A Guide for Students on "How to College"

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by Andrea Brenner and Lara Schwartz

The transition from high school—and life at home—to college can be stressful for students and their families, and nothing in the college admissions process prepares students for it. Colleges are reporting an increase in underprepared first-year students at startling rates. How to College: What to Know Before You Go (and When You’re There) is here to help. Authors Andrea Malkin Brenner and Lara Schwartz guide first-year students to thrive in the transition process, in high school, during the summer after high school graduation, and throughout their first year on campus.

How to College is the first student-facing practical guide of its kind on the market. It draws on the authors’ experiences teaching and working with thousands of first-year college students over decades. The comprehensive guide offers invaluable advice from college insiders to college-bound students, emphasizing the student’s ultimate self-reliance. The book is filled with important resources needed to set the foundation of success at the collegiate level including lessons and activities on money; time and self-management; co-curricular and civic-engagement experiences; navigating relationships with family and friends back at home and roommates and peers on campus; exploring new college identities; finding one's voice inside and outside of the classroom; health, wellness and safety; and the importance of finding mentors for support in this life transition.

Colleges can use this book during the first year of college as…

...the basis for a first-year experience course. How to College addresses the full college experience, including college academic standards; maintaining physical and mental health and wellness; financial literacy and budgeting; moving to a new community; and engaging in college life in and out of the classroom.

...a guide for peer leaders and resident assistants. Research shows that peer leaders are among the best mentors for first-year students. These successful college students become adept at using college resources and mastering college-level skills, but by definition they do not have decades of experience dealing with the full range of challenges and pitfalls that are common to the first-year experience. They can benefit from a text that includes simple descriptions of these challenges and straightforward advice from experts that they can use to demystify the college experience in language that their student mentees will understand.

...a resource for residence life, counseling center, and orientation staff. Staff will find useful approaches to common first-year pitfalls and challenges. At most campuses, these staff do not have extensive contact with faculty. Written by two professors, How to College provides staff with the faculty point of view on matters such as study skills, writing, professionalism, reading, and academic integrity. The book creates a bridge between faculty and the student-facing staff who are charged with supporting students.

This book can also benefit students before college starts in the following ways:

Advising programs. Many colleges connect incoming students with an academic adviser, increasingly a first-year adviser, in the spring of their senior year of high school. This first contact is an excellent time to introduce How to College- including by sending it with other materials. Advisers can direct students to these exercises:

  • Setting up and getting comfortable with the school’s technology systems, including email, library research tools, and learning management systems like Blackboard and Canvas; 
  • Making good use of academic support services such as supplemental tutoring, writing centers, and resources for international students and students with disabilities; and 
  • Sending professional emails. 

Residence and campus life staff are in contact with incoming college students during the summer following high school graduation. Residence life programs pair roommates and suite-mates and build living and learning communities long before students arrive on campus. Students are “meeting” and interacting on social media and through email before orientation, and without the college professionals’ support. How to College has great tools to help students build these new relationships from the start, including: 

  • Advice about how to have a first conversation with your new roommate(s); 
  • Tips to prepare for a successful, low-conflict move-in day; 
  • Activities to prepare students to live and learn in a diverse community. For example, we encourage students to learn about the student body’s backgrounds, demographics, and circumstances; to read books or articles by authors who have different points of view than their own; to attend an event that exposes them to a new idea or culture; and to reflect upon their own listening and communication skills and habits.

Summer bridge programs for particular cohorts of college students. How to College is a pre-made “bridge” program that can form the basis of in-person programming. It includes materials of particular interest to the college cohorts that summer bridge programs most often serve: international students, first-generation students, low-income students, and students with disabilities. 

Admissions and orientation programs can suggest How to College as a pre-orientation read or send it to incoming students with welcome materials. 

Tutoring centers working with high school seniors on academic high school transitions can use How to College as a textbook, assigning activities from the book to their students. Of particular interest would be the information presented on:

  • How to read an academic journal
  • Reading without technology distractions
  • Writing a persuasive college paper
  • Using sticky notes for higher-level note-taking

Common reads programs expose the entire incoming class to one common text. How to College can be a unique common read in that it exposes students to a series of shared summer experiences, not only a shared book. Students read the text and also engage with a wide variety of useful learning experiences in preparation for their college transition. Common Reads programs can assign students to complete particular activities- for example, setting personal goals as a communicator, participating in a new cultural activity, or taking a financial literacy course-- over the summer. Once on campus, they can then engage students in conversations about the experiences, making college preparation collaborative.

For more information on How to College, go to our trade website at us.macmillan.com/books.

About the Author
Andrea Malkin Brenner, PhD taught in the Department of Sociology in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) at American University for over 20 years. She created and directed AU’s award-winning first-year experience program and consults with colleges that wish to create their own first-year transition courses.