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How to Win at College: Surprising Secrets for Success from the Country's Top Students Paperback

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How to Win at College: Surprising Secrets for Success from the Country's Top Students + How to Become a Straight-A Student: The Unconventional Strategies Real College Students Use to Score High While Studying Less + What Smart Students Know: Maximum Grades. Optimum Learning. Minimum Time.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 193 pages
  • Publisher: Three Rivers Press (April 12, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767917871
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767917872
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.2 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #9,627 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


College. Youve probably been hearing about it and planning for it for years, and now, it’s finally here. The SATs are over, your application’s been accepted, and high school is soon to become just another fading memory. You’re about to embark on a great adventure—one you’ll remember your entire life.

There is no question that college is a lot of fun. It’s four years of freedom and excitement and growth. Staying out until two A.M. partying, and staying up until dawn talking with friends. Reveling in the chaos of cramming for midterms, and discovering how to appreciate dining hall food. Learning how to write a powerful, persuasive paper, and figuring out how to transform your bedsheet into a toga. Trust me when I say that you’re in for a good time.

However, there is more to four years of college than amusement. It’s also the launching pad for the rest of your life. The tough truth is that getting a good job these days is hard. Getting accepted to a good law school, graduate school, or medical school is also hard. You have just four short years to prepare yourself for the world beyond your college campus. If you play your cards right, you will have the ability to engage in any pursuit that inspires you. If you don’t make the most of these four years, getting started on an exciting and fulfilling life path will be much more difficult.

Is it possible to be successful at college and still have fun? When I first arrived at school, I didn’t think so. I thought there was no way that you could both enjoy college life and excel as a student. As I saw it, there were two choices: you could be fun and social and put all your energy into meeting people and having memorable experiences, or you could be a grind, and while away your weekend hours studying in the depths of the library. I truly didn’t believe you could do both. Until, that is, I met Heidi.

Everyone liked Heidi. She was fun and outgoing, she knew tons of people, and she seemed to exude energy. It was clear that she was having a good time at college. But here’s the catch: she was also a Rhodes Scholar. Not to mention a published author in the field of mathematics, a winner of a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, and the founder of a successful community service organization for young girls.

I also met Kabir. He was a fun-loving member of a fraternity I frequented, a musician in a popular campus jazz group, and an all-around sociable guy. However, when I really got to know him, I discovered that he was also the CEO of a start-up company, a co-founder of a grassroots mentoring program in Australia, and a rising star in the world of youth politics.

Then there was Janos, who, in a brilliant display of social vitality, somehow managed to become a member of both a fraternity and a co-ed social house—a definite fixture on the campus party scene. But this whirlwind social life didn’t stop him from serving as student body president two years in a row, nor did it stop him from planning a postgraduation run for the state assembly.

Clearly, these students were proof that academic success and real-world ambitions could go hand in hand with living college life to the fullest. They seemed bounded by nothing. After they graduated, the most competitive companies would hire them, the most exclusive academic programs would admit them, and the most important people would love to meet them. They had, however, avoided the fate of those tedious students who spend their college years in a tireless pursuit of a perfect G.P.A. Instead, they were having a great time, building friendships, and all the while managing to rack up incredibly impressive achievements that would serve them well down the line. None of these students was interested in achieving solely for achieving’s sake; rather, they had a natural hunger for intellectual challenge and a flair for transforming their personal interests into exciting projects. Their experiences convinced me that becoming a standout student was not only the best way to prepare for life in the real world, it was also the best way to make college memorable and fulfilling.

This is what inspired me to write this book: I wanted to find out how to be like Heidi, Kabir, or Janos. In search of these answers, I frequented the “College Life” section of quite a few bookstores, but came up frustratingly empty-handed. There were plenty of campus guides, books full of practical financial-aid information, and tutorials on how to score high on the SATs, write smart application essays, and other tricks for getting into good schools. There were books that professed to help you learn to speed-read, develop a super-sharp memory, and improve your study skills. And there were plenty of titles brimming with practical advice for surviving college—from how to do your laundry to how to avoid the “freshmen fifteen.” But there were no books about how to achieve the head-turning, interesting, and rewarding college experiences boasted by students like Heidi, Kabir, and Janos. I wanted real advice on how to do the exceptional things they were doing.

