Putting common sense into print apparently lends it a patina of wisdom, or at least that seems to be the case with Ralph and Valerie Carnes' new guide, "The Essential College Survival Handbook." For $7.95 (or more, if you want it for your permanent collection), it offers the exact advice that your parents, teachers and guidance counselors have been handing out free for years: Study hard, be organized, plan ahead.
The Carneses' suggestions aren't bad; they're just painfully obvious. For example, to raise your grade point average, they advise studying harder. One is not quite sure what to expect from a book entitled "The Essential College Survival Handbook," (visions of textbook-toting coed guerrillas lost in the jungle of academe spring to mind), but it should offer something a little more original than pep talks on "turning problems into projects."
Part of the tidal wave of self-help books flooding America, this guide is one that preys upon readers like myself desiring to discover a shortcut to success. Rationally, we know one doesn't exist, but still we shell out hard-earned bucks for the delusion.
For Junior from Chevy Chase, whose mummy and daddy and the entire Sidwell staff have been mapping out his entree into an Ivy League alma mater, the book is useless. But for a veteran or a homemaker entering college in a time very different from that in which he or she left high school, the guide can handily explain what all those initials stand for: ETS, SAT, BEOG, ACT, etc.
In addition to detailing the typical college route, SATs, College Day, interview, acceptance and matriculation, the Carneses describe such alternative routes as entering a junior college, taking noncredit remedial work, or attending part time. Their chapter on financial aid is excellent. They explain clearly the differences in loans, scholarships and grants and provide information about many obscure sources of money. For example, how many women know about the Clairol Loving Care Scholarship, or the Law Enforcement Education Program for poli-sci majors?
The handbook also covers how to get the most out of college once you've gotten in. Selecting a major, choosing courses, working with an adviser and developing good study habits all are mentioned. Nothing in the book will surprise anyone, but it doesn't hurt to hear again such age-old dictums as: Get to know your professors, plan your exam schedule and explore new fields of knowledge. The Carneses touch upon the problems of disabled students, and briefly discuss the dilemmas of part-time day, and married ones, but give short shrift to the special case of minority students.
While the Carneses provide a perfectly adequate rundown on the academic side of college, their handling of the collegiate social sphere is an unmitigated disaster. In addition to the cringe-inducing slang -- "getting laid," "putting one's pad together," and "right on" are antediluvian -- the book develops a schizoid personality whenever it discusses male-female relationships. "Men" are told where to hunt down "girls," how to check out "the quality of coeds in a certain dorm," and are urged several times to use Playboy's college issue and