Advice on college from the front line

The other day, a friend and I were talking about college. April's preeminent status in the college-choice process was prompting the chat, and causing us to muse that it wouldn't be long before we'd face the process with our children.

It became clear as we talked that our own college experiences couldn't have been more different. I had really enjoyed my four years; she hadn't. I had picked a major that suited me well; she still didn't know why she'd chosen hers. I had found at least a couple of professors who offered useful guidance; she hadn't gotten to know any faculty members well.

Why do some students recall college with satisfaction, and others with real regrets? It's a question that Richard Light, a professor at Harvard University, delves into in his new book, "Making the Most of College: Students Speak Their Minds" (Harvard University Press). Based on 10 years of interviews with Harvard students, the book distills their wisdom and quotes them liberally on such matters as choosing classes, studying, diversity on campus, and the importance of writing.

What they have to say would apply on most campuses. These are people who talk thoughtfully but approachably about managing their time and making connections with others. Many make it clear that they've confronted their share of self-doubt and missteps.

The Darwinian tone that now dominates much of the college discussion is absent. That alone makes this a good read for students, teachers, and parents. And listening to those in the hot seat is a good way to start thinking about how to enjoy four key years - and to realize that while negotiating college may not be a science, it doesn't have to be a mystery.

E-mail newcomba@csps.com.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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