Book Review: How to Be a High School Superstar

Cal Newport’s latest book is called How to Be a High School Superstar: A Revolutionary Plan to Get Into College by Standing Out (Without Burning Out).

This is a book with loads of original ideas for any student at any level on how to do remarkable things that will favorably attract the attention of others, and in particular college admissions officers. Cal details his various philosophies such as:

  • Why doing less is the foundation for becoming more impressive.
  • Why demonstrating passion is meaningless, but being interesting is crucial.
  • Why accomplishments that are hard to explain are better than accomplishments that are hard to do.

Woven into effortless prove, compelling personal examples, and rigorous academic research, are boxes such as the following:

The Laundry List Hypothesis: Adding to your schedule an activity that could be replicated by any student willing to sign up and invest a reasonable amount of time in it can hurt your impressiveness.

The Goodness Paradox: Most people assume they know how to become good. Yet most are not good at anything. (He goes on to explain how exactly you can get good at something.)

Cal is probably the most rigorous and eloquent writer in the student success space. Because of the sophistication of his ideas — clearly presented as they may be — I expect this is a book only the best high school students (though all parents) will fully appreciate.

For purposes of full disclosure, in addition to Cal being a good friend and collaborator, there’s a chapter in the book on me. He focuses on how I used the “law of under-scheduling” and “law of randomness” to build a gap year after high school that turned out to be the most phenomenal 15 months of my life.

This is not a book I could have or would have written. He starts from the premise that admission to a selective college is the goal of high school. By emphasizing how one can seem impressive to college admissions officials, Cal addresses the millions of high school students and parents for whom this task is foremost. He wisely ignores folks like me who sit on the radical fringe and start from the premise: “Why college?” Fortunately, many of his philosophies have broad, general application, regardless of the path you choose. So come one, come all.

I highly recommend this book to parents and driven students. Cal and I will do something special for readers of this book later in the year. So if you’re interested go ahead and buy the book and hold onto your Amazon receipt.

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