How to win at college

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By Jonathan Lopes
Campus News

What is the purpose of higher education and how does one succeed? Conventional and traditional thinking deems it necessary, in order to secure a job and possess satisfactory social standing. However, modern day opinions suggest the true and often undervalued meaning of furthering one’s education is for interpersonal development and academic learning simply for knowledge. Now then, is it to learn and expand your educational horizons or is the means to the end, obtaining a quality employment position? This is for you to decide.

This past academic year, I attended a seminar while an employee at Raritan Valley Community College. The interactive lecture was hosted by the director of Student Life, Russell Barefoot. Cal Newport’s “How to Win at College” and Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” were highlighted readings within the presentation. This opinion piece will focus on the former. Shortly after the presentation, I borrowed a copy of the book from Russell and read the entire thing in three sittings. I was curious, but in a cynical fashion.

In preparation to writing this article, I re-read Cal Newport’s book, in order to refresh my memory on the most crucial elements. In addition, I decided to contact friends and successful collegiate peers of my own, asking for their opinion on college success. Both of these individuals are recent graduates and are now experiencing wonderful accomplishments in their personal and professional lives.

“Colleges are resources to not only get the technological or book knowledge that one needs to succeed in the job market, but they provide resources to obtain experiences and career opportunities outside of the education circle,” said David Jacobson, a graduate of Raritan Valley Community College and Rider University. “To win is to utilize both! To lose in college is not necessarily because you didn’t perform well, but due to the fact that the resources provided were not utilized properly.”

Mr. Newport begins with a simple premise. The book reads: “What does it take to be a standout student? How can you make the most of your college years – graduate with honors, choose exciting activities, build a head-turning resume, and gain access to the best post-college opportunities? Based on interviews with star students at universities nationwide, from Harvard to the University of Arizona, “How to Win at College” presents 75 simple rules that will rocket you to the top of the class…”

The book is separated into brief chapters serving as “rules” to consider and live by. The insightful and sometimes controversial rules include: don’t do all your reading, drop classes every term, become a club president, care about your grades and ignore your GPA, never pull an all-nighter, take three days to write a paper, always be working on a “grand project,” and do one thing better than anyone else you know. The book is 190 pages in length and won’t take you more than 4 hours to read. In other words, that is 3-4 sessions of reading for about one hour, depending at your rate. It is that easy and enjoyable to read, because it flows smoothly and is of relevance to us all.

This book has received special attention and recognition over the last several years, due to the basic format, credibility behind its creation and most importantly, the specific tips given. Self-help based books have often been criticized for clichés and vague information based on individual personal improvement. Fortunately, Mr. Newport strays away from this perception and provides logic, reasoning and actual details on how to achieve success, in and out of the classroom. However, I will mention that the student reader must act upon the information, in order to learn and perform successfully.

An important lesson from this book is that success has little to do with possessing a high IQ, money, and/or have a ridiculous work ethic. Success, according to the views expressed in this book, has everything to do with playing the game. In other words, success can be attained through consistent effort and using campus services, resources, and opportunities. “How to Win at College” is the remarkable guide for making the most of these four important years and getting an edge on life after graduation. Even though 75 rules are listed, several overlap. Furthermore, what Cal mentions in the introduction is something I’d like to emphasize. Not every rule will relate to you! After reading the book, pick a group of rules and apply them to your college career, especially those you know could use improvement. The rules on private writing/reading and financial aid I personally utilized. I have made enhancements to my personal education based on quick lessons learned.

Mr. Newport’s book is intentionally provocative, because it is a way for a smart student to see how untraditional thinking can translate to success within college. For those who are too traditional and narrow minded, several elements within the book may seem controversial and not suitable to your liking. Calvin (Cal) Newport currently serves as an assistant professor in the department of computer science at Georgetown University, the author of three “how to” books. It is a guide to getting ahead once you’ve gotten in, with proven strategies for making the most of your college years based on “winning secrets from the country’s most successful students.” If you are interested in reading “How to Win at College” or any of Mr. Newport’s books, visit your local public and/or campus library, as well as online resources including Amazon and Google Books.

“College is more about yourself than anything,” said Ricardo Frias, a graduate of Raritan Valley Community College and Kean University. “If you can conquer your ego, your procrastination and your shyness, you’ll win at college, and at anything.”

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