Every time I encourage a student to consider Reed College, Whitman College, Cornell College (in Iowa, not the Ivy League one in New York), Clark University or Denison University my students resist. “I never heard of it,” they say. “It must not be any good.” Most parents say the same thing, and I suspect they are concerned about the confused looks that might come from the sticker on the car.

But these schools are outstanding college and universities. They and thirty-five others have been heralded as “Colleges that Change Lives” by writer Loren Pope. In Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College, retired New York Times education editor Pope assures families about their prospects for college admission and profiles 40 colleges that excel at developing potential, values, initiative and risk-taking in a wide range of students. The book has been so successful that it spawned an organization.

Based on his years of research as a journalist, as well as his direct interaction with students at hundreds of schools during numerous “stealth” campus visits, Mr. Pope dismisses magazine rankings based on “inputs” like test scores and alumni giving as an appropriate measure of a college’s “quality.”

So check out these schools. Before you jump to any conclusions about the value of going to a school you’ve never heard of read these common misperceptions.

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