semester. 


Learn more about Goucher College and what it takes to get accepted.


Ohio Wesleyan University


Location: Delaware, Ohio

Acceptance Rate: 69%

Undergrad Enrollment: 1,500


Ohio Wesleyan’s signature program, The OWU Connection, is designed so that every student completes research, internships, off-campus study, or other hands-on learning experiences to enhance their classroom work. The OWU Connection helps students think big (understand issues from multiple academic disciplines), go global (gain international perspective), and get real (translate classroom knowledge into real-world experience).


Learn more about Ohio Wesleyan University and what it takes to get accepted.


Rhodes College


Location: Memphis, Tennessee

Acceptance Rate: 45%

Undergrad Enrollment: 2,000


Rhodes considers itself a school with the soul of a liberal arts college coupled with a real-world mindset. Founded in 1848, this residential school is located on a beautiful Oxford-like campus with Gothic buildings. Eighty percent of Rhodes students participate in service and complete internships, while 75% study abroad. The school boasts an entirely student-run Honor Code holding each other accountable to not lie, cheat, or steal.


Learn more about Rhodes College and what it takes to get accepted.


University of Puget Sound


Location: Tacoma, Washington

Acceptance Rate: 88%

Undergrad Enrollment: 2,300


University of Puget Sound both challenges and supports its students as they pursue a rigorous education in the liberal arts or Schools of Music or Business and Leadership. Its 97-acre campus with more than 2,000 trees is located along the shores of the Puget Sound between the Olympic and Cascade Mountain ranges and close to downtown Tacoma.


Learn more about the University of Puget Sound and what it takes to get accepted.


Strengths and Weaknesses of CTCL Methodology


CTCL’s student-centered approach to developing their list of member schools has many strengths. It is hard to disagree with criteria such as focusing on the belief in a student’s potential versus only what they have accomplished to date, demonstrating support for each student’s success once enrolled, and downplaying status as a qualification.


Yet, subjective criteria are difficult to prove. It is also difficult to determine if the students surveyed represent the diverse experiences of the student body. Finally, how fluid is the list of schools? It is interesting to note that close to half the CTCL board includes representatives from CTCL schools.


How to Find the Colleges Right for You


As you research the CTCL schools and others, remember the schools that will change your life are those that suit your learning profile, academic interests, needs, and aspirations. To find best-fit schools, evaluate each school’s diversity of academic offerings, size of programs of interest, research opportunities, culture, sports and extracurricular opportunities, affordability, location and distance from home, support services, and career preparation beyond academics. 


Remember, you can estimate your chance for acceptance into the schools on your best-fit list using Collegevine’s free chancing calculator. This tool factors in your GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, and more to calculate your odds of admission at hundreds of schools across the country.



Short Bio
Elizabeth graduated from Brown University with a degree in American Studies and has used the analytic and writing skills she developed in college in various marketing management positions, freelance writing gigs, and as an author of children's books and magazine articles. She has written for a range of clients serving college-age students, including several universities and publications. And she has supported a son and a daughter through the college and graduate school application and selection process.