70 of 76 people found the following review helpful
on December 1, 2010
I picked up this book because I'm a parent and was intrigued by the premise. Little did I realize that the approach described in the book is actually the approach I took (without realizing it) to get into Stanford many years ago and is the same approach my brother took to get into Harvard.
I also have a friend who was an application reader at Stanford. There's a remark in particular she made about the process that jumped out at me. Each reader will read several hundred applications. Most applications are boring. Most seem the same as the next. The readers often get bored by reading 400 applications in a row that all seem, well the SAME.
This significant point on this is the applications are STILL boring even if they are all impressive in the SAME WAY. This is a nuance in college admissions that I think is really lost on a lot people who apply. There are two ways to get into a top school: 1) be the smartest / most academically accomplished applicant, 2) be smart enough but really unusual / different in some unconventional way.
The Superstar book is the only book I've ever seen on the latter.
54 of 60 people found the following review helpful
on August 1, 2010
I'm fifteen, and attend a college prep K-12 school, where from sixth grade up the focus is college, college, college. I started attending this school for high school only, after attending a more lax charter where the focus was on making a difference in society through charity, not necessarily on competition in academia, in that until high school, I never received grades.
My dad got me this book last week. I read the whole thing in one day, and I loved it. My school puts so much pressure on math and physics, and I'm friends with so many people who go to summer school to take more of those classes and who actively enjoy them. Since the start of freshmen year I'd been trying to get better at those subjects because that was what everyone around me perceived as important, but I have very little interest in physics and only a bit more in math. I actively enjoy biology, language arts, social studies, climate science and genetic engineering, but because of the pressures of my school life I didn't focus on them as much as I knew I wanted to.
After reading this book, I've felt sort of free to not try and master a subject that I know I would be miserable studying. Instead, I'm turning my attentions back to genetics, biology and climate sciences.
Before reading this book, I was stressed out and unhappy. I'm entering sophomore year, and I was planning on doubling up Chemistry and Physics classes during the year so I could gain an edge and stand out on college application forms. Now, though, with the full permission of my father, I probably will not be taking high school physics. Instead, this year I'm signing up for AP Biology.
This book is definitely a must-read.
48 of 54 people found the following review helpful
on May 13, 2014
I'm a high school college counselor and I adore the idea of abandoning the word "passion" and instead encouraging students to just explore things that interest them and see where it goes. I also love the emphasis on reducing stress by doing less of the stuff supposedly designed to help with college applications.
I'm a little turned off though by the case studies I've skimmed through where these relaxed kids get into Berkeley, Stanford, MIT, Princeton, Columbia and so on. First, having the unusual and interesting activities is really terrific and those kids sound amazing - but I'm not seeing any acknowledgment that they probably also had darn good standardized test scores. The examples of the young woman who got into the dreamy Berkeley of the 36,000 applications or the student who got into 20 of her 21 U.S. News-ranked schools are incomplete if they don't mention SAT scores. No matter how great the activities and essays were, if GPA and test scores were not already at a certain level, those things would never be seen at schools that have to screen out literally thousands of applicants by using boring metrics. My fear is that this book is going to spike already insane levels of applications to those schools because kids are going to think they actually have a shot.
Second, and granted I haven't finished reading the book yet, but the author seems really focused on writing only about the "top" colleges and universities in the U.S. Isn't this effectively continuing to perpetuate the myth that there are only a handful of colleges worth aspiring to? What about the interesting and relaxed B student with average SAT scores? Where are their success stories? There are thousands of other outstanding colleges out there for all kinds of students.
33 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on March 29, 2012
I picked up this book during winter break of junior year, wondering how I was ever going to stand out in college applications. I was stressed out with multiple club responsibilities just like anyone else, multiple APs, Asian parents pressuring me to get at least a 2300 on the SAT. I picked up this book because I read his book on study strategies and I liked his straightforward, concise style.
It was lifechanging.
Newport basically asks you to quit things that are boring and "don't matter" and instead focus on a few interests. It was a big risk to take, but Newport asks you to have faith that it will work spendidly to make you an interesting person, instead of an overachieving, boring tryhard. I have him to thank for making my life more authentic, and being admitted to various top-10 universities.
The book shows you step-by-step, how various high-schoolers achieved awe-inspiring accomplishments such as creating a health curriculum adopted by multiple states, becoming a tech celebrity, or writing a best-selling book. It rests on the basic idea that impressiveness comes from things that aren't hard to accomplish but are hard to simulate the steps required to get there. Well, this book unlocks the secrets, but leaves just enough guidance to give one the freedom to do one's own thing.
In addition, this book also has helpful tips like how to pick your classes, how to study more effectively, how to do well on the SAT's, etc. Buy it and you won't regret it.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on May 5, 2013
There are several problems with this book, but none of them are relevant to the book's target audience--self-motivated high school students. If a student is willing to read the entire book, Newport correctly predicates that they possess certain features: (i) high levels of stress, (ii) experience with the standard methodology of preparing for college admissions, and (iii) a desire for self-improvement.
