Student-Generated Digital Guidebook Rivals Princeton Review With Reality


Published: October 16, 2008

Without college guidebooks, the world of a high school senior would instantly become more stressful—if that were even possible. Not quite on the brink of adulthood, these kids need to be guided in the direction of their perfect college, based on the necessary academics and extracurricular interests. Their sources include lengthy college guidebooks that hold the squeaky clean reputations of hundreds of schools, written by professionals who have close relationships with the colleges and have their own interests in mind. With all the tasks a student must fulfill to be accepted into college, many wonder if there is a better way to discover the inside scoop on what these colleges really have to offer., a free, student-generated college guide Web site, was featured in a recent New York Times report that highlighted its “unfiltered, detailed, often somewhat eccentric view of campuses all over the country.” Web site founder Jordan Goldman, a recent Wesleyan graduate, hopes visitors utilize Unigo to help simplify the process of narrowing down schools to make their ultimate decision easier.

The Web site includes a large database of 267 schools, and along with editorial summaries from the site staff, it also features reviews, videos and photos contributed by current students at each of the colleges. Visitors can search reviews that are written specifically by those who share their prospective majors, ethnicities or other interests. To put it simply, if “Rate My Professor” had a “Rate My College” subset, this would be it.

Most Fordham reviews on the site are based on the Rose Hill campus. Though not surprising, this is still disappointing for those interested in Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC). Nevertheless, the main thread that ties FCLC reviews together is an overwhelming appreciation for the campus’s location right in the center of the frenzied, fascinating world of Manhattan.

Refreshingly, there is a fair share of negative criticism, something that is not always present in formal guidebooks. These problems are expressed in a youthful, passionate manner, some harsh and others more respectful, demonstrating the diverse opinions that Unigo presents its visitors. To illustrate, The Princeton Review’s summary of Fordham says, “We offer numerous academic challenges and expect excellence; we care for the whole person; we ask the members of our community to be men and women for others—to put their education in service to the common good.”

This publicity-friendly summary may sound appealing, but Unigo user Rose13 refutes the claim by writing, “Fordham will talk the big talk about community and caring for each student individually, etc. But there is little to no community at Lincoln Center. Students are very reluctant to come to events, probably because the city is five steps away.”

With such an influential Web site making its impact on college-bound students, it may seem unfair that current FCLC students didn’t have the tools to get the lowdown on their school.

Phoebe Forbes, FCLC ’12, claims she discovered Fordham through the Princeton Review, which emphasizes the school’s luxurious Manhattan campus and “excellent study abroad program.” Yet when asked if Unigo would have been a helpful resource, she said, “I would have much rather heard from a lot of different students to get a better feel.”

With the majority of student resources being based on positively skewed synopses, how does FCLC compare to the wondrous, metropolitan college these guidebooks make it out to be? Peter Farrell, Fordham University’s director of admission, spoke about the corporate side of college recruiting and the guidebook industry.

“[Guidebooks] tend to try to promote the quotes or individuals who have the most sensational points of view, that might help generate revenue for them as individual companies,” Farrell said.

Lillian Chiu, FCLC ’11, agrees with the notion that guidebooks aren’t necessarily the most beneficial source for a college-bound student. “I found info, but not as much as I could have. There was a lot about Fordham that I didn’t find out ’til I got here, which would’ve been good to know as a transfer.”

Farrell explains the intention behind sites like Unigo lies in the fact that “students are always seeking an authentic voice in the way an individual college might fit in their college search.” Such companies want to have an advantage over the competition by “trying to provide students with insiders’ perspectives.” Much like how US Weekly wants to inform readers of Britney’s latest Starbucks run, Unigo wants its visitors to have the juicy details on what life at a particular school is really like.

Elaborating on the downside of guidebook companies, Farrell mentioned the discrepancy between what gets into print versus what most students truly feel about their institution. When asked about recruiting techniques at Fordham, he replied that the main goal of the admissions office is to encourage interested students to spend time at the university and experience its everyday affairs, in addition to taking advantage of printed or online sources, oral presentations and visit programs.

“We really want to make sure, whenever and wherever possible, that your voice is clearly articulated to prospective students,” Farrell said.

It is evident that most high school seniors would rather hear from their predecessors than from the verbose and potentially skewed pages of a universal guidebook; Jordan Goldman hopes Unigo can present its visitors with the opportunity to get inside the mind of a college student they can relate to, whether they share a potential major or have the same ethnic background.

“What I liked to read [on the Princeton Review] was the ‘Students Say’ section, but it was only a small paragraph; a whole site of that would’ve helped a lot,” Chui said. Goldman’s understanding of this demand may be the key to his success in the crazed world of college information sessions, brochures and guidebooks.

To cement his revered role in the eyes of students everywhere, Goldman expresses a profound respect and sense of equality: “If you’re a college student, you are as much of an expert on being a student at that college as anyone.” His mission seems to be advocating for the knowledge and insight college students have, a statement all of us could affirm as true.