Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go! is the go-to high school graduation gift book. But if another friend or relative already beat you to the punch, there’s a great (OK, maybe even better) book to consider.
It's a book that might not rhyme or be quite as breezy a read as Dr. Seuss. But it comes highly recommended because it is full of practical tips that will help high school grads take the next step in life. Young readers will find many of the insights counterintuitive, refreshing, and funny too. For instance: Don’t do all of the reading assigned for classes.
The book is entitled How to Win at College, and it was written by Cal Newport, a computer science professor at Georgetown University. To research the book, Newport applied meticulous, scientific analysis to figure out why some students shine while others struggle. He interviewed star students from the Ivy League and top-ranking state schools to come up with a list of 75 secrets that young people can utilize to improve their odds of success.
"If you don’t make the most of these four years, getting started on an exciting and fulfilling life path will be much more difficult," the book’s introduction warns.
That may sound like a bummer—the beginning of a finger-wagging lecture about seriously buckling down. But as hinted at above, the tips in How to Win at College focus on efficiency, and that sometimes means students can actually do less work for classes. Professors might not want a student neglecting their syllabus recommended readings, of course, but Newport makes the point that courses often contain a kind of redundancy, with the same material covered in the textbooks as in lectures.
“The secret is to read chapter introductions and conclusions carefully, and then skim everything else,” Newport writes. He then says students should bolster that overview with good note-taking in classes. Not only does this improve retention, it’s also a technique students can carry into the working world, when they’ll need to contextualize information themselves rather than just have it fed to them by a professor.
How to Win at College was first published in 2005, yet the book still has plenty of fans who recommend it as relevant for young people right now. "Teenagers today urgently need practical study and success skills," says Jason Dorsey, president and millennials researcher at the Center for Generational Kinetics. "How to Win At College presents those skills in a way teenagers can apply immediately — even if they’ve grown up learning everything else on YouTube."
Dorsey says that the book may help some students figure out simply how to get through college and earn a degree, which is hardly a foregone conclusion for many. The most recent data from the National Student Clearinghouse finds that only around 55% of students who enrolled in college in 2010 obtained a degree within six years, and nonprofit group Complete College America reports that just 40% of full-time students at four-year schools manage to graduate in four years.
"Far too many teenagers start college and never finish," Dorsey points out. "Knowing the practical skills to succeed in college can make all the difference."
If a single book seems like an underwhelming gift, consider bundling together other books written by Newport that expand on the lessons of How to Win at College. Newport's How to Be a Straight-A Student, for example, goes into deeper detail on the idea that studying should be strategic rather than strenuous.
Newport’s 2012 book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, is geared towards people already in the workforce, but there are takeaways that will offer college students guidance and help them figure out which major to pick. Among other things, this book takes dead aim at the popular “do what you love” body of career advice, saying that while it might be well-meaning, the idea that following your passion is the pathway to professional success is misguided at best, and detrimental to career advancement at worst.
"What leads someone to really enjoy their working life really doesn’t have anything to do with matching that job to a preexisting interest," Newport told TIME.
Dorsey agrees. "The emphasis on skills over passion is particularly valuable given many teenagers may not yet know their passion," he says. "But finding and developing their best skills will open doors to options throughout their career."
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