Because I couldn’t find the answers I wanted at the bookstore, I went searching for them myself. I began to track down and interview top students across the country–not just the academic stars, but students who fully embodied this unique brand of multifaceted success. From the Ivy League—Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Dartmouth, and Cornell—to Stanford, Kansas State, Wake Forest, Clemson, the University of Wyoming, the University of Virginia, and the University of Arizona, I located some incredible students, and I asked them about the habits, systems, and mind-sets that had aided them in their accomplishments. I had them write to–do lists for incoming college freshmen interested in doing well at college, and I pressed them for details about specific approaches to time management, studying, and balancing a social life with working hard. Essentially, I wanted to find out everything that made these superstars tick.

To be honest, when I first started these interviews, I was a little intimidated. I worried that I would discover that the key to winning at college was a genius–level I.Q., an ability to go for days without sleep, or maybe even a photographic memory. But my fears were unfounded. I discovered from my research that anyone can become a standout student! You don’t have to be a genius, you are allowed to get a healthy amount of sleep, and your memory doesn’t have to be anything special. All you really need is some expert guidance from those who have done it before.

How should you prepare for exams and papers? What extracurricular opportunities should you look into? How should you deal with professors? What’s the best way to keep your intellect stimulated and your mood upbeat? How do you balance a fun social life with an ambitious schedule? And how can you craft your pursuits to perfectly fit your abilities, interests, and passions? These are the important questions that every student needs to ask. And How to Win at College contains the answers.

In this book you’ll find seventy-five rules drawn from the experiences of some of the country’s most phenomenal students. Their answers cover the questions asked above, and more. Turn to any page and you will encounter a simple piece of advice to help you make the most of your four years. No one chapter will turn you into a Rhodes Scholar, and you certainly don’t need to follow all seventy-five. However, if you select a group of rules that really captures your attention, and then take the time to implement them in your everyday college life, you will notice remarkable results. Half the battle in becoming a standout student—in fact, to becoming a standout individual—is making the decision to actively try to succeed. If you follow the advice in this book, you will be well on your way toward taking advantage of all that college has to offer, and ensuring yourself the strongest possible start in the real world that follows. How to Win at College will help you find that perfect balance needed to jump-start a life filled with interesting enthusiasms, impressive achievements, and wonderful acquaintances and friends.

I wish you the best of luck with this exciting new phase. Hopefully, this book will help you meet and master the many opportunities that will come your way.— Cal Newport


You will be assigned a lot of reading at college. Probably more reading than seems humanly possible for any one person to complete. Social science and humanities courses will taunt you with seemingly short academic articles that turn out to be riddled with Byzantine sentence structures and devilishly complicated logic. Science courses will siphon your time, and help you develop a lifelong hatred of bar charts, with a steady stream of ultradense technical material. And just to keep things sporting, professors will periodically slip entire books into the syllabus, often giving you only a week or so to finish them. Sound bleak? It doesn’t have to be. All you need remember is one simple rule: Dont do all of your reading.

To a hardworking student, ignoring assigned reading probably seems blasphemous. But as unusual as this may sound at first, covering every page of reading listed in a course syllabus is rarely necessary. Here is what you should do instead:

For reading that covers the topic of an upcoming lecture, it’s often sufficient to just skim the main points ahead of time, and then fill in the gaps during class by taking very good notes. Students are sometimes afraid of skimming, but you shouldn’t be. You need to master the skill of covering hundreds of pages of text very quickly. The secret is to read chapter introductions and conclusions careful...

More About the Author

Cal Newport is a writer and a professor of computer science at Georgetown University. He is the author of four books and runs the popular advice blog, Study Hacks, which attempts to decode "patterns of success" in both school and the working world. His contrarian ideas on building a successful, meaningful life have been featured on TV, radio, and in many major publications, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and New York Post.

Customer Reviews

This book is a very easy and quick read.
Dan K
Whenever I forget these tips and end up being so stressed, which I will, I will always have this book in hand to save me.
I would recommend this book to high school an college students alike.
Miss Riki

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Book dallier on June 17, 2006
Format: Paperback
Not for the average student, this book, the only one in its category, will teach you how to have brilliant success in college. While other college survival-type books are about healthy habits, emotional balance, how to do laundry etc., this one is for those who probably haven't needed such hovering help in awhile. In an excellent format (lots of little, very concrete tips, each of which gets a few pages of explanation), Cal Newport, himself a recent grad, lays out what separates the truly high achievers from the simply smart. The tips are not obvious or general, but precise and interesting ("Use High-Quality Notebooks", "Apply to Ten Scholarships a Year"), and well-researched (the author says he compiled them by speaking to many exceptional students, including Rhodes scholars, entrepreneurs, productive researchers and published writers, from all over the Ivy League.) The tone, unlike in many advice books by older adults, is never cute or patronizing. This is a very, very useful book if you're motivated and in for the long haul.
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Gen Y on February 19, 2011
Format: Paperback
After throughly enjoying How to be a Straight A Student, I picked up another of Cal's books. While Straight A focuses more on specific study and notetaking methods, this book provides more general lifestyle tips for a 1st year uni student (ie. befriend your professor, never pull an all nighter, exercise and attend guest lectures). I like in this book how he emphasizes the importance of health, self worth, good relationships and intrinsic motivation as factors in doing well. However, some tips are pretty obvious (don't binge drink, always go to class, exercise, laugh everyday, find an escape) and others are just random (volunteer quietly, don't network, eat alone, make your bed, empty your inbox).

It's an okay book, there is some genuinely good advice like, ignore classmate's grades and take hard courses early on but there is a bit of fluff and while I have no doubt this stuff is from Yale, Dartmouth and other top notch students, it's vague and generic advice. Not much detail or anecdotes from students.
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35 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Me on April 13, 2005
Format: Paperback
I wish I'd had this book in college. There seem to be a million breezy, humorous books about college life on the shelves, but they're all about cooking, cleaning, reducing stress and buying futons. This one is better than most at breezy humor, but it gets five stars because it's about COLLEGE: the core tasks of getting good grades, an employable resume, and the critical thinking skills necessary for a richer appreciation of life. My little brother is starting Harvard next year, and I've bought him a copy. Hard to believe the college-survival genre has been around so long and this book is just being published now.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Bastian on July 27, 2006
Format: Paperback
The author says in the beginning of the book that a student doesn't have to utilize all 75 tips in order to be a successful student. This is a simple fact that you need to grow accustomed to when reading this book. There is simply not enough time in a day, nor an individual motivated enough to develop every habit he suggests, varying from exercising 5 days a week to relaxing for a good half hour before you go to sleep.

I agree with essentially all of the tips he suggests. However, I think that outstanding students can indeed get away with studying in their dorms, eating with friends 2 or even 3 times a day, or getting a "normal" job just working in retail in town. While all of his tips are laid out clearly and justified in simple terms, college is a different experience for every person. Some tips will actually not apply to certain people. Some things he expressly forbids might be alright in certain situations.

That being said, I think this book holds a lot of wisdom. While it was a quick and easy read, and while it is like a compendium of tips that are intended to be read like a list, the reading did become predictable. He suggests writing every paper in college like you're writing for a Pulitzer--while he does write very skillfully, and while his personality does indeed shine in the writing, the reading just became somewhat monotonous after reading 10 or 15 tips at a time.

To fully enjoy this book, read it in small doses. Read 4 or 5 tips at a time and take time and ponder the things he suggests. For tips which come alive to you and really seem like they'd make you a better student, mark the page somehow.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By christopher burns on April 14, 2005
Format: Paperback
my little brother is going to st. andrews next fall. he asked me, a recent nyu graduate, if i had any sage advice on how to do well. i told him 'nope. i did it the hard way. all nighters & pestilence." but there's a better way. this alleged 23 year old 'cal newport' seems to have written precisely the book i should have had back in 2000 when i still had a shot at doing things right. i regret nothing but like i told my bro, read this book and take advantage of the tips you'll learn, cause you won't get them from your professors or your peers. a book for that rare kid willing to seek out advice on how to succeed in college. this book won't disappoint.
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