Book Reviews

Book by: Steve Piscitelli
Review by: Paul Donaldson
Senior Academic and Career Advisor
Academic Advising Center
Tulane University

Academic advisors assigned to work directly with new freshman students are faced with the daunting task of assisting their students with successfully navigating the major life transition that comes with being a new college student. Many institutions have implemented student success or orientation courses to address transitional issues which go beyond the basic focus in academic advising of degree planning and course selection.  The aim of Choices for College Success is to serve as a textbook that can be utilized primarily by these types of freshman success courses.  Piscitelli’s focus on the development of critical thinking, priority management, and personal well-being life skills are intended to serve as a foundation for future success not only in college but in a student’s life and career.  For colleges that do not offer a similar text as part of an orientation-to-college course, this book, along with the accompanying resources, could be useful to academic advisors in guiding and structuring key discussions with new college students within a developmental or proactive model of advising.  Each chapter, and accompanying slide-show presentation, could be utilized to develop workshops led by advising or counseling units.

The transition into a third edition of the text brings several new features including the use of student vignettes to provide context, the introduction of the R.E.D. Model, and an opportunity for critically applying lessons learned at the end of each chapter.  The R.E.D. Model is integral to Piscitelli’s text in providing a structured process that can serve as a guide through key steps in critical thinking: stop and think, recognize assumptions, evaluate information, draw conclusions, and plan of action.  Several topics are covered that are directly applicable to academic advising including exploration of majors and careers, priority management, and achieving goals.  For those who work within a developmental model, this text offers the opportunity to focus on concepts which help develop self-sustaining, independent learners. 

Of particular benefit to academic advisors is the ability to easily translate specific chapters into a workshop. Not only is a slideshow presentation provided on Pearson’s website (after purchasing the text), but activities are included within each chapter.  Chapter topics that would be of particular value as a workshop include: priority management, motivation/goal achievement, listening/note taking, test preparation/taking, and memory/studying.  An additional benefit, particularly for new college students, is Piscitelli’s writing style which offers an easy-to-read format and a logical flow of information.

Though the focus on learning styles as an independent chapter is well intended and can spark self-reflection, a clear empirical relationship between identifying one’s learning style and subsequent student success is an area of continued debate.  Piscitelli utilizes the VAK instrument to help students survey their preferred learning style (visual, auditory, or kinesthetic). While this instrument offers a quick opportunity to assess learning style preferences, advisors and other educators should be cautious to not overly rely on learning style information due to the absence of evidence that links learning styles to subsequent improvements in learning.   

Overall, this text is a quality resource for advisors working with first-semester college students when more robust orientation-to-college programs and/or courses are not available.  Piscitelli utilizes a simplistic and introductory format aimed at reaching new college students who may not have placed significant thought on topics such as critical thinking, priority management, or studying.  His text could serve as a resource for advising teams that aim to develop deliverable conversations, activities, and workshops that go beyond degree and course selection.

Choices for College Success. (2014). Book by Steve Piscitelli. Review by Paul Donaldson, Pearson. 281 pp., $70.93, (Paperback), ISBN# 978-0-321-95250-9

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