Book Reviews

Book by Lynn F. Jacobs & Jeremy S. Hyman
Review by Tamie Saffell
Assistant Director, Academic Advising & Learning Center
Western Oregon University


Advisors and faculty work to help students reach their full academic potential. Assisting students in identifying the academic success strategies that work for them and learning how to navigate the campus culture becomes the challenge. Each of the eight chapters of The Secrets of College Success by Jacobs and Hyman contain five to seven lists covering a specific college success topic. The authors begin their chapters with a brief explanation on how the tips and strategies from the lists will help students thrive during college. 

The easy to read lists makes the book useful in both advising sessions and the class room . For example, chapter 6, “Partnering With the Professor” (p. 121), contains information on emailing etiquette, office visits, classroom basics, and other tips on building relationships with faculty. Reading a list addressing a specific challenge for a student or a class and then discussing the list requires only a short amount of time in either setting. 

Jacobs and Hyman’s book, however, has two major shortcomings that limit the overall usefulness of the entire book as a textbook or as an advising tool. First, the authors’ use of a casual tone makes the entire book questionable for a class that deals with academic success such as a first-year- experience course or a study skills course.  For example, the list entitled, “The College Student’s Bill of Rights” (p. 22) presents 19 articles which humorously addresses the rights students are and are not entitled to during the college experience. The authors’ attempt to cover serious issues such as the high cost of textbooks, rising tuition, the use of adjunct faculty and TAs, and other topics using humor may not be understood by first-year students who have not experienced many of these issues and thus are not able to relate to the humor.   

Second, this is not a scholarly book on the topic of academic success even though the authors both hold doctoral degrees. In fact, the authors do not offer any references to support the validity of their lists. Some lists have a universal application such as “12 Tips for A+ Test Preparation” (p. 100). Other lists seemed to be based on personal preference and the majority of the tips presented may not work for all students such as the “Top 10 Time-Management Tips” (p. 48).  On this list the first tip encourages students to block their courses all together and not leave time between them. For some students, such a strategy does not work because their active personality does not allow them to sit through two or three classes and pay attention.  

Jacobs and Hyman have written a fun book of lists to help students prepare for and face the challenges of college.  Certain lists offer more universal use than others and may help open a conversation with students about challenges to academic success. The authors do a great job of encouraging students to attend class, understand course expectations, and seek help from professors. They create clear expectations that being a good student requires action and not just passive attendance on the part of students.  The main points of instructing students about their responsibility in college and helping students assume responsibility for their own learning makes the book useful to have as a resource despite the sometimes inappropriate humor and casual tone of the book. 


The secrets of college success.  (2010). Book by Lynn F. Jacobs & Jeremy S. Hyman. Review by Tamie Saffell. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.  198 pp., $15.95 ISBN # 978-0-470-87466-0
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