Going Off to College

With no test preparation, college applications or school schedules to worry about, the summer after senior year is a wonderful moment of liberation! Thinking about the adventure ahead fills students – and their parents – with excitement and joy, but also more than a twinge of anxiety! What follows, therefore, are a few pointers to help smooth your way to college:

  • You need not take your whole bedroom with you to campus! Frankly, most college rooms lack space for multiple appliances and game systems, so check with your future roommate about who will bring what. Assess what you need after you arrive, and remember that when you go home for the holidays, you can always return with that special pillow your mom made you and your online game console.
  • Begin to plan your pathway through your education by knowing when you have to declare a major, what your distribution and concentration requirements are, and when these classes are offered. But don’t let your planning close you off to new possibilities – after all, college is about expanding your intellectual horizons and your academic skills. Explore the course catalog to get a taste of what those possibilities may be.
  • Attend the first class of every course you consider taking, even during any “shopping” period. Professors hand out material, set out their expectations, and may even start teaching, and you do not want to miss it.
  • Attend class even when you don’t feel like it because you stayed out late the night before or the weather is cold and your bed comfortable. Professors will cover material, explain concepts and sketch the bigger picture in ways textbooks won’t.
  • Resist procrastination and, instead, design a study and work schedule. Stick to it! College success comes mostly through a combination of hard work and organization.
  • You may have the time to purchase required textbooks more cheaply online, but make sure you have them when needed for assignments. Buy the edition the reading list specifies.
  • Commit yourself to getting to know at least one of your professors each semester. Your intellectual experience at college comes in part from talking about ideas with others who share the same interests, and that includes both fellow students and teachers. Professors are also invaluable later if you need a letter of recommendation or information about research and internship opportunities. Other residential and academic advisers are equally important resources.
  • Living successfully with a new roommate requires mastering the art of diplomacy and compromise, especially for students who have never had to share their bedroom before. Make use of your residential advisers, and work actively to become part of your dorm community. Avoid the temptation to stick only with the people you knew before you arrived, or those with whom you share a hometown or a language or a religion.
  • Get to know the campus and all the resources it has to offer – libraries, music performances, visiting speakers, sports facilities, and Career, Disability and Study Abroad counselors. Resist the freshman temptation to stick only to the safe bubble of campus – after all, when you chose your college, you also chose your environment. If you are on new terrain, use common sense and at first explore in the company of friends, but don’t let unfamiliarity deprive you of the pleasures your new home has to offer. Get to know the local public transport system – being able to get around a city cheaply and easily is very freeing!
  • Take responsibility for managing your money and your day-to-day life. Learn to do your laundry before you leave home. Open a bank account, manage a monthly budget, and learn to deal with the Accounts and the Financial Aid Offices. And find yourself a job! At most colleges you need not be on financial aid to get a campus job, and these are wonderful opportunities for earning extra money, adding to resumes, and extending your knowledge of your college.
  • Be kind to your parents as both their child and an adult. If you have a problem, they may not know the context well enough to judge whether this is a genuine crisis that requires intervention, or whether you just had a bad day. They will always be ready to support you, so help them make that judgment.

One of the many great joys of university life is that you get to occupy, for an extended period, a lovely space between being an empowered adult and a dependent child. This is a great privilege, but not an excuse for idling in a state of perpetual childhood! Use your privilege and your freedom well. Have fun but be sensible; enjoy the freedom but grow up; and revel in your freedom but phone home!

Summer Reading Suggestions

Every year, College Goals suggests interesting books for you – both students and parents – to consider for your weekend and holiday reading! This year, our counselors have been reading a wide variety of genres, encompassing many topics, eras and styles. Their recommendations are included below.

So, look for these titles and grab a book to take with you on vacation!

Andrea van Niekerk’s Recommendations

Mary Norris, Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen. Norris worked for decades in The New Yorker’s copy department, and this is both a memoir of her time there and a very funny look at language and the ways we use it.

Janna Levin, Black Hole Blues, and other Songs from Outer Space. Levin’s timing was either very terrible or really prescient! Earlier this year scientists for the first time recorded the sound of black holes colliding, confirming Einstein’s general theory of relativity. This books chronicles the search for those sounds and came out right as scientists announced that they had recorded them. (If you want to read a great lay article about the actual discovery, have a look at: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/gravitational-waves-discovered-from-colliding-black-holes1/)

We have lots of conversations about the ways in which knowledge intersects across subject – the intersection, for example, between politics, economics and technological change. Kenneth Pomeranz and Steven Topik’s book, The World That Trade Created: Society, Culture and the World Economy, 1400 to Present Third Edition) uses trade as one way to understand the way our world has come about. Feels a bit like a textbook, but it is an easy read and every chapter is almost its own little book.

Finally, summer is a great time to pick up a page-turner and remind yourself why reading is fabulous and fun! So over the last few months my husband and I have, at our son’s recommendation, consumed James Corey’s Expanse series, from Leviathan Awakes to Nemesis Games. Obviously it helps if you like science fiction, but this does so well in creating a future world – one in which spaceships take us far beyond our home world, but the experience is dangerous, cramped, and has a big impact on the socio-economic life on Earth.

