A year's worth of tips to help those headed for college; 'There just aren't any formulas for success at college'; The College Survival Kit, by Irv Brechner. New York: Bantam Books. $2.95.
College, those wonderful years when intellects are developed and finely tuned , when true love is sought and sometimes achieved, when career plans are occasionally formulated and acted upon, is the subject of Irv Brechner's "The College Survival Kit," a how-to-study, how-to-plan manual on the nuts and bolts of college life.
Brechner, recently graduated from college himself, has prepared 51 "survival strategies" for the person about to enter ivy towers and hallowed halls.
But unfortunately, the author's emphasis on "survival" is not quite appropriate, with its negative connotations. For as almost any college student will tell you, college is about more than surviving, it's about thriving, at least after the initial disorientation.
Brechner does address the major topics of college life: dorm living, exam preparation, paper writing, etc., but doesn't shed any new light on these perennial subjects. What's more, there is nothing "proven" about these strategies as advertised; though they probably worked for the author, there's no guarantee they will work for everyone. He recommends:
* Reading with one's index finger to speed up the process. But many would confess that reading in such a way hinders, not helps.
* Mandatory classroom attendance for best results. While it is true that continuous attendance makes a "course of study" truly a "course," it is by no means necessary. Stories are told of students enrolled in a college who lived in an entirely different city and traveled to the college just to take exams. And they often did well! Moreover, even professors tell you that a lecture can be skipped as long as the book the professor has written and is quoting from is read and studied.
* Choosing courses in advance. While this is often a good idea, it is sometimes impossible. Professors take sabbaticals at the last minute, courses are deleted from the course catalog, and it is often difficult to go into an academic year fully set on a course of study.
* Joining clubs, both extracurricular and social. While this is usually a good idea in that it facilitates the process of meeting people, these clubs can sometimes be invidious. Clubs are notoriously elitist, and it is wise to be careful in joining an organization that will attach a label to you simply by belonging to it.
The author's overall purpose is "to redirect the existing traditional modes of study acquired in high school that allow for endless free time with decidedly negative results into a productive, positive, result-oriented concept of study." Herein lies the emphasis Brechner places on time.m The author suggests that if you adhere to basic study habits, you will not only achieve academically, but maintain a booming social life and have time for extracurricular activities.
Oh, that it were all so easy! One can follow these rules, make optimal use of time, and still be without an "A" average, a date, and a position in student government. There just aren't any formulas for success at college.
While Brechner's strategies are sometimes shortsighted, they do contain some valuable information on financial aid, basic books to own, and the like. But even the useful strategy on setting up footnotes properly which the author includes in "The College Survival Kit" is unnecessary, presuming you buy his basic books.
More alarming than anything about this little book is its accentuation on the future. The author thinks the four years at college are a time to prepare for the future. He says: "The first thing to do is to look at and evaluate the situation you'll be in four years from now."
But how many of those in their first year of college actually know what their career goals and life plans will be? And should they? After all, a liberal arts institution is not a vocational school. The relationship of college to an individual's future is important, but not the all- encompassing force Brechner implies it should be.
The author of "The College Survival Kit" writes like someone who has just emerged from an environment containing large doses of that infection currently spreading over campuses: pre-professionalism. He and his advice are too future-conscious.
His text includes some words of wisdom worth heeding: "Remember a homework assignment is not something you do for a prof; you do it for yourself." But one can't help thinking that these homework assignments are for the individual's future, not merely for the joy of learning.
Yes, exams are important, good note taking is useful, class attendance should be mandatory. But so is learning not in the classroom, not from a "handbook," but from the unpredictabilities of college life.
Do you know what a "gut" is? An "all- nighter"? This is the kind of lighthearted information that could have been included in "The College Survival Kit." Instead, the author chose to write a sobering account of how to do well, and why to do well.
My advice: If you put this book on the shelf next to Joyce and Tolstoy, don't reach for it too quickly.