Books for the News

How to Succeed in College


The days surrounding Labor Day weekend usher in the end of summer, and with it, for millions of families, the start of the school year (literally, millions of families: why does that sounds so banal? “millions of families”—probably because I’m a single thirty-two year-old woman on my third cup of coffee eating desiccated coconut flakes out of the bag and thinking of Carl Sagan). With that in mind, it’s not hard to imagine an increase in anxiety for parents and students alike, especially those on the cusp of pointed new territory: the start of college and the end of life-as-it-was-previously known. Jon B. Gould, longtime college professor and award-winning teacher, actually wrote the book about this sort of thing. This evening, he’ll be appearing on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight in support of How to Succeed in College (While Really Trying), which gives readers the lay of the land and demystifies the college experience, offering advice from an insider who has witnessed the transitions—in life and in learning—of innumerable newbie undergrads. But, real talk for a moment: who gets the lion’s share of that anxiety? My own mom wept on the driveway when I threw all my belongings into four garbage bags and drove down I-275 with a bookshelf rigged to the back of my pick-up truck, screeching Mazzy Star or Cat Stevens or something equal parts terrible and unforgettable. We expect Here Come the Co-Eds or Heaven’s Gate; we get a mix of Legally Blonde, The Sterile Cuckoo, and Higher Learning. Gould was kind enough to send along five tips for parents staring down the first-year college experience—like much of what is found in the book, they’re pragmatic and offer some simple, real world-based advice to settle the nerves. For more on that note, tune in tonight—tips follow below:

1.  Give your children space. Let them adjust and ease into their new surroundings. Don’t come visit right away, and don’t be on the phone or text constantly.  

2.  Be supportive, but don’t try to solve their problems. When the tearful call inevitably comes, they really just want a sympathetic ear.  You don’t need to fix the problem, and most of the time you couldn’t anyway.

3.  A few “life lessons” never hurt anyone. If they blow off studying for an exam, they should get that C. If they’re smart, they’ll learn from the experience and not repeat it. One bad grade does not a semester ruin.

4. Don’t remodel their room—yet.  First-year students still want the security of “home.” Try not to make major changes to their room—or the family—until they’ve successfully completed a semester.

5.  Take a deep breath and take pride in getting your children this far. The vast majority of students will transition to college successfully. You played a big part in that. They’ll be okay. Really.