Frans de Waal is a Dutch primatologist who studies animal intelligence. His book Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? is a great book for anyone interested in the science of cognition, and a wonderful read for all of us who love to read great stories about animals doing weirdly smart things on the internet.

Jilly Warner’s Recommendations, including some from her students!

In Emily Henry’s debut effort, The Love That Split the World weaves Native American folktales into this time-traveling, gripping, and beautifully-written love story.

Paper Hearts by Meg Viviott: Amid the brutality of Auschwitz during the Holocaust, a forbidden gift helps two teenage girls find hope, friendship, and the will to live in this novel in verse that’s based on a true story.

In Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, Etta, a talented teenage violinist in New York City, goes, in a matter of moments, from making her concert soloist debut to finding herself prisoner aboard a ship in the distant past. It turns out she is descended from one of a dwindling number of time-traveling families who manipulate history in an ongoing fight for power and influence. The captain of the ship, Nicholas Carter, was hired to retrieve Etta and bring her to the head of the most powerful family.

North Face by Matt Dickinson: An earthquake, a climber trapped on Everest and an epic rescue attempt.

The Tears of the Rajas by Ferdinand Mount is a sweeping history of the British in India, seen through the experiences of a single Scottish family. This was a period in which my grandparents lived in India, and I found this fascinating read both beautiful and horrific.

Joyce Reed’s Recommendations

In Revolution in Education: How a Small Band of Innovators Will Make College Accessible and Affordable, Richard A. DeMillo tells the behind-the-scenes story of the pioneering efforts to transform higher education and introduce new ways to disseminate knowledge.

Educator Salman Khan founded the Khan Academy with the aim of providing a “free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere.” In The One World Schoolhouse, he presents his radical vision for the future of education, as well as his own remarkable story.

How many introverts do you know? The real answer will probably surprise you! In Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, author Susan Cain explores introversion through psychological research old and new, personal experiences, and even brain chemistry, in an engaging and highly-readable fashion.

In Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be, bestselling author and columnist Frank Bruni provides a new perspective on the flawed and competitive process of college admissions and a path out of the anxiety that it provokes.

Gail Lewis’ Recommendations

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr: Somehow this WWII novel captures something special about the time and terror of this major world event, blending the experiences of a young, scientifically-oriented German boy and a young French girl who happens to be blind. It’s amazingly successful and well worth reading. A book that one finds oneself thinking about a lot after completing it . . . one of the markers of a great book, in my opinion. A straight-forward yet engaging read.

In his non-fiction bestseller The Big Short, Michael Lewis describes the build-up of the U.S. housing bubble during the 2000s that led to the financial crisis of 2007-2008, telling the story with dark humor.

With exclusive access to Musk, his family and friends, journalist Ashlee Vance provides the first inside look into the extraordinary life and times of Silicon Valley’s most audacious entrepreneur in Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future.

Improv Wisdom: don’t prepare, just show up by Patricia Madsen: In an irresistible invitation to lighten up, look around, and live an unscripted life, a master of the art of improvisation explains how to adopt the attitudes and techniques used by generations of musicians and actors.

With their trademark blend of captivating storytelling and unconventional analysis, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner of Freakonomics fame take us inside their thought process and teach us all how to think a bit more productively, more creatively, more rationally. In Think Like A Freak, they offer a blueprint for an entirely new way to solve problems, whether your interest lies in minor lifehacks or major global reforms.

David Prutow’s Recommendations
The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids by Alexandra Robbins: In this engrossing anthropological study of the cult of overachieving that is prevalent in many middle- and upper-class schools, journalist Robbins follows the lives of students from a Bethesda, Md., high school as they balanced intense academic pressure, parental expectations, personal interests, social life, and their own drive to succeed.

Author and lawyer Bryan Stevenson spent decades defending the poor and disadvantaged within the U.S. criminal justice system. A memoir of sorts, Just Mercy: A story of Justice and Redemption contains stories from children, teen and adults who have been in the prison system. This is a book for anyone interested in social justice, the law, and the death penalty.

In Freedom, author Jonathan Franzen paints a wrenching, funny, and forgiving portrait of a Midwestern family. When Patty and Walter Berglund’s teenage son moves in with their conservative neighbors and their perfect life in St. Paul begins to unravel, out spill family secrets–clandestine loves, lies, compromises, and failures.

Carolyn Stewart’s Recommendations

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion: Full of heart and humor, Simsion’s debut novel about a fussy, socially-challenged man’s search for the perfect wife is smart, breezy, quirky, and fun. Genetics professor Don Tillman’s ordered, predictable life is thrown into chaos when love enters the equation in this immensely enjoyable novel.

In the spirit of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Gabrielle Zevin’s enchanting novel The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is a love letter to the joys of books, reading and booksellers.  The protagonist, bookstore owner A.J. Fikry has seen everything he loves disappear. This novel, in its humor and sadness, shows how he rebuilds with the help of an endearing family.

In Jumpha Lahiri’s eloquent debut collection of short stories Interpreter of Maladies, the characters navigate between the Indian traditions they’ve inherited and the baffling new world, seeking love beyond the barriers of culture and generations.

As a former college rower, I really enjoyed reading The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. It’s the true story of the working-class men who formed the University of Washington’s crew team and their unlikely journey to defeat not only the elite teams of the East Coast and Great Britain, but also the German rowing team of Hitler’s Olympics.