To such students, this work will prove a welcome guide to restructuring one's life to meet with the same goal (elite matriculation), while reducing stress, or at least channeling stress toward more self-motivated activities. The arguments and case studies contained within the book are largely persuasive on a basic level, and the prose is well-written and occasionally humorous.
That said, the work is overwhelmingly anecdotal, and contains no case studies of students who succeeded using Newport's method while conscious that they were using his method. The decision to structure what was once an organic attitude toward life and self-development as a given process with a fixed set of rules and advice does not resolve the reality that Newport's superstars were innocent of their own qualities. The work would be more persuasive if (and when) Newport finds a superstar who followed his methodology to the kind of success he outlines in the book.
There is also a lack of parental advice within the work. It is clear that one feature common to all of these superstars that Newport fails to point out is their willingness to socially isolate themselves from their peers and work independently with a high level of maturity, at least while performing their projects. This book recommends that students leverage themselves by commingling with adult communities that do no typically admit of high school students. There is some risk here.
Overall, I remain unconvinced that Newport's method can be artificially imposed on the life of any high school student, or that reading this work will offer students the kind of maturity and readiness for social and intellectual independence characteristic of a superstar.
Again, none of this will inhibit the book's message, which may or may not motivate already motivated students to redirect their high school life in the direction that Newport recommends.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on October 3, 2010
I found Cal Newport's blog maybe a year or two ago when I was in college googling about procrastination. I was so impressed by his blog that I decided to buy his book, How to Be a Straight A Student. I was so impressed with that book that I bought How to Win at College and gave it to a friend as a grad gift. Naturally, I was the first person at my school's book store to buy his latest book.
Like someone else said earlier, the book is full of information that you can find on his blog, however, the book puts it all together in a way that I couldn't do very well just by reading the blogs. I saw each blog entry is almost its own separate thing. I understood that they could all work together, but I didn't have a clear understanding of how. This book puts practically everything in his blog together in a nice, neat, easy-to-follow and understand bundle.
I recommend this book for everyone who is still in school, even if you are in college (maybe even for those who are already out, but I don't know what post-grad life is like :P). He explains using personal interviews and a few research studies to support his ideas what "it takes" to get into Harvard. To be an impressive person. I remember when I was doing the whole college-app thing I thought "Well, Harvard is kind of random. You never know who will get in, but I don't think I can." I didn't stress about college because I applied to schools that are semi-prestigious in the South and after reading reviews, I just figured I would PROBABLY get into one of them. I was kind of stressed out as a student in general, though. I was applying, without knowing, some of Cal's techniques but at the same time doing the opposite of some of his techniques. In order for this to work, you need to do them all.
I am a college senior and the art of being impressive (Well, more like a science. We now have a step by step plan) will help me with scholarships, internships and just getting a job! I noticed that I applied his techniques naturally (especially after finding his blog). But I still need to work on focusing on my academics (I refused to do the honors program and now, I'm taking just 12 hours. The best thing I've ever done academically ever! But I'm still not good at studying).
I went into a resume prep class, and it felt good to see the look on my reviewer's face when he saw my resume. You can't control your initial reaction. I'm confident I'm on my way to the level of impressiveness I want to be at.
Okay, so you want to know basically what it says? Here's how I interpret it.
1. Reduce your course-load. Some students will refuse to do this. There is even a reviewer on this site who gave this book 5 stars, but said he refuses to reduce his courses. And with what you have left, learn how to study it. Then focus when you study. The book doesn't go deep into study techniques. Buy his "how to be a straight a student" for that.
2. Do random things. Go to random events. Do and go to things that peak your interest but don't require a time commitment. Then follow up. Following up is the MOST important part. That's how connections are made, people. From my personal experience, this is how the world moves for you. A lot of celebrities and successful people say there was 1 lucky thing that got them to where they were. This is how you create your own luck.
3. Now, step 3 is all the other stuff that... maybe you can find it on his blog. Basically, check out this blog. Imagine this book with ALL of that information packaged and organized into an easy, executable way to act on it.
34 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on July 27, 2010
I initially stumbled upon Cal's blog six months ago, searching for techniques that might help my kids. In fact, what I found was a veritable treasure chest of techniques, that could be applied by individuals of any age. I have since adopted many of his approaches and have found them useful in my work.
I suspected that this book would not have much substance beyond what could be found on the Study Hacks website. After all, even a person like Cal, can only have so many great ideas. Regardless, I ordered the book if for no other reason to support and reward Cal's hard work in writing useful and original content.
I read the entire book in one sitting of a few hours. As I expected, much of the substance is already on the website.
