Wednesday, August 9, 2017

2 Books Every College Student Needs to Read ASAP

    Scheduled so I can enjoy Europe worry-free


     As a high school student, one of my favorite places to go was the public library near my house. Just like everything else in Fairfax County, VA, the public libraries were well-funded and well-maintained; studying for my IB exams always felt a little less miserable when I was lounging in a cushy chair in front of 20 foot, floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the woods. I've also always been a perfectionist, so one of my favorite places to browse for books has always been the self-help section. During my junior year of high school, I stumbled across a book that I credit a lot of my academic success with-- my IB diploma, my SAT scores, and my academic survival at college (so far), among other things. This may sound a little bit dramatic, but I promise you that this book is the real deal.

      How to Become a Straight-A Student by Cal Newport was published in 2006, but the advice in the book is still invaluable (disclaimer: I'm certainly not a straight-A student-- thanks, W&M grade deflation-- but I will say my college GPA is respectable). Cal Newport is an Associate Computer Science Professor at Georgetown, and his educational credentials include a Dartmouth undergrad degree and an MIT PhD, so you know he has to have some idea of what he's talking about. The book is a basically a guide for how to manage your time, take notes, determine which readings are actually necessary, ace quizzes/exams, and write papers, all while using as little time & effort as possible.

     First off, this book is very well-written. The simple , clear wording, step by step instructions, and copious examples have pulled me back to reread it several times because it's seriously enjoyable, wisdom aside. All of the advice is the result of hundreds of interviews with students at top universities, so you can rest assured knowing that the views aren't just those of the author. The best part? At a breezy 224 pages, you can finish this book in an afternoon (and keep reaping the benefits for years to come).

     For me, the most valuable advice in the book has been the section on time management/scheduling your day and the section about writing papers. Both sections describe strategies that I've been using on a frequent (if not daily) basis since I first read the book, with great results. The only bad thing I'll say about the book is that the note-taking strategy for non-technical courses really didn't work out for me, but that's literally the only critique I can come up with. I don't know how else to say it: you need to read this book if you want to step up your game in college. 

    How to Win at College (also by Cal Newport) is basically the predecessor to How to Become a Straight-A Student. It lists out dozens of tips to do well and get the most of out college; just like Straight-A Student, How to Win at College is well-written and a quick 208 pages. If you can only read one of these books, it should be How to Become a Straight-A Student, because it elaborates on some of the most valuable pieces of advice from the other book.

     Despite my previous statement, I still think How to Win at College is worth a read if you have the time because the tips are a lot more holistic. In addition to providing hacks for time management, writing papers, and feeling confident for exams, it delves into tips about student wellness, campus involvement, and generally developing into the best version of yourself while at college. Some of my favorite tips from the book are:
  • Use high-quality notebooks
  • Take hard classes early-on
  • Choose goals, explore routes
  • Dress nicely for class 
  • Never nap
  • Apply to 10 scholarships a year
  • Care about your grades, ignore your GPA
     All together, there are 74 tips in the book

     Even if you're a high school student or an adult who's out of school, I think these books are great reads just in terms of time management. If you Google Cal Newport, you'll see that he also has a few books about professional development; I'm planning on checking these out soon. Let me know if you've read either of these books, or if you have your own college hacks for success!

     Thanks for reading,
     Alex

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