How To College: What to know before you go (and when you’re there) by A M Brenner and L H Schwartz; St Martin’s Press, 2019. Is this the answer to students’ and parents’ prayers? Yes and no.

Brenner and Schwartz apparently cover everything. That’s a problem. Their checklist of

things to know and do has 136 items, including the blatantly obvious and the obscurely minor

They are trying to make the lives of fellow academics and advisors easier. Prepared students need less help, and know where to look for it when necessary.

How To addresses some big issues. Important at all times: asking questions, in a business-like manner. Check up on local transport, safety, meal plans, rules and regulations before you go. Very important: question professors about what they expect, what they’ve assigned, what they think, what will take you to the next level (do read the syllabus and browse the texts first). Question librarians. Ask about academic support. Most important: ask yourself why you’re going to college, this college; be sure you’re happy with the answer.

There’s advice on technology: apps for the phone, attention to college email, and to Blackboard or whatever for syllabi and readings (published last year, How To doesn’t emphasize Zoom). And when to mute, ignore, or turn off some technologies: when reading, thinking, writing.

Calling home every day: though How To doesn’t condemn it, try not to. The authors seem paranoid about personal security; be sensible. They talk about shared accommodation, and remind us that cleaners and caterers are human, and essential. There’s sound, though not very cheerful, advice on finances. College costs!

In most countries, universities offer education. Period. The American college, though, is a sheltered workshop. Room and board, recreation, physical and mental health care, advice and counsel on every academic or non-academic problem. All good things, perhaps (though only 20% of students use the careers service).

But: Brenner and Schwartz say that college is about becoming adult. How will that happen in a sheltered workshop? If you’re an uncertain student, or nervous parent, How To may be for you. It’s already on sale as a remainder.

A half-century ago David R Jones set out for college with no phone (smart or dumb), no computer, no guidebook…

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