Book by Sherrie Nist-Olejnik & Jodi Patrick Holschuh
Review by Melissa L. Johnson
Assistant Director, University Honors Program
University of Florida

College rules! How to study, survive, and success in college by Sherrie Nist-Olejnik and Jodi Patrick Holschuh was designed to serve as a reference guide for first year students. Students can read the book from cover to cover or pick and choose chapters relevant to their interests and needs. Now in its third edition, this book focuses heavily on study skills and academic success, topics any advisor might be interested in sharing with their students.

Each chapter begins with focus question, ends with summarizing points, and is interspersed with text boxes full of advice in the form of urban legends, evidence-based tips for success, technology suggestions, and even tips directed at adult students. Chapter topics include understanding professors, stress management, study skills, taking notes, and active reading. Of particular interest to academic advisors are the chapters on course selection and choosing a major. Both authors use a conversational style throughout the book based on their years of experience as faculty members researching student learning and college transitions.

The strongest chapters in the book are the ones focused directly on various study skills such as note-taking and active listening, as well as practical tips on understanding a course syllabus and concentrating while studying. That these chapters are the strongest is not surprising considering the authors’ research interests and backgrounds. These chapters provide several examples for students to determine their best strategies for becoming successful students.

Unfortunately, there were more weaknesses than strengths with this book. In some places the tone was too informal, full of clichés, and borderline inappropriate, as though the authors were trying to cater to the language their readers might use. Referring to one’s roommate as a “real freak” (p. 72) when discussing the adjustment to living with someone for the first time is just one example of the authors using such language. Just a few pages later, the authors discuss the academic adjustments students will have to make in college by referencing “those geeks in high school who always did their homework” (p. 77).  

The authors attempted to convince students of the value of getting to know their professors in two separate chapters, but that attempt backfired by contradictory statements they made about professors in other chapters. Despite encouraging students to learn more about what their professors do (primarily research in many cases) in chapter 3, the authors then assume students might consider talking about a professor’s research topic as a “kill me now” moment (p. 151). A similar sentiment appears in chapter 15.

While the authors did acknowledge that academic advisors could serve as a resource for more than just course schedules, they started the section on working with advisors by mentioning that advisors usually “get a bum rap because it seems they are always getting blamed for misguiding students” (p. 45). While it is true that students do need to be responsible for knowing academic policies, it was unfortunate that the authors chose to blame potential misinformation from advisors as the reason.

In conclusion, I cannot recommend this book in its entirety to my colleagues in academic advising. There is potential to draw from the examples used in the study skills sections which were quite strong, but overall I found the book’s tone insulting to advisors, professors, and even the readers.

College rules! How to study, survive, and succeed in college. (2011). Book by Sherrie Nist-Olejnik & Jodi Patrick Holschuh. Review by Melissa Johnson. New York: Random House, Inc., 342 pp., $14.99, (paperback), ISBN # 978-1-60774-001-8

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