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What the Best College Students Do Hardcover – July 16, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


Some very good books are worth reading for a few splendid pages alone. Ken Bain's What the Best College Students Do is one such book. His interview with the TV satirist Stephen Colbert is revealing both for its insight into Colbert and for its ideas on how higher education ought to work... What the Best College Students Do combines interviews with a review of academic research on university learning. The book builds on Bain's 2004 bestseller, What the Best College Teachers Do. To some extent, both books state what we already know--that straight A's are nice, but hardly guarantee a happy or productive life. Instead, it takes a personal sense of purpose. The 'best' students are curious risk-takers who make connections across disciplines. By following those instincts--rather than simply chasing 'success'--the best students achieved it. Bain's new book is a wonderful exploration of excellence. (David A. Kaplan Fortune online 2012-08-10)

Bain reports on research about highly 'creative,' productive, and socially conscious students and how they negotiated college to attain their goals. They developed a 'deep,' transformative learning orientation, tenaciously pursuing what mattered to them over high grades. He reports that these successful students turned failure/mistakes into learning opportunities; learned to make choices/decisions in murky situations by reflecting and learning from past experience; and maintained self-esteem, which sustained them through failures or setbacks on their way to achieving goals. Bain writes in noncomplex language and artfully weaves scholarly literature and rich narratives from dozens of interviewees into a provocative, interesting, and fast-moving book... This book is informative and beneficial not only for current and future college students, but also professors, researchers, and parents and caregivers who strive to foster successful learning in children.
(D. Truty Choice 2013-09-01)

The experiences of successful students are certainly burnished by exposure to the length and breadth of a liberal curriculum, but they are spurred by awe and fascination. The best students seek the meaning behind the text, its implications and applications, and how those implications interact with what they have already learned. To think in so rich and robust a way as Bain describes--'trying to answer questions or solve problems that they regard as important, intriguing, or just beautiful'--is an aspiration of the first order...A soundly encouraging guide for college students to think deeply and for as long as it takes. (Kirkus Reviews 2012-06-15)

What the Best College Students Do delivers on the promise of its title with rich descriptions of what the best college students do, how they think, and what they believe. Bain challenges his readers to give up the standard model of short-term success, in favor of deep learning with payoffs in living purposefully and well. I wish every college student, and every parent, could approach higher education with this sage orientation. It isn't just about the 'A.' (Pamela Barnett, Temple University)

We are always telling students to 'find their passion.' Now we have a book that looks at how that happens, and how we can encourage students to use their uniqueness, and be more curious and more resilient. Ken Bain can really tell a story and it is very rare for a book based upon research to be such a compelling read. (José Antonio Bowen, Southern Methodist University)

Ken Bain, author of the best-selling What the Best College Teachers Do, has written the perfect follow-up. He skillfully weaves together some of the best research about effective learning strategies with moving stories about remarkable life-long learners. Some of them had great teachers. But most of them succeed because of what they did for themselves. If every college teacher read the first book and every student read this new one, we'd have taken a huge step toward solving some of the great challenges for higher education. (Thomas Luxon, Dartmouth College)

About the Author

Ken Bain is President of the Best Teachers Institute and a former professor of history at Northwestern, Vanderbilt, the University of Texas, and New York University.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press (August 27, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674066642
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674066649
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #62,626 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

President, Best Teachers Institute, Ken Bain (Twitter: @kenbain1) spent much of his academic career at Vanderbilt, Northwestern, and NYU. He was the founding director of four major teaching and learning centers: the Center for Teaching Excellence at New York University, the Searle Center for Teaching Excellence at Northwestern University, the Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University, and the Research Academy for University Learning at Montclair State University. He also served as a Vice Provost of a large state university and later as Provost of a small public university. In the 1970's and early 80's he was Professor of History at the University of Texas--Pan American, where he also served as director of that school's University Honors Program and as founding director of the History Teaching Center, a pioneering program sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities to promote greater collaboration between history teachers on the secondary level and university and college research historians. From 1984 to 1986, he served as director of the National History Teaching Center, which had a similar mission on the national level.

His historical scholarship centers on the history of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East (principal works include The March to Zion: United States Policy and the Founding of Israel, 1980, 2000), but he has long taken an interest in teaching and learning issues and in recent years has contributed to the scholarship in that area. Internationally recognized for his insights into teaching and learning and for a fifteen-year study of what the best educators do, he has been invited in recent years to present workshops or lectures at over four hundred universities and events--in the United States, Canada, Mexico, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia. His learning research has concentrated on a wide range of issues, including deep and sustained learning and the creation of natural critical learning environments.

He has been a frequent consultant to universities, national governments, and the European Union. For his lifetime contribution to both historical studies and educational research, he was recently awarded the prestigious Doctor "Honoris Causa" degree from the University of Valencia in Spain.

His now classic book What the Best College Teachers Do. (Harvard University Press, 2004) won the 2004 Virginia and Warren Stone Prize for an outstanding book on education and society, and has been one of the top selling books on higher education. It has been translated into twelve languages and was the subject of an award-winning television documentary series in 2007.

The sequel, What the Best College Students Do, also from Harvard University Press, won the Virginia and Warren Stone Prize in 2012, and has become an international best seller.

He has won four major teaching awards, including a teacher-of-the-year award, faculty nomination for the Minnie Piper Foundation Award for outstanding college teacher in Texas in 1980 and 1981, and Honors Professor of the Year Awards in 1985 and 1986. A 1990 national publication named him one of the best teachers in the United States. He has received awards from the Harry S Truman Library, Lyndon Baines Johnson Library, the Ford Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the International Studies Association, among others.

He is currently completing his third book on U.S. relations with the Middle East (The Last Journey Home: Franklin Roosevelt and the Middle East). He is also working on three books in the "Best" series: What the Best College Administrators Do, What the Best Online Teachers Do, and What the Best K-12 Teachers Do. With Annie Murphy Paul, he is working on a book for parents tentatively entitled How to Help Your Kids Get the Most Out of School.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By C. Groves on October 23, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I picked up this book in pursuit of straight A's. What I got instead was a chance to completely change the way I view education and learning. The goal of this book is not to teach you how to make the grade (although there is advice for doing that at the end of the book) but to show you a process and viewpoint of education that leads to growth and success in life after school. Although the book is not perfect it did change my life, and perhaps save a doomed to fail college career. Here are some of the main things I liked and disliked about the book.

Liked: (note the length of discussion of each of these topics varies)
-How it encourages learning, growth, self discovery and curiosity over success and jumping through hoops (grades)
-Encourages one to take control of your own education.
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful By DE White on September 17, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
I had high hopes for this book, as it came highly recommended by a friend and I'm interested in the genre of achievement/self-improvement books. Unfortunately, this book was a let down. Save you money and read more helpful and interesting books (see my recommendations below).

The central thesis of this book is: "Focus on growth and learning, rather than fixating on exam scores". As someone who works and teaches in higher education, I would agree with this idea. The best students that I have taught do this: they have a curiosity about things which drives their learning and pushes them to acquire a deeper understanding. They then do well because they have a deeper understanding.

Ken Bain spins the previous two sentences into a short book. Unfortunately, the book is short not because he is a master of argument (although the book is well written) but because there is very little substance in it. Most of his evidence, if it can be called that, comes from anecdotal stories about a few people who he has interviewed. He cites very little in the way of rigorous studies to back up his claims.

There's very little in the way of hard advice in this book, aside from a few suggestions in one chapter.

This book gets two stars because it's well written and not entirely devoid of merit. But get it from your college library rather than buying it. Save your money and spend it on some of these other books:
Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the Science of Success by Matthew Syed contains a lot more substance on what leads to success.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By James M. Lang on August 16, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This book constitutes an excellent follow-up to Bain's last book, What the Best College Teachers Do. In that book, Bain drew principles about teaching and human learning from an exploration of the teaching habits and practices of outstanding faculty members in higher education. In this one, he turns his focus to students. His analysis of how highly successful college students thought about their their courses, their learning, and their futures makes for fascinating reading. Bain is a natural storyteller, and his writing is a pleasure to read. This book should be required reading for all new college students, but college faculty will find it inspirational and informative as well.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Professor Phaire on December 3, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read "What the Best College Students Do" from the perspective of an educator with the goal of finding new ways to help stimulate and energize my students' to think critically and creatively. I wanted to help my students value their learning experience in a more transformative, and ultimately more useful way than simply getting good grades for the sake of enhancing GPA's. The key to any transformational process of this type is to have students embrace attitudinal behaviors that inspire persistent engagement of their innate intellectual curiosity. A by-product of exercising this personal choice is ultimately reflected in ancillary benefits to the community and society at-large. Any book that effectively describes how to achieve these outcomes is certainly a welcome addition to the advancement of Education and its purpose.

In "What the Best College Students Do", author and educator Ken Bain provides insights into ways to help students think critically about their own learning experiences. It tells a number of true anecdotes revealing how successful students used curiosity, discovery, and a willingness to risk failure. Some of the consistent themes are the pursuit of a life purpose, embracing interdisciplinary education, and achieving an enduring commitment to intellectual and personal growth.

These true stories of perseverance, adaptation, and triumph were inspiring to read. The book is written in an informal and interesting writing style that students will relate to while also providing research-based conclusions that will appeal to educators and scholars.
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