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Notes: How to Win at College by Cal Newport

November 20, 2021

Abstract: This is a summary of the main ideas in Cal Newport’s “How to Win at College”.

I spent quite sometime trying to come up with a comprehensive yet concise format to summarize this book. I ended up either copying the whole book or noting only generic, fuzzy advices both of which are of little use to a freshman. Rather, what follows is a summary of the general ideas overarching the book.


Time is your most valuable resource as a college student. To do more things, you have to do current things smartly and efficiently. Study systems, task delegation, work progress journal, spaced repetition, or any crazy idea that can structure your time is worth it. This is the single most important principle. Most of the advices are aimed at optimization. . .


. . .Which brings me to feedback systems. You must have feedback systems that work for you going for academics, diet, physical health, mental well being, and sleep at least. Review of courses per semester, talking to advisers, “escaping” out of college periodically. When you feel like you’re loosening up, think about what you’re gonna lose.


Friends are your most important assets at college. Respect them. Keep in touch with school friends, be exceedingly generous, be known for a unique skill, and of course, enjoy campus life. That enables you to tackle the stresses of academics.


Kick above your belt. Conjure crazy things and strive to make them possible. Dress properly, attend guest lectures, take part in campus clubs, write a lot, assume positions of responsibility, read journals and newspapers, seek overachievers, and always let things happen to you.


Fizzing or burning out are no options. Don’t bog yourself with too many things. Failed commitments degrade self-confidence. Academics must be consistent, seek out the library to study, stay focused and study alone, review with peers, evaluate, and analyse.


You must let yourself be known. Be genuinely interested in research, refrain from “networking”, befriend a professor or an adviser (they will be valuable later on), engage in class.


This was a quick and good read. I would definitely recommend this book to a college freshman (A heads up: The book is kind of biased towards US college cultures).

I vehemantly refrain from books that read sentences like “Do X” or “Be Y” because if you actually don’t do X or be Y, then it doesn’t make a difference. Same conditions hold here. As they say, find your fit.

Basil | @itbwtsh

Tech, Science, Design, Economics, Finance, and Books.
Basil blogs about complex topics in simple words.
This blog is his passion project.