US Colleges of Distinction - Colleges of Distinction

About Colleges of Distinction



We believe in the power of education.

We are advocates for the American educational system and champions for great colleges.

We think that the true measure of a college is found in its people and ideas, not in its numbers and rankings.

We know that the best colleges provide innovative, engaged experiences that prepare students for successful careers, active citizenship, and lifelong learning.

Colleges of Distinction connects individual students to information that empowers them to make confident choices from among the best colleges in our nation.

Our Mission

For 15 years, Colleges of Distinction has been a trusted resource for more than 40,000 guidance counselors across the United States, thousands of parents and students, and hundreds of colleges and universities. Our mission is simple: help parents and students find not just the “best college,” but the right college.

Colleges of Distinction is founded on the premise that there are hundreds of remarkable colleges across the United States – each with a unique strength to offer the next generation of college-bound students. We connect these colleges to curious, talented students who are “right-fits” for them. Our member colleges are the perfect size to ensure that each student is seen as an important member of the community – academically and in the day-to-day life on campus. These high-performing colleges cover the full range of academic offerings – from the arts and sciences to the humanities to those that excel in engineering and research. You won’t find many of our colleges in the commercial rankings and that is because those lists rely heavily on an impersonal, quantitative evaluation process that overlooks great teaching and successful outcomes.

Our Story

Some years ago, Wes Creel and his oldest daughter began the college search process. Like any parent, Wes had myriad questions: What is the campus experience like? Are the teachers inspiring? How will the college help my daughter prepare for the world? And most important–will she be happy there?

To his surprise, Wes found that there was no comprehensive resource to help him answer these questions. He found many data points, such as acceptance rates and rankings. He also found reviews of “top” schools – the Ivy League and other elite institutions. But there was no single place that evaluated the hundreds of smaller schools across the country—colleges that for generations have been providing a strong education to students who have then gone on to highly successful careers. It was also difficult to find any information on what matters most to parents and students: the quality of the undergraduate learning experience. And so, after embarking on an intensive study of hundreds of colleges across America, Wes founded Colleges of Distinction.

Our Evaluation Process

In evaluating schools, Colleges of Distinction asks the question “What colleges are the best places to learn, to grow, and to succeed?”

In doing so, we go beyond traditional ranking models that assess colleges based on things like historic prestige, selectivity, athletic prowess, and the size of its endowment. These ranking systems also tend to focus on the perceived “top” schools, despite the fact that the vast majority of students will not attend a big-name school. Instead, Colleges of Distinction honors and recognizes the hundreds of smaller, teaching-centered colleges that make up the fabric of the American educational system, schools that deliver well our four overarching distinctions – Engagement, Teaching, Community, and Outcomes – the fundamental elements of an effective undergraduate education.

Another way that Colleges of Distinction stands apart from other college ranking systems is that we are not “one size fits all.” Traditional ranking systems are based on the assumption that all students are alike, all degrees are equal, and the goal of all students is to go to a highly selective school. Of course, this isn’t true. There are all kinds of colleges, just as there are all kinds of students. We take into account school type and regional considerations, and do peer assessments within a school’s category in order to paint a true profile of each institution’s distinctive qualities.

To be designated a “college of distinction” a school’s curriculum must emphasize core competencies such as critical thinking, writing, oral skills, research, and global perspectives. They must also offer dynamic out-of-classroom learning and study abroad programs. Our process is objective, in-depth, and qualitative, however, we also take into account quantitative data such as statistics on class size, faculty-to-student ratio, plus retention and four-year graduation rates.

Once a school is deemed qualified to be among Colleges of Distinction, an in-depth profile of the school is published on our website and in our guidebook, which is then made available to high school students nationwide. And, a set of Colleges of Distinction badges are provided to place on the institutional website and social media venues.

Our People

The Colleges of Distinction team includes founder Wes Creel, our lead expert in evaluating colleges; Tyson Schritter, Chief Operating Officer, who ensures that students, guidance counselors, and colleges stay connected through the Colleges of Distinction network; and Katie Creel, Chief Strategy Officer, whose age and experience makes her a perfect advisor to college-bound students and their families. Madison Dopkiss serves as Lead Engagement Director, editing the Colleges of Distinction website and guidebooks, interacting with our recognized colleges, as well as reviewing nominated schools. Tal Leeds, joining the team in the October of 2016, is our Director of Content. Tal writes, edits, and creates engaging material to improve the college search experience for eager prospective students and their parents. Jenny Perkins, our Director of Media Relations since March 2017, spearheads marketing and public relations projects to drive the Colleges of Distinction mission forward. As Director of Outreach for Colleges of Distinction’s new initiative, Abound, Erin Pettus is responsible for managing the launch. Erin is helping to find and qualify degree completion programs and also curating content to support the nontraditional student deciding to go back to school.

As parents and former students ourselves, we know that searching for a college is a complex, often emotional process. By pre-vetting hundreds of colleges, we help students, parents, and guidance counselors come to know a range of colleges well enough to decide if that college should be placed onto the consideration list, and then, perhaps, be the college of choice.