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  • Allison Grandits

2020: Year In (College) Books

Updated: Mar 11, 2021

I’ve always been an avid reader, and I love sharing books with others. Thankfully, I can incorporate both of these things into my work as an Independent Educational Consultant, and I’ve discovered there is no shortage of books in this field. Here’s a summary of my year in (college) books.

I had been waiting to read this book for ages, and it did NOT disappoint. If you’ve ever wanted to see behind the curtain of an admissions office, this is a must-read. The main focus is on Emory, Davidson, and the University of Washington, but Selingo interviewed many others from different institutions, and their insights are fascinating. It is divided into three parts, one for each season: Fall (Recruitment), Winter (Reading), and Spring (Decision). Selingo discusses Early Decision, Athletes, Legacies, Financial Aid, Shaping A Class, and more. While some of the information is familiar to me as a counselor, there is so much wisdom and truth in the pages. I wrote down over 60 quotes from this book, and one that may help you avoid getting caught up in the “rat race” of college admissions is: “Make the initial college list about your needs and fuss with the names later on.” This is very much the approach I take with my families when I help them discover their GRAND fit school.

First off, I love the subtitle of this book: Killing The Five-Paragraph Essay. I knew it was a must-read. As a college counselor, I read a LOT of student essays. Many of my students struggle because they have never been taught how to write about themselves or how to write well. They are given rules and structures, and writing has become standardized. There is pressure to be perfect, and anything less than an A is not valued. Good writing is different. It requires curiosity and creativity. Openness and engagement. Responsibility, flexibility, persistence, and metacognition. These “habits of mind” require students to think differently and really take the time to flesh out an idea.

I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Jeannine Jannot via Zoom this fall. As a professor and academic skills coach, Dr. Jannot’s book discusses why academically strong students struggle and academic success tips. She coins the term “rigor tipping point,” a concept I often saw as a school counselor. This idea is when students can no longer easily manage their academic load because school work has become more rigorous. I often saw this during the first semester of Junior year, but Dr. Jannot sees it most during 8th grade, 10th grade, and the first semester of college. Her book ends with “77 Tips to Be Productive and Well,” which provides practical advice for students (and parents) on topics like study habits/skills, organization, time management, mindset, sleep, stress, and screens. I HIGHLY recommend checking out this functional and informative book.

I read another book by Jeffrey Selingo. This one is focused on technology and the impact it has had on the workforce. He identifies data-driven skills like digital awareness, contextual thinking, and curiosity as some of the “new liberal arts” and shares why these are sought after by employers. At the end of the book, he gives readers specific questions to help them “craft their career story.” These questions focus on concrete experiences the student has had during college and internships (paid preferably), and who they envision themselves becoming in the future.

Choosing College discussed 5 main reasons (or jobs) people go to college. Many of the high school students I work with feel as though college is the logical next step required of them, but they don’t have the intrinsic motivation for success (Job #2). Others have their heart set on a dream school (Job #1), or they want to make a change (Job #3). The other two Jobs are less relevant in my work: typically, adult learners who want to advance their career (Job #4) or extend themselves (Job #5). I am excited to equip myself with the tools to work with all of these populations and help students know their “why” in college. Your why is so much more important than your “what” or your “where.” Michael Horn co-hosts the FutureU podcast with Jeffrey Selingo, and I always enjoy hearing their takes on education.

Journalist Paul Tough shares narratives of high schoolers completing the college application process and brings in research on how college admissions has changed over the years. He highlights how our system favors the privileged and shares successful (and unsuccessful) initiatives at different institutions. It’s definitely a denser read than most of the others on this list, and it’s very data-heavy, but a great read for those interested in education policy and equality.

To be honest, I disagreed with this book a lot. For those of you unfamiliar, Anthony ONeal works for Ramsey Solution, Dave Ramsey’s company. Dave is completely against debt of all kinds. While I agree that families shouldn’t sacrifice their livelihoods to pay for college, nor should a student take out loans to pay for a “lifestyle,” I find that there is great benefit in leaving home and expanding one’s horizons. ONeal feels like most students should start at a local college, live at home before transferring, and then spend hours upon hours applying for outside scholarships. As someone who has spent a lot of time researching merit scholarships, the largest and most consistent aid will come directly from the college. Most community colleges are not equipped with merit aid, and merit aid for transfer students is almost non-existent. Private scholarships, which ONeal discusses a lot, are few and far between. According to Savings For College, 8.1% of students received a private scholarship, and the average amount was $3,852. That’s a lot of work for not a lot of payout. My advice, if cost matters, is to focus your list on affordable colleges from the get-go. Then, if any outside aid comes in, it’s icing on the cake.

I’m still reading this one, but I should be finished before the end of 2020. In December, I met (again via Zoom) one of the authors, Andrea Malkin Brenner. This is an extremely practical book that will help students successfully transition from high school to college. It provides tips and life skills on topics like communication, independent living, professionalism, and academic expectations. While there is a lot of information in this book, it is broken down into easy-to-digest bites. Also, each chapter has callouts that break down things to “Know Before You Go,” “Do Before You Go,” “Discuss Before You Go,” and “When You’re There,” and Brenner provides “Pro-Tips” along the way. Parents of teens will find this book helpful as well, and the authors provide thoughtful reflection questions in each chapter.

This is another book specifically for parents. There is a lot of overlap with How To College, but I think this book is better for parents struggling with the transition, especially if this is their first child to leave the nest. The authors start with early adolescents and go all the way through college, and the focus is often on how to stay together as a family unit. They also have a section on college admissions, and I really like this sentiment from the book: “The admissions process can feel like a lottery where our teens have little control over the outcome. But these feelings are heightened and easily confused with the feelings we have about the impending changes in our families. We need to be honest with ourselves and tweeze these emotions apart.”

One of the first books I read this year was Marching Off the Map, by Dr. Tim Elmore. I was first introduced to Dr. Elmore through his Habitudes Leadership program, which I implemented at my high school, and his Growing Leaders blog. Gen-Z is a unique generation, and Dr. Elmore’s research can also help parents raise emotionally healthy young adults better. The target audience is educators, parents, coaches, and any other leader of this generation, but students can benefit as well. They learn differently, so we need to reach them differently. Gen-Zers get a lot of hate on the media, but I truly believe they will be the ones to change the world. Dr. Elmore has several books on Gen-Z that are on my reading list for 2021.

What about you? Did you read any of these books or others on college admissions, Gen-Z, or parenting teenagers this year? Let us know in the comments. And as always, reach out to us if you have any questions regarding college admissions.

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