More than 40 colleges have been called Colleges That Change Lives since 1996. The late Loren Pope, former education editor for the New York Times, wrote the first three editions of a book by this name, and the book became a popular guide among parents, school counselors and college admissions advisors. After Pope passed away in 2008, journalist Hillary Masell Oswald continued his work. She wrote the latest edition of the book that was released in 2013.

What are Colleges That Change Lives?

In the earlier editions of the Colleges That Change Lives books, Pope believed that the ideal size for a college was approximately 2,000 students, and that a liberal arts education offered the best preparation for life after college. But some of the schools that are profiled in the current edition have a larger undergraduate student body. Evergreen State College, one only two public Colleges That Change Lives, has over 3,600 undergraduates. 

From experience, my perceptions of a College That Change Lives are that:

  • Admissions do not necessarily need to be selective
  • Their academic opportunities should be quite similar, even equal or superior, to those offered by more selective liberal arts colleges.  
  • The college should do well at retaining the students that it attracts to campus and guide them successfully towards their degrees.
  • These schools are smaller, and therefore more personal, than a state university;  they should also graduate their students at a higher rate than a state university.
  • The more that a college can do to lower costs for students and their families, the more diverse its student body can be.

Which colleges that are not Colleges That Change Lives are deserving of such recognition?

If I was to recommend other schools to be Colleges That Change Lives, following Pope’s original guidelines, I would consider schools that:

  • Enroll no more than 2,500 undergraduates 
  • Accept approximately half of all applicants
  • Graduate at least 65 percent of their freshmen within four years
  • Offer scholarship programs to attempt to lower costs

Given the above, I would consider these schools to be deserving of inclusion among the Colleges That Change Lives:

  • Elizabethtown College (PA)
  • Grove City College (PA)
  • Hanover College (IN)
  • Lake Forest College (IL)
  • Luther College (IA)
  • Muhlenberg College (PA)
  • Principia College (IL)
  • St. Anselm College (NH)
  • St. Mary’s College of Maryland
  • St. Michael’s College (VT)
  • Stonehill College (MA)
  • Susquehanna University (PA)
  • Transylvania University (KY)
  • Washington College (MD)
  • Wheaton College (MA)

Had I extended this list to larger liberal arts colleges, I would have added Siena College (NY), which has just over 3,000 undergraduates.

If there was interest in adding larger public liberal arts colleges to the Colleges That Change Lives that are closer in size to Evergreen State, but have better freshman retention and graduation rates, my recommendations would include:

  • Christopher Newport University (VA)
  • SUNY-Purchase
  • University of Mary Washington (VA)

I am quite sure that I missed several schools, and welcome your suggestions.

Need help in finding some “hidden gems,” such as these schools? Contact me at or call me at 609-406-0062.

11 Comments on “Colleges That Should Be Colleges That Change Lives

  1. worth noting that nearly all the proposed additions to the Colleges that Change Lives are test-optional institutions. Luther College in Iowa appears to be the most notable exception

    • The test optional list, for all readers who may not be familiar with the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, or may be found here:

      I just added a mention of Siena College (NY), a larger liberal arts college that is also test optional.

  2. Interesting. I really enjoy reading your reviews even though I am finished with college selection.

  3. Many schools would fall off the original list for three reasons:

    1. Selectivity is below (well below) the 50% rate.

    2. Extremely poor graduation rates with some below 50% in four years

    3. Subpar retention rates

    • Those are valid points for some of the CTCLs, but not the majority of them. I wrote a piece in January, 2017 on this topic. Given that Bard is now a CTCL school, I would state that more than half do a very good or excellent job when it comes to helping their students.

  4. What’s the difference between Wheaton College (IL) and Wheaton College (MA)? Why wasn’t the Illinois college included in CTCL but not the Massachusetts one? Thanks.

    • Hi Anthony,

      The Colleges That Change Lives were, and still are, selected by someone other than myself, so I cannot comment on how were, and now are chosen. The Wheaton College in Illinois is a Christian college, with Billy Graham being its most famous alumnus. The Wheaton College in Massachusetts is a smaller liberal arts school that was founded as a women’s college with no religious affiliation. It became coed in 1988.

  5. What about a small LA college that admits 91% of its applicants and has a 71% 4 year graduation rate? Should it make your list?


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