Choosing the Right College: The Whole Truth About America's 100 Top Schools by Intercollegiate Studies Institute (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1998, 672 pages, $25)

Tim Flannery: As our children approach college age and we consider the very serious matter of helping them select a school that will serve them well in their lives, we naturally fall back on our own college experience as a guide. But how many of us know firsthand more than one or two schools? And how many changes have occurred since we attended college?

We need a comprehensive source of information on colleges that addresses the important issues of educational philosophy, academic programs and campus life. Choosing the Right College fits the bill.

The staff of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute reviews 100 of the most competitive colleges across the country, guided by the notion that “the liberal arts continue to provide the broadest and most humane form of education.

” Their assessments are based on interviews with faculty, students and administrators, questionnaires, and site visits.

Each essay contains sections on the school's history, academic setting (including details on individual departments), political environment and student life.

Based on this reviewer's knowledge of the colleges examined, the commentaries are insightful, well-balanced, and credible, making this guide a very useful tool in choosing the right college.

Alice Flannery: The editors of Choosing the Right College, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute's college review guide, believe in the value of a liberal arts education in forming the whole person—teaching him to recognize and prize what is good and true. The guide examines how successfully 100 of America's top universities and colleges achieve this liberal arts ideal.

Each review is divided into four parts. First is an overview which includes a brief history and a description of the current state of affairs at the university. Second comes a discussion of academic requirements and an examination of how well the school lives up to the ideal of a liberal arts education. Third, there is included a description of the political environment the student will encounter; and, fourth, a description of the day-to-day extracurricular life (e.g. housing, clubs and organizations).

The section on academic requirements was notable because of the recommendations for particular departments and professors. The sections I most appreciated as a mother were those on political environment and social life. Kids will spend four years living at college. They can't avoid the ethos of campus life; it might even affect them more than the courses they choose.

Much of the substance of each evaluation comes from students and professors at the schools. I found the evaluations very thorough and balanced. Choosing the Right College does a good job of capturing the tone of each university.

Tim and Alice Flannery, of Chantilly, Va., have six children.