Book by Josh Richardson
Review by Denise Rinn Butler
The College of Arts and Sciences
Kent State University

Handbooks abound offering guidance to freshman students transitioning to the academy. Written by administrators, these texts often seem idealistic, exposing the author’s distance from the topic. In Ahead of the Pack: Balancing Your Way to Personal Success in College, Josh Richardson offers an essential alternative. A recent college graduate currently in medical school, Richardson fully engages his topic, addressing his audience with the directness and understanding natural only to a current student.

A facility for addressing his subject personally is one of Richardson’s strengths. Stressing the importance of multiculturalism, the author describes how his experience living with an Indian roommate taught him about another culture and the adjustment inherent to the process of moving from another country (p. 20). Discussing goal setting, Richardson provides an illustration from his academic history, the steps needed in reaching a seemingly insurmountable goal, the achievement of an “A” in Physics (p. 44). Instead of providing remote examples of hypothetical students, Richardson gains the reader’s trust through empathy.

Richardson writes that “excellence requires planning and goal setting” (p. 188). Applying this credo beyond the classroom, he addresses a vital topic merely at the margins in many freshman seminar courses—the holistic aspect of academic success. A well-managed life is the best fuel for scholastic achievement and Richardson challenges students to take control of the areas in which many of them flounder. In a chapter on money, Richardson offers advice on financial aid, warns against credit card debt and exhorts students to maintain their budgets by living frugally. To assist students in evaluating realistically their spending habits, he includes a “Budget Worksheet” (p. 117). In chapters on health and fitness, Richardson encourages students to take responsibility with goals worksheets and meal trackers (p. 173-194). Since Richardson himself has recently confronted these issues, his sometimes-strict advice is palatable.

The text’s visual elements vary in their utility. Academic advisors wondering where they fit into Richardson’s framework can feel confident. Richardson peppers his text with “The Advisor Says” icon, a feature that not only provides instruction on jobs and study strategies, but also stresses the importance of consistent academic advising. A weaker element is the use of information boxes along the margins of the book. While at first appealing, they become tedious to the eye, a problem which could be have been corrected with some diversification in layout and typeface.

Ahead of the Pack: Balancing Your Way to Personal Success in College is a necessary supplement to the collection of student success guides. Because of his proximity to the subject, Josh Richardson is convincing in his assessment of success strategies. An accessible guide for undergraduate students and advisors alike, this text is highly recommended for instructors of freshman seminar courses.

Ahead of the Pack: Balancing Your Way to Personal Success in College. (2006). Book by Josh Richardson. Review by Denise Rinn Butler. Clifton Park, NY: Thomson Delmar Learning. $14.95. 264 pp. ISBN: # 0-4018-8274-9
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