Practice for Life: Making Decisions in College

Practice for Life Cover Image

Practice for Life:  Making Decisions in College is written by psychology, sociology, and education faculty from Wellesley College and Bowdoin College.  It is is the result of a five-year long study of college students at several East coast liberal arts colleges (Bates, Bowdoin, Colby, Middlebury, Smith, Trinity, Wellesley).   More than 250 students, with a mix of genders, racial backgrounds, and both domestic and international students were interviewed two or three times per year each of their four years of college and with a follow-up interview the year after graduation.

Although focused on students at residential liberal arts colleges, there is still a lot to be of interest to those of us who work at a large residential public university.  The main reason I picked up this book was to determine if I should put in our College and Career Success Collection at the Shapiro Undergraduate Library (a collection that supports undergraduate interests beyond the classroom with books on college life: college-level study and research skills, studying abroad, applying to graduate school, and preparing for internships and the post-college job search.).  Although this may be of interest to some students, especially those who work in peer advising or other peer support roles, for the most part this book will be of value to faculty, academic advisors, administrators, and maybe some parents of college students. 

The book covers how students navigate several key decisions during their college years:  finding balance and focusing on the present; making and keeping friends; creating home and a sense of belonging; asking for and receiving advice; and learning how to approach new ways of thinking and doing. (p. 171).  One key concept that flows through all of the chapters is "restarting college."  The authors discuss how students continue to start and restart college each year as they make decisions related to friends, declaring a major, study abroad or internship opportunities, and life after college.  In addition to an initial chapter that describes this concept of restarting college, the other chapters are on how students perceive time, their connections with other people, their sense of "home" on campus, seeking advice and their relations with academic advisors, engagement wtih their courses and areas of study,  and practice for life after college.

Each chapter includes excerpts from interviews with students at different points in their academic careers.  In some cases the excerpts are from interviews with the same students over time, so we can see how their views change during their four years at college.  Although they are able to make some generalizations, the authors do also make it clear that each student is different and that there are many different ways that students make and are influenced by their decisions.   We can read about both things that go well for students, but also areas where, at least some, students struggle.  At times I felt like reaching into the book to those students to encourage them to talk to their professor, or advisor, or librarian, or some other appropriate campus resource that is there to help them -- but it was also an important lesson for me to read that these struggles and "failures" are also part of the college learning experience.  Students, we hope, learn by facing the consequences of their decisions.

Despite being a research-based book, the chapters are quite readable.  There are extensive notes in the appendix and will direct readers to more resources.

You can find Practice for Life: Making Decisions in College by Lee Cuba, Nancy Jennings, Suzanne Lovett, and Joseph Swingle in the Shapiro Undergraduate Library.