However, it is still worth buying this book. Cal pulls the whole message together into an overall framework, and elaborates on many of his points with relevant examples. Even loyal Study Hacks readers will be better able to execute on the approach after reading the book.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on November 4, 2011
The college application process is grueling, but it's nothing compared to what many students put themselves through in order to prepare for it, filling their lives with AP ® classes, sports, music lessons, clubs and activities until they are at the point of nervous breakdown. But there is a better way to achieve your goals, and it's not just for valedictorians. Cal Newport's third book, How to Be a High School Superstar: A Revolutionary Plan to Get into College by Standing Out (Without Burning Out) is a packed full of innovative ideas sure to help any student reach their goals, whether or not they include college. It is aimed at the high achiever who is aiming for an Ivy League or "tier one" school. This could be a little intimidating to the average student content with UCONN or WPI, and might seem to make the book irrelevant to the student thinking of skipping college altogether and moving right into the world of trade or entrepreneurship, but this book has something to offer all students.
The basic message of the book is this: Don't wear yourself out taking as many classes as you can and being involved in every club and sport. Instead, leave yourself enough free time to explore your interests. Cultivate one interest and make it into something special that will make you stand out among the other applicants and get you into the toughest schools, even if your grades and scores aren't stellar. Newport calls this the "relaxed superstar approach," and he shows you how to really do this, breaking the process down into three principles, explained and illustrated with real life examples of students who got into top schools: (1) underscheduling--making sure you have copious amounts of free time to pursue interesting things, (2) focusing on one or two pursuits instead of trying to be a "jack of all trades," and (3) innovation--developing an interesting and important activity or project in your area of interest. This fruit yielded by this strategy, an interesting life and real, meaningful achievements, is sure to help not only with college admissions, but getting a job, starting a business, or whatever your goals.
Newport recognizes the tremendous potential of youth and testifies to what teens can do if they set their minds to it. Modern American teenagers underestimate themselves and are underestimated by society. With his refreshing philosophy, practical tips and unique insights, Newport's book can help them break through the mediocrity of modern teen culture and do great things. This may include getting into a great college, but it also include whatever ambitious goal you may choose.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on June 11, 2012
I'm about a third of the way through this book. It is easy to read and presents information in an interesting narrative, with relevant personal stories. It is geared towards students who pressure themselves to succeed. It lends a fresh perspective on the value of allowing time to simply pursue what interests them, not doing things because they hope will impress college admissions officers. Many very bright students with loads of extracurriculars compete for select colleges, but this book says that it is the student who is the interesting person, who has found an area that excites them, which can only be found if the student is not overscheduled, who will catch the interest of admissions officers reviewing hundreds of applications.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on February 11, 2015
I ordered this book because I'm a mom and a high school teacher, so I was hoping that it would provide tips that I could pass along in my classes and to my boys. There were definitely high points and low points in this book.
First the pros:
1. This book did a great job of demystifying how some students, despite having average grades and test scores, manage to score admission at Ivy League and other top colleges. The author explains how these students have outstanding achievements in other areas.
2. The author explains how a student who works hard at a project that really resonates them will eventually become impressively accomplished in that area and that will lead to other opportunities that will, ultimately, impress the heck out of admissions officers.
3. I love that the author advocates that students pick a few activities and classes that they really want to devote a lot of time rather than spreading themselves thin across a wide spectrum of activities that they have no interest in. I see too many students these days who sign up for a hundred activities and clubs, then get nothing out of them because they don't have the time to really participate in all of them. Ultimately, it's a strategy that backfires because admissions officers would rather see that you had outstanding achievements in a few activities than that you joined a hundred clubs.
Now for the negatives:
1. The author's premise is that anyone can have outstanding achievements like the students that he profiles in his book, but that is patently untrue. One of the students that he profiles as an example of outstanding achievement is a student who takes a gap year after college to travel the world. He comes up with a book idea and writes it as he travels. This is great if you have a trust fund or wealthy parents who can subsidize a year of travel - but most students simply don't have this luxury.
2. A second student completed a great research project, but her parents set her up to work with the professor who lived next door. Again, this is great for a student who's privileged to have parents who can hook them up with professors, but most kids don't have this advantage. I commend the student in the book who made the most of her opportunity and worked hard, but students who don't live near colleges and don't know professors personally are going to have a MUCH harder time convincing a professor to come let them work for them.
3. Finally, a third student started out as a teacher's aid to a teacher at her private school. The teacher then went to work at a charter school and the student continued to work as her aid after school. This led to a literacy research project. This story bothered me the most because the student's success with her project hinged on one incredibly lucky break after another.
While there's a lot in this book to inspire a student and help them to understand what colleges are looking for - it's a stretch for the author to bill this book as a blueprint for recreating the success that each of these students enjoyed. A student who reads this will still have to work really hard and hope for a lot of incredible luck to come their way to end up like the success stories featured in this book.