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Chief Content Officer
Provides students and families with much-needed
alternative to traditional — and limited— college rankings
AUSTIN, TEXAS — SEPT. 12, 2016 — Colleges of Distinction has released its 2017 Guidebook, filled with profiles for over 300 schools as well as an abundance of tips, suggestions and industry inside information to help students and families navigate the long and complicated college search, admissions, orientation and financing processes.
However, this unique publication takes a decidedly different approach to understanding and evaluating the nation’s collegiate landscape — one that sharply disagrees with many of the traditional evaluation methods employed by the nation’s more well-known “best college” evaluators, including the annual U.S. News & World Report rankings.
The guidebook’s — and the company’s — mission is to help prospective college students and their families to, “Discover the school that’s right for you.” To do this, Colleges of Distinction goes above the biased assumptions of numerical rankings and popularity surveys, which are weighted to favor the largest, research-driven, Ph.D.-granting, Division-I athletics universities.
Instead, Colleges of Distinction strives to provide a reliable, journalistic look at schools that may not have the biggest names in higher education, but that consistently do a great job keeping students engaged — and preparing them for long, rewarding careers in fields for which they have a passion, while limiting the debt they have at the onset.
“Many schools are famous for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of their education programs,” explains Colleges of Distinction Founder Wes Creel, who launched his company 15 years ago after experiencing, firsthand, the frustrations of determining what schools were right for his own four daughters. “They may have big-time football or basketball programs. They may be known for top-notch research — conducted by scientists who never actually teach. They may be recognized for the quality of their Ph.D. programs and medical schools.”
Wes and his team set about creating a guidebook that focuses on things that matter more to average families, such as what questions to ask on a campus tour, what scholarships and financial aid options are available, and how to tell the difference between a good school and a school that’s a great fit for you.
“Finding the right college is one of the biggest decisions you’ll ever make,” adds Colleges of Distinction Chief Content Officer Tyson Schritter. “It ranks right up there with choosing a spouse and deciding on a career. Finding the right college can change your life; getting stuck at the wrong one can leave you frustrated, unhappy — and in debt without a completed degree.”
Colleges of Distinction looks for schools that have a proven record in four key areas:
– Engaged Students: GPAs and standardized test scores are important, but Colleges of Distinction looks for students who are engaged outside the classroom as well as inside it. These students compete in sports, volunteer, conduct independent research and study abroad. They are not just thinkers, they are doers.
– Great Teaching: These schools have professors who know students by name and are committed to seeing them succeed. They’re experts in their fields — and they’re dedicated to teaching. Students learn in environments that encourage lots of reading, writing, research and interaction. They learn to analyze problems, think creatively, work in teams and communicate effectively.
– Vibrant Communities: These schools provide rich, exciting living-and-learning environments, both on and off campus. They offer a variety of residential options, clubs and organizations to satisfy every interest. They have plenty of cultural and social opportunities, as well as avenues for leadership, character and spiritual development. Whether they are in rural or urban settings, they provide ways for students to be involved in the life of the surrounding community.
– Successful Outcomes: Colleges of Distinction have a long record of graduating satisfied, productive alumni who make their mark in business, medicine, law, education, public service and other fields. In terms of the return on investment, these schools are outstanding values.
The very act of measuring colleges, Schritter points out, is based on the incorrect assumption that all students are alike, that they want and need the same things, and that it might be possible to create a single ideal college that would be perfect for everyone.
He also debunks the notion of a college’s “selectivity” being a good indicator of its worth. “Selectivity is easy to measure: divide the number of applicants by the number of applicants accepted,” says Schritter. “But if a school is hard to get into, does that mean it’s a better place to learn, live and grow?”
This is a prime example of how the survey data which drive the rankings-based publications and websites can be very misleading, adds Creel. “Some schools, especially in the population-dense Northeast, receive many more applications just because of their location,” he says. “But those in regions with smaller populations can have the same rigorous entrance requirements — yet because fewer students apply to them, they’ll appear to be less selective, statistically.”
The 2017 Colleges of Distinction Guidebook is available now at Amazon.com for $14.99.
About Colleges of Distinction
Colleges of Distinction follows a unique approach. Instead of looking for the richest or most famous schools, it focuses on what really matters: which colleges are the best places to learn, grow and succeed? For 15 years, Colleges of Distinction has been a trusted resource for more than 40,000 guidance counselors, thousands of parents and students, and hundreds of colleges/universities across the U.S. Its mission: help parents and students find not just the “best” college, but the right college.
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Having helped his four daughters find their dream schools, Wes knows firsthand what parents go through during the complicated and intimidating college search process. He founded Colleges of Distinction in 2001 to help high school students and parents navigate the college admissions landscape. The first in his family to attend college, Wes was interested in helping other aspiring college grads.
Wes would later help launch the Center for Student Opportunity (CSO) in 2005, a national nonprofit organization based in Bethesda, Md., that works to empower first-generation college students throughout their college careers. The CSO develops and provides tools and resources to help first-generation college students and their supporters — parents, counselors, and mentors — on the road to and through college. In early 2016, CSO announced an agreement to merge organizations and integrate programs with Strive for College, a national nonprofit that delivers technology-powered mentoring to remove barriers to college access. Although Wes is no longer actively involved in the organization, his wife, Nancy, serves on its board, and his son-in-law, Matt Rubinoff, serves as its Executive Director.
Wes grew up in Texas and New York. He attended the Virginia Military Institute on an Army ROTC scholarship and received his bachelor’s degree in history from Syracuse University. While working on a Ph.D. in American Civilization at the University of Texas, he was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. He founded his first company in 1978, and for 10 years served as President and CEO of Creel Morrell, a marketing communications firm headquartered in Houston. In the 1980s, Creel Morrell became an industry leader and was on Inc. Magazine’s list of the 500 fastest-growing companies in America for three straight years.
Wes’ interests include running (including the Boston Marathon — six times!) and following the sports teams of Syracuse University and Texas Christian University (his fourth daughter is a recent grad). He is loving his newfound status as grandfather to his two granddaughters.
Tyson is the Chief Operating Officer at Colleges of Distinction and Abound is responsible for running the day to day operations and management. As a member of the Colleges of Distinction qualification team, Tyson has been visiting college campuses and interviewing college staff across the country for the past eight years. He brings those years of experience to helping students find a college or university that is the right fit for them and that helps them learn, grow and succeed.
A graduate of the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho, Tyson received a bachelor’s degree in Political Science. Prior to joining Colleges of Distinction, Tyson worked at several non-profits in the Washington DC area doing outreach and communications.
The daughter of Wes Creel, Katie is Colleges of Distinction’s Chief Strategy Officer. She joined the team in 2008 as an outreach partner and is now the liaison to high school guidance counselors and the college-bound community. Katie also helps with the Colleges of Distinction selection process, researching nominated schools.
Katie graduated from Centre College in Danville, Kent., with a bachelor’s degree in History. While there she was a member of the swim team, participated in ROTC, and studied abroad in France, Germany, Cambodia and Vietnam. Prior to joining Colleges of Distinction, she served as program coordinator in the Asia Division at the Center for International Private Enterprise in Washington, D.C.
Katie is passionate about travel. She loves “island hopping,” and her dream is to explore Europe. She is also an avid follower of track and field, and the Olympics.
As Director of Outreach for Colleges of Distinction’s new initiative, Abound, Erin 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.
Erin graduated from Endicott College in Beverly, MA with a degree in Communication. She was a member of Endicott’s first competitive and nationally ranked cheerleading squad and also spent a semester studying abroad in Queensland, Australia. Prior to this position, Erin spent 6 years as the Communications Manager for edWeb.net in Princeton, NJ.
As a New Jersey native new to Texas, Erin has been spending her spare time exploring Austin and visiting parks and “yappy hours” with her dog, Crash.
Joining the team in 2014 as the Communications and Media Manager, Madison is now the Director of Engagement. Madison’s oversees updating and maintaining the Colleges of Distinction website and Guidebooks, interacting with our recognized colleges, as well as helping review nominated schools.
Madison is a graduate of Saint Mary’s, an all-women’s college in Notre Dame, Ind. She credits Saint Mary’s for teaching her the value of ambition — that success knows no gender, and women are equally as talented as men in professional endeavors.
In her spare time, Madison enjoys yoga and Pilates classes. On days when she exercises, she chases all her hard work with a milkshake or taco from one of Austin’s food trucks! Her main passions in life include learning how to code, FOX’s TV hit, “New Girl,” and Thai food.
Tal produces, edits, and publishes all of the content on the Abound and Colleges of Distinction sites. Whether it is a blog entry, an infographic or a video, Tal makes sure site visitors receive accurate, helpful, practical, and information in an engaging and enlightening way.
Since earning his Bachelor’s at Naropa University (one of the Colleges of Distinction), Tal has worked as a Content Analyst at Bazaarvoice, and an Editor at Cider Spoon Stories, Austin’s premier ghostwriting service.
In his spare time, Tal creates interactive theater and short films. He also enjoys summer swims in Barton Springs Pool and hikes along Austin’s Greenbelt.
Jenny strategizes and executes marketing, social media and public relations plans and efforts as it relates to both Colleges of Distinction and Abound, including in-house efforts, clients and industry professionals.
Jenny completed her undergraduate education at Texas State University in San Marcos, TX, graduating with a BFA in Directing for Theatre. Post-graduation, Jenny completed an intensive training in filmmaking, receiving a Film Production Certificate from The New York Film Academy in NYC. After working in film, Jenny had a successful career in technology sales, social media, communications, strategy and public relations.
Jenny keeps her hands full with her two boys and one rescue dog, and is active in the many creative scenes that Austin has to offer.
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