Book Review – How to College

From time to time, we like to review some of the books available for parents of college students.  There is a wealth of literature available to help parents cope with the transition to college and the changes that occur throughout the college years.  Visit our Resources page for a list of important books for college parents and their students.

If your student is heading to college in the near future, you need to get this book into their hands. How to College: What to Know Before You Go (and When You’re There) by Andrea Malkin Brenner and Lara Hope Schwartz will help your student make the transition to college and be ready to succeed once they are there. We like to think that we’ve done all we can to prepare our students for college, but once you read this book you realize how much more they should know.

How to College doesn’t just tell students what they should know before they get to college and then after they arrive, it is filled with practical things they need to get done to prepare. Students will actually use this book because it is filled with clear things to do and to get done to make the transition.  Students will especially appreciate the four checklists at the end of the book that sum up what they have learned:

  • Do this. Now. Seriously – A list of essential documents you must submit to your school this summer.
  • Know and do before you go – A checklist of all the tasks and exercises found throughout this book.
  • Make your smartphone smarter – A checklist of apps, information, and contact information to install on your phone.
  • Boost your browser – A list of important websites you should bookmark on your browser.

Chapters – covering topics such as identity, academics, health and safety, resources, money and extracurriculars and career – are filled with “pro tips,” things to discuss, things to do before college, and things to do when students arrive at school.  Many of the topics covered are ones that most students and their parents might not think about but can make the difference between a chaotic end of summer and beginning of college and a smooth transition.

Students should read this book before they go to college. They should read it again once they are at school and feeling overwhelmed. Parents should read this along with their student – and may want their own copy for reference later. It is a comprehensive guide to college transition and success.

About the authors:

Andrea Malkin Brenner taught in the Department of Sociology in the College of Arts and Sciences at American University for more than twenty years. She created and directed AU’s award-winning first-year experience program, AU’s oldest and largest living-learning community. She consults with colleges that wish to create their own first-year transition courses. Dr. Brenner holds a BA in Sociology from Brandeis University and a MA in Curriculum, Instruction and Administration in Higher Education from Boston College. She received her PhD in Sociology from American University.

Lara Hope Schwartz teaches law and government in the Department of Government at American University School of Public Affairs and is the founding director of the Project on Civil Discourse. Drawing on her experience as a legislative lawyer, lobbyist, and communications strategist, Lara brings an advocate’s-eye view to her teaching. She is a graduate of Harvard Law School and Brown University.

What the authors have to say about the book:

For parents –

“[This book] is an eye-opening recognition that your student is on the path to adulthood. It’s time for them to learn what you’ve already learned: that in adulthood, we must build a healthy and productive network of support and mentorship that includes people beyond the family.

This book is addressed to your student for a reason: at its core, How to College is a subset of “How to Be an Adult.” And that means we’re speaking to your student as the adult you want them to be, and the adult they will be expected to be when college begins. You might have bought this book for your student and if so, we know you share our belief that there’s a lot to learn, and that preparation matters.”

“This book is about adulting, and that includes honest conversations between you and your emerging adult about how to prepare. It should include your concerns and priorities as well. The “Discuss Before You Go” exercises in this book are very important. These include prompts for conversations that current college students have told us they wished they’d had with their parents and families before leaving home. These exercises also include prompts for conversations that parents and families have told us they wish they’d had with their kids before those kids left for college. . . The transition to college from home and high school is a significant one, and we all want it to go as smoothly as possible.”

For students –

“This book will take the mystery out of what college is all about (“adulting”) and recommend simple, important, and practical steps you should take to set yourself up for success. How to College covers the whole campus experience: living and learning with peers; college-level academics; taking care of yourself; finding and using resources; handling your finances; and getting around (and involved) on and off campus.”

“You’ll notice that the tone of this guide is both serious and fun. That’s what college and adulting are like, too. You’ll experience pride in your accomplishments and in learning from your mistakes and mishaps. Some things will be difficult, and the stakes are also high; that’s something to take seriously. But we want you to know that college should be a joyful time of new experiences, friends learning, questioning, and freedoms.”

What others have to say about the book:

“Brenner and Schwartz offer practical tools for stepping outside of your comfort zone. An excellent resource for anyone entering college.”

–Todd A. Olson, Ph.D., vice president for Student Affairs, Georgetown University

How to College gives high school students the edge in making a smooth and successful transition to college, and should be required reading for all high school students (and those who support them) planning to go to college!”

―Robert Hradsky, Ed.D., Senior Associate Vice President for the Student Experience and Dean of Students, Syracuse University

“Offers valuable insight for students and families choosing to embark on higher education and entering their first year. How to College provides a beneficial guide full of important resources and information to set the foundation for success at the collegiate level for both the student and their families alike.”

―Jonathan A. McElderry, Ph.D., Assistant Dean of Students, Wake Forest University

“This is required reading for every college bound student and their families. Drawing from their own vast experiences, the authors clearly map the path to flourishing in college, offering rich and accessible exercises that promote best practices for success. The first of its kind, this book will not only prepare students for their first year, but will also equip them to excel throughout their college career and beyond.”

―Jennifer Rothchild, PhD, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Minnesota Morris


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