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How to Win At College by Cal Newport - Book Summary

7 min read

How to Win at College is a collection of advice author Cal Newport has distilled from some of the most successful students from prestigious universities in the world.

It’s one of those books that I wish I had read earlier in my student life, and it certainly did teach me some unconventional tips that helped make college a much more pleasurable experience.

You can read more books written by the author here.

My Highlights

  • Don’t do all of your reading.
  • Sunday sets the tone for the week that follows.
  • You must avoid bad courses at all costs.
  • When assigned a long-term project, finish some amount of work toward its completion that very same day. This doesn’t have to be a major chunk of work. Thirty minutes is enough. Do something simple: jot down a research schedule on your calendar; sketch out an outline; check out and skim the introduction of several relevant books; write a series of potential thesis statements. This is all it takes.
  • It turns out that mom was right; you need to make your bed every morning, preferably immediately after you wake up.
  • Here is the secret that your neighborhood Rhodes Scholar doesn’t want you to know: Any student can create an impressively large list of awards. The key is to stop thinking of scholarships and awards as gifts handed down from above to only the most deserving students.
  • The reality is that many scholarships and awards are actually handed down from an overworked, uninterested administrator who was assigned the unfortunate task of choosing a winner from the depressingly small pool of students who actually bothered to apply correctly.
  • You should never begin studying without a systemized plan for what you are going to review, in what format, and how many times.
  • If you want to become a standout student, you must befriend a professor.
  • You heard it here first: You absolutely have the ability to run a campus organization.
  • With this in mind, you should read a newspaper every day.
  • Be it playing the guitar, writing fiction, shooting hoops, or cooking, develop a skill you can be known for.
  • Now block out the hours you will be in class. Then block out the hours you will be eating meals, and when you will be in meetings or other scheduled events.
  • Unless you are starring in a Rocky movie, remember: Giving up is a tactical skill, not a weakness.
  • While at college, do not nap.
  • So instead of hunkering down and letting your Freshman Fall pass by harmlessly, embrace it wholeheartedly by signing up for something your first week.
  • If you want to stand out at college you should foster an attitude of “anything is possible.”
  • And one of the best ways to develop this attitude is to constantly be working on a “Grand Project.”
  • if you are motivated by young entrepreneur success stories, you might jot down a clever business idea, create a Web site, and launch your very own dorm-room corporation.
  • When you work on a highly ambitious project, you feel invincible, like you are a step ahead of the rest of the world, forging unique paths to great success.
  • take art history and astronomy before you graduate.
  • The advantages of blowing the curve on an assignment are obvious.
  • Make sure that you always ask at least one question at every lecture.
  • Research is where all the action is.
  • Simply go to the relevant departmental Web sites and read about ongoing research projects. E-mail those professors whose work interests you. Tell them you are interested in getting more experience in the academic world. Mention some specifics of their particular research projects to impress them, and then ask if they are in need of an undergraduate research assistant. Even if they say no, they will probably be able to point you in the direction of someone who does need help.
  • Schedule your free time.
  • work time is any time that you are not explicitly relaxing.
  • Why bother dressing nicely for class? Two reasons. One, it makes you feel better about yourself. And when you are happy, you have more energy and pay attention better in class. If you dress nicely, you are sending yourself the message that you are ready to get started and attack the day.
  • Your room decor should create a space that is both comfortable and a healthy reflection of your personality.
  • You have to start studying well in advance.
  • Writing is really, really important for a college student.
  • You can accomplish this by joining the staff of a publication on campus. It could be the daily newspaper, a writing magazine, a science journal, a political paper, or a humor rag.
  • You can also write guest opinion pieces, offer to tackle proposal writing for clubs you are involved with, or send well-crafted letters to local politicians and newspapers.
  • taking the time to eat a social meal with your friends is a great idea; just don’t do it more than once a day.
  • You need to journey to a place where you will be cut off from everyday student life,
  • Schedule an escape for yourself every single week. And do it alone. Treat it like taking medicine.
  • College only becomes overwhelming when you let it consume your entire life. If you make a point to regularly escape from the world of roommates, tests, late papers, and parties, your collegiate stresses can be kept in check.
  • In the Ten Commandments for getting good grades, Thou shall not study in thy room is commandment one through five; it’s that important.
