The best books about the experiences of underprepared college freshmen

Andrea Malkin Brenner Author Of How to College: What to Know Before You Go (and When You're There)
By Andrea Malkin Brenner

Who am I?

Having worked on college campuses for 25 years as a professor, administrator, and first-year experience program designer, I’ve seen first-hand how freshmen are increasingly failing at “adulting” because they are unprepared for the realities of campus life. I take on this needed preparation as co-author of How to College: What to Know Before You Go (and When You’re There) and as the creator of the Talking College™ Card Deck, discussion prompts for college-bound students and their parents/guardians. I share my insider knowledge with college-bound students and their parents at talks and workshops throughout the U.S. My goal is to help both groups thrive as they prepare for the upcoming transition.


I wrote...

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

By Andrea Malkin Brenner, Lara Hope Schwartz,

Book cover of How to College: What to Know Before You Go (and When You're There)

What is my book about?

The only book of its kind that guides first-year students to thrive in the transition after high school graduation and throughout their first year on campus, emphasizing the student’s ultimate self-reliance. It draws on the authors’ experiences teaching and working with thousands of first-year college students over decades. The book is filled with important resources needed to set the foundation of success at the collegiate level including lessons and activities on money; time and self-management; co-curricular and civic-engagement experiences; navigating relationships with family and friends back at home and roommates and peers on campus; exploring new college identities; finding one's voice inside and outside of the classroom; health, wellness and safety; and the importance of finding mentors for support in this life transition.

The books I picked & why

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My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student

By Rebekah Nathan,

Book cover of My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student

Why this book?

Anthropology professor Rebekah Nathan made the bold decision to do what anthropologists do best: live amongst those of a misunderstood culture. After fifteen years of teaching at a large university, she left her faculty position and went undercover as a freshman. Nathan moved into a dorm, ate off the student meal plan, and enrolled in courses as a full-time student. The book is filled with thoughtful insights about the challenges first-year students face, including academic stressors, looming student debt, and an increasingly disengaged student culture. My Freshman Year exposes a realistic view of the new transactional-cultured university campus, while simultaneously offering a compassionate peek into the daily struggles of new students.

How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success

By Julie Lythcott-Haims,

Book cover of How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success

Why this book?

Lythcott-Haims, former Dean of Students and Admissions at Stanford University, offers an exceptional parenting book that encourages parents to do less, not more for their children. The book takes on the negative outcomes that “helicopter parenting” has on children as they reach adulthood. The author backs up her messaging with solid research and personal interviews. She explains where students fail to thrive in college, and discusses the role that parents play by shielding their children from college-readiness, including learning to make mistakes and solve their own problems. This is a guidebook that encourages parents to allow their children independence and the ability to contemplate the young adults they want to be in college and beyond.

At the Intersection: Understanding and Supporting First-Generation Students

By Robert Longwell-Grice (editor), Hope Longwell-Grice (editor),

Book cover of At the Intersection: Understanding and Supporting First-Generation Students

Why this book?

The editors and contributing authors present research and theory interspersed with unique personal experiences of the journey taken by first-generation students as they move through college. The volume provides the reader with up-to-date data on two- and four-year colleges, and discusses the intersection of first-generation status with varied student identities including LGBT, low-income, African-American, Latinx, Native American, and undocumented. The last section of the book offers an introduction to practices, policies, and programs across the U.S., and directs educators, policymakers, and administrators to make campuses inclusive for diverse first-generation college students. At the Intersection is a resource for understanding and effectively responding to first-generation students’ divergent, shared, and intersectional identities in order to understand and alter their access, retention, learning, and well-being on the college campus.

Navigating the Transition from High School to College for Students with Disabilities

By Meg Grigal (editor), Joseph Madaus (editor), Lyman Dukes III (editor), Debra Hart (editor)

Book cover of Navigating the Transition from High School to College for Students with Disabilities

Why this book?

High school graduates with disabilities are often unaware of today’s new and rapidly developing options and limitations to postsecondary educational resources. This comprehensive guidebook provides excellent strategies for students who will be requesting disability access in preparation for the transition from high school into two and four-year colleges. Navigating the Transition from High School to College for Students with Disabilities includes an array of this information for both college-bound students and disability support staff. These include user-friendly campus resources, lessons for understanding and requesting access to campus accommodations, support for applying for financial aid, and strategies for meeting professional expectations.

The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids

By Alexandra Robbins,

Book cover of The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids

Why this book?

In the year of her tenth reunion, journalist Alexandra Robbins returns to her former high-pressure public high school in Bethesda, MD. For the next year, she follows eight intelligent, motivated, and overachieving high school students through their daily lives. The author presents a host of complicated issues plaguing high-achieving suburban high schools including intense stress amongst students in AP courses, an epidemic of cheating, parental pressures to perform, unprescribed ADD drug use, and a cutthroat college admissions process. Although this is a nonfiction book scaffolded by investigative journalism, it reads like a novel. Robbins presents a clear warning to students as they navigate the pressures of achieving at peak levels and to parents about how serious the “Ivy-league obsession” is in American culture.

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