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How to College

What to Know Before You Go (and When You're There)

Andrea Malkin Brenner and Lara Hope Schwartz

St. Martin's Griffin

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ISBN10: 1250225183
ISBN13: 9781250225184

Trade Paperback

304 Pages



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The transition from high school—and home—to college can be stressful. Students and parents often arrive on campus unprepared for what college is really like. Academic standards and expectations are different from high school; families aren’t present to serve as “scaffolding” for students; and first-years have to do what they call “adulting.” Nothing in the college admissions process prepares students for these new realities.

As a result, first-year college students report higher stress, more mental health issues, and lower completion rates than in the past. In fact, up to one third of first-year college students will not return for their second year—and colleges are reporting an increase in underprepared first-year students.

How to College is here to help. Professors Andrea Malkin Brenner and Lara Schwartz guide first-year students and their families through the transition process, during the summer after high school graduation and throughout the school year, preparing students to succeed and thrive as they transition and adapt to college. The book draws on the authors’ experience teaching, writing curricula, and designing programs for thousands of first-year college students over decades.

Professors Brenner and Schwartz are also offering invaluable insight into ways students can transition to virtual orientations and summer bridge programs in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic. Visit for more information.

For a limited time, you can also gain free access to the How To College companion goal series on the new TripodGSS goal success system. Sign up for free here:


Praise for How to College

"How to College provides parents and students with the prompts to engage in critical conversations regarding their transition to college life. It will open a door for topics that can be difficult to navigate and provide context for typical situations first year students encounter. Its a great supplement to the resources your college will provide and can prepare you to ask the right questions to get the answers you need to set you on a path for success."—Rachel A. Beech, Ed.D., Assistant Vice President, Admissions and Student Recruitment, California State University, San Bernardino

"How to College gives high school students the edge in making a smooth and successful transition to college, and should be required reading for all high school students (and those who support them) planning to go to college!"—Robert Hradsky, Ed.D., Senior Associate Vice President for the Student Experience and Dean of Students, Syracuse University

"An excellent roadmap for all students making the significant, challenging, and exciting transition to college. It would make a great gift for any soon-to-be college student, as a common read text for an entering first year cohort, or as a guide for developing an effective and comprehensive first year experience course."—Stephen C. Sutton, Ed.D., Vice Chancellor, Division of Student Affairs, University of California, Berkeley

“Offers valuable insight for students and families choosing to embark on higher education and entering their first year. How to College provides a beneficial guide full of important resources and information to set the foundation for success at the collegiate level for both the student and their families alike.”—Jonathan A. McElderry, Ph.D., Assistant Dean of Students, Wake Forest University

"A timely and needed book for families, students and university administrators. As an administrator in a college setting responsible for facilitating students transition to college, this book will serve as a key resource. How to College masterfully demystifies the college experience for students and families alike."—Fanta Aw, PhD, Vice President of Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence, American University

"A fantastic resource for incoming and first year students. Recent high school graduates will find the detailed guidance—on everything from how to take notes on assigned readings to living on a budget—indispensable. How to College will help students familiarize themselves with the adjustments and independence that lie ahead and encourage important conversations with families and peers, in addition helping them start on the right foot academically. What a gift!"—Sarah Sobieraj, PhD, Director, Digital Sexism Project, Associate Professor of Sociology, Tufts University

"This book offers the best explanation/guide I’ve seen on what students can expect to encounter academically in college. Combine that with the lessons on money, time and self-management, extracurricular/civic-engagement experiences, navigating relationships with family, friends back at home and new friends found at the university and you have a comprehensive guide that can help even the most anxious student prepare for what will helpfully be one of the best experiences of their life!"—Matthew J. Kirk, M.Ed, Associate Director of Tiger Alliance, College Preparation and Outreach, Clemson University

"As a former director of orientation and first-year experience programs, I would call How to College a must read for students and their families as part of their preparation for college."—Jennifer Latino, EdD, Senior Principal Strategic Consultant, Ellucian (NC), Former Assistant Vice President for Student Success, and Director, First-Year Experience, Campbell University

"How To College is a necessary resource for all students considering a college education. The authors present a realistic step-by-step approach to preparing for college, achieving in college, and departing from college to assume leadership roles in diverse communities. A must read for the “village” involved in experiences of the college-going student."—Willie A. Bragg, Assistant Dean, Graduate School, Director, Continuing Studies, Morgan State University

"A detailed guide on how to navigate college experiences and beyond. The authors provide a blueprint for “potential college students” that ensures successful achievement outcomes. A valuable resource for all parents and students who are considering college as the next step!"—Cynthia B. Bragg, Assistant Professor, Sociology & Anthropology, Morgan State University

"A must-read . . . For students graduating from high school, this is the book to read the summer before your first year of college, if not sooner!"—Lynn M. Roeder, PhD, Associate Vice Chancellor and Dean of Students, East Carolina University

"As a Dean of Students, I would highly recommend How To College for new, returning, and transfer students. It serves as great primer for first generation college students. Specifically, the book touches upon aspects of identity, finding one's voice, and self-care which are instrumental and vital to these students' lived experiences in higher education."—Juan R. Guardia, Ph.D., Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs & Dean of Students, The University of Cincinnati

"Adds a unique and useful look at the transition from high school to college. It is both thorough and accessible – covering topics ranging from college-level academic expectations to forming relationships to understanding finances, all in a style that is direct and user-friendly. The suggested exercises provide great strategies for both preparing and managing the transition to college. While valuable for any student who wants to make the most of their first year in college, it will be especially valuable for first generation students who may be learning alongside their families just how college works."—Heidi Levine, Ph.D., Vice President for Student Development & Planning, Simpson College

“This is required reading for every college bound student and their families. Drawing from their own vast experiences, the authors clearly map the path to flourishing in college, offering rich and accessible exercises that promote best practices for success. The first of its kind, this book will not only prepare students for their first year, but will also equip them to excel throughout their college career and beyond.”—Jennifer Rothchild, PhD, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Minnesota Morris

"The transition to college can be a confusing and overwhelming experience for students and their families. This valuable book strives to both minimize that stress and provide a path for students and their families to follow. Written in a practical, straightforward manner, Brenner and Schwartz share their wisdom and experience in a way that brings clarity to the processes and highlights the skills and behaviors that students need to know. Further, they highlight how to find and access support systems, and how to care for yourself in this new environment. This is an important guide to help students and their families get ready and be successful in college."—Craig Elliott, PhD, Assistant Vice President of Enrollment and Student Services and Assistant Professor, Samuel Merritt University

"Builds a critical foundation for how to adult. Beyond its academic success models, this exemplar resource embeds core tenets that teach our students how to become productive, contributing, and compassionate adults. Rather than simply receiving education, students learn how to create an optimal college experience, through focus on academic achievement, wellness, mentorship, social support, and clarity of purpose. With its contemporary attention to the cultural and social worlds of today’s college students, this expansive guidebook gives promise for tomorrow’s global citizens."—Jennifer Fish, PhD, Professor & Chair, Women's Studies Old Dominion University

"How to College gets it right! Navigating college, and doing it successfully can be a challenge, but this book is like having a personal guide. I've worked with many college and university orientation programs, and How to College is a perfect companion for students as they enter their new campus communities. This practical book fits right into gap recognizing the agency of students as young adults, while also providing step-by-step instructions for them on engaging critical campus resources."—Dr. Alan Mueller, Assistant Dean of Students for Activities, Leadership and Intercultural Education, Salem College

"How to College is a great and practical resource for students as they prepare for their undergraduate career. Written directly to our incoming students, it provides many ways to help students "live, learn, and grow" while in college. As a former first generation college student and as a college administrator with over over eighteen years spent on college campuses, I can confidently say How to College is timely, relevant, helpful, and comprehensive. From how to navigate conversations with family, to classes, papers, internships, roommates, involvement—and everything in between—it breaks down the issues I see students facing every day, providing incoming students with the tools, questions, and insight to help them be successful through their college transition and career."—Danielle Morgan Acosta, Ph.D, Director of Student Affairs, Florida State University

“Relevant, timely, and insightful. A modern guide to all the things you didn’t know to ask about before going to college. With advice about tackling course readings, meeting your new roommate, and making the most of online apps to support your success, this book is a great primer for any high school graduate heading off to college!”—Rachel E. Aho, M.S., Associate Director of Housing, University of Utah

How to College is an unprecedented guide, workbook, conversational philosophy treatise that breaks down the transition to college into its smallest, most practical parts. As a university professor who routinely teaches first-year students, I found the book’s descriptions of college-level academics and writing personally instructive for my own classes. My hope is that all first-year students read this book and complete all the exercises the summer before starting college. The book manages to be accessible and starts at the ground level, yet never talks down to its audience and gives readers of varying comfort levels with higher education something to learn and think about.”—Angie Chuang, Associate Professor, Journalism, University of Colorado Boulder

"How to College is the best college prep guide I've ever encountered, equally strong in both breadth and depth. For breadth, the book covers every relevant topic I could have imagined for such a guide, and many that I honestly would never have thought of; all will be very helpful for rising college students and their families alike. And for depth, to cite just one example with which I'm very familiar, the section on college writing is stronger than many entire books dedicated to that subject, and would be a vital aid for students entering first-year writing classes."—Dr. Ben Railton, Professor of English Studies, Fitchburg State University

"Offers practical advice for students as they make the transition from high school to college. Despite my experience in higher education, I could see myself reading How to College with my sons when they begin their collegiate experience and reviewing the checklists of things to know, do and discuss before you go with them. The authors have gone beyond the information covered in a traditional campus orientation and addressed topics that students often learn about when it is too late.”—Keith B. Humphrey, Ph.D., Vice President for Student Affairs, Cal Poly

"Provides students with practical advice and thought-provoking, timely issues to consider before embarking upon their new journey as a college student. The book is easy to read and covers a wide range of topics from study habits and writing an email to mental health, safety, and sexual misconduct. Sprinkled throughout are the voices of current college students, campus staff, and administrators who offer information, insight, and wisdom. The tone light, but serious—a recommended resource for high school students, high school counselors, and even anxious parents and family members!"—Donna A. Lee, Vice President for Student Affairs, Macalester College

"A comprehensive resource which will be valuable to transitioning high school grads and college freshman, as well as their parents, high school counselors, and college staff. It breaks this very complex time into many topics and offers manifold practical suggestions for each component. I plan to recommend it to parents and to fellow counselors."—Christine Ransom, Retired public high school counselor, Hudson Valley, NY

"As a high school senior, I can confidently say How to College is a must-read for any new college student. The helpful tips, descriptive checklists, and advice give the reader insight on how to plan for the transition between high school and college. After reading the book, I feel better prepared to manage change, independence, and academics simultaneously."—Anna O'Keefe, High School Senior

"This comprehensive guide offers invaluable advice to college-bound students . . . The authors address college-bound students directly and emphasize that now they have to be responsible for themselves instead of relying on their parents."Booklist

“A practical and thorough primer for high school students preparing to attend college . . . Readable, well-organized, and explicitly claims to address universal needs and concerns . . . A solid guide.”Kirkus Reviews

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt


You’ve put in a lot of thought and hard work to get where you are now: an “almost” college student. But if you’re like the thousands of students we’ve worked with over the years, you’ve...

About the author

Andrea Malkin Brenner and Lara Hope Schwartz

Andrea Malkin Brenner, PhD taught in the Department of Sociology in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) at American University for over 20 years. She created and directed AU’s award-winning first-year experience program and consults with colleges that wish to create their own first-year transition courses.

Lara Hope Schwartz, JD teaches in the Department of Government at American University School of Public Affairs (SPA) and is the Director of the Project on Civil Discourse. In teaching law and government, she draws on her experience as a legislative lawyer, lobbyist, and communications strategist in leading civil rights organizations.

Carly Glazier
Mike Olliver