  • Don’t study in groups.
  • Regardless of the specifics at your school, if there is any possible opportunity to join an honors program, go for it!
  • you should do some amount of schoolwork every single day.
  • You should try to attend at least two guest lectures every month.
  • Don’t let the decision to exercise become a debatable question.
  • Stay in touch with your friends from back home.
  • The secret here is that you, the student, have to take the initiative to make your adviser useful.
  • A good rule is to always use three days to write your short papers.
  • Once you have landed upon this magic number of sleep hours, keep it consistent.
  • Take the hour before an exam to relax.
  • Imagine yourself writing a strong essay on this topic, imagine the professor handing the class a copy of your essay as an example of a good answer. This technique is more than just shameless ego-stroking, it builds your confidence, and, more important, it warms up your mind in a good and controlled sort of way.
  • continue thinking confidence-boosting thoughts about doing really well.
  • To only study the material but not prepare your mind for the stress of the test-taking experience, means you are only partially prepared to do your best.
  • you cannot let a busy schedule come between you and your friendships.
  • Arrange to have one meal with some friends almost every day
  • Most important, if a good friend needs help, drop everything and go.
  • different students’ grades on any given test or paper are not directly comparable.
  • How do you upgrade your notion of personal success? One easy method is to seek out phenomenal achievers.
  • When you spend enough time talking to phenomenal achievers, two things happen. First, you will become inspired. The thought of accomplishing the sort of achievements that fill these student’s résumés will pique your energy. Second, learning from the details of their endeavors, you begin to notice how the interests in your life could feasibly lead to similar accomplishments.
  • it’s much more important that you spend your undergraduate years developing an ability to synthesize ideas and learn.
  • Don’t decide to start working the day before.
  • Find something every single day that will make you laugh.
  • In general, making sure to use high-quality and well-organized school supplies is an important way to reduce the stress of disorganization.
  • If you have a hard time working consistently on long-term projects, the solution might be the use of a work-progress journal.
  • if you don’t actively seek out fun, it won’t actively seek out you.
  • Take the most important projects or commitments with which you are involved, and pump up your criteria for success.
  • If you want to be a successful student, forget about your G.P.A.
  • Always go to class!
  • Set arbitrary deadlines. By setting arbitrary deadlines, you blur the distinction between small and large assignments, and turn your schedule into one manageable flow of many small tasks.
  • the most important reason to eat healthy is to maximize your energy.
  • During the school week, when you are attending classes, studying, and working on assignments daily, make a habit of treating your meals as nothing more than fuel. When the weekend rolls around, feel free to enjoy your meals more.
  • But don’t just volunteer, volunteer quietly.
  • approach every paper as if you were trying to win a Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting.
  • Summer vacation is not really a vacation.
  • Once you have decided on a destination, explore many routes to get you there.
  • Don’t take breaks between classes!
  • Unless you have more than an hour to kill, the context is too rushed for you to establish the concentration you need to accomplish worthwhile academic endeavors. Instead, use this time to take care of some chores.
  • Leave networking to business professionals.
  • Write an Op-Ed piece once every semester.
  • You should buy a filing cabinet
  • You need to find your own secret study space.
  • You should build your entire approach to studying around the concept that making yourself recall specific information is the absolute best way to learn.
  • Organize the messages in your e-mail in-box like you would your paper files.
  • Relax for at least half an hour before you go to sleep.
  • Some of the happiest and most successful students I have ever met possess an almost superhuman ability to shut off stressful thoughts once they decide they are done for the day.
  • To be a successful student, you must abandon the start-slow, end-fast mind-set, and instead approach all projects by aiming to start fast, end slow.
  • Take, for example, a funding proposal for a club you run. If you have two weeks to finish it, plan to have most of it done by the end of the first week. The day before you leave for spring vacation, do your packing in the morning, not late at night. If you have a big class presentation to research, complete the work with days to spare. No matter how big or how small the assignment, get in the habit of starting fast and ending slow. if you make a point of getting as much accomplished as early as possible, your life will be significantly less frantic. This is a fundamental shift in how most students approach their work, but if you give it a try, you will become much more successful.
  • Spend a semester studying abroad.
  • “Don’t have no regrets.”

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