female graduate looking out at group of grads

by Ryan Kelley, former admissions officer at Fordham University

You may have reached the point in your high school career where it’s time to think about the next chapter in your life: college. This is an exciting and often overwhelming experience. With so many colleges and universities, where does one even begin the search process? Often times it begins with the “big name” schools. Ones that are world-renowned for their academics, highly selective admission processes, or sports teams who appear on national television. Sometimes, though, the big name schools are not the best fit. This does not mean they are not good, or even great, schools. It means maybe they are not great for you. Many of these institutions provide their students wonderful opportunities in and out of the classroom, however, they are not the only ones able to do this. Some schools not only change lives, they are literally classified as doing so.

Colleges That Change Lives (CTCL) is a non-profit organization founded in 1998 after a highly successful book of the same name was published two years earlier. Part of CTCL’s mission is to help “students and families better understand the college admissions process to find the best college fit possible.”  They accomplish this through easy-to-navigate search tools, articles directly from CTCL and other trusted voices, and even in person (or virtual now) interactions with their member schools. CTCL exposes students and families to excellent schools around the country that offer a top-notch education, but in smaller, more accessible environments. While large universities can provide students with amazing opportunities, they also tend to feature big lecture classes, courses taught by teaching assistants and graduate students, and fierce competition for undergraduate research positions. If this is not the environment in which you see yourself succeeding, the 44 more intimate colleges CTCL profiles may be a better option for you.

The CTCL schools tend to be small, usually fewer than 3,000 students, and their curriculum takes a liberal arts and sciences approach to help students, regardless of major, explore a variety of intellectual pursuits. If you enjoy learning how subjects that, at face value, have little in common with one another do in fact share a link, this educational approach may be a good fit for you. They focus on the undergraduate population and many times do not even have a graduate population. The faculty at CTCL schools teach first and publish and research second. When they are involved in research, they often have undergraduates assisting them.

The schools within the CTCL are all unique and offer different opportunities to their students, but at their core, they are focused on building a community on campus conducive to educating their students in mind, body, and spirit. The faculty get to know their students and actively participate in their intellectual and personal growth. Through the personalized approach made possible at smaller schools, it becomes easier to learn how to think as opposed to simply what to think. When the largest class you have in four years is less than 30 students, it is easier to accomplish this.

Here’s a sampling of some of the schools in the CTCL family:

Denison University
Granville, Ohio
For anyone afraid that going to a small liberal arts college prepares you for a life as a barista at Starbucks and nothing else, consider this: Since 2013, Denison students and alumni have received 43 Fulbright U.S. Student Program awards, 23 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships, 17 Critical Language Scholarships, five DAAD Research Internships in Science and Engineering (RISE), six Boren Scholarships/Fellowships, two Beinecke Fellowships for graduate study, and a Pickering Foreign Affairs Graduate Fellowship.

University of Puget Sound
Tacoma, Washington
Though tucked away in the Pacific Northwest, UPS is home to students from 43 states across the U.S. UPS is especially noted for its Asian studies program, which features extensive classes, cultural programs, and study abroad options. If volunteerism is your thing, 75% of UPS students participate in service opportunities with more than 250 community partners. There is a reason UPS is in the top 7% of baccalaureate-granting schools in the country whose students go on to earn doctorates: they are involved in and out of the classroom.

Clark University
Worcester, MA
(Note that Worcester is pronounced Wuus-ter. Or Wuus-tah if you are local.) Clark is the best of both worlds: a small institution with 2,300 undergrads, but also a major research university with 100% of the faculty teaching undergraduate classes. Not to mention the fact that Worcester, with five colleges and universities, is a great college town to spend four years of your life.

Rhodes College
Memphis, TN
Rhodes College is situated on a beautiful, gothic campus in the heart of midtown Memphis. Rhodes believes strongly in implementing classroom experiences into the real world. With nearly 80% of students involved in internships, research and/or study abroad, Rhodes students are living out this academic vision. The students at Rhodes are given great latitude to follow their own academic and personal path, but supported by the entire community throughout their time in college and beyond.

These are just a few of the CTCL schools. There are many more that are all equally as impressive and student focused. Looking for your best fit college can be stressful. Opening yourself up to learning about a variety of institution types, sizes, and locations can help you see that good things can in fact come in small packages! Visit the website for the full list of CTCL campuses.

Getting the Most Out of a College Visit

Written by Ryan Kelley
Ryan Kelley is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions consultants. Ryan is a graduate of Stonehill College and Fordham University; prior to joining College Coach, Ryan was an admissions officer at Fordham, UC Boulder, and Roger Williams. Visit our website to learn more about Ryan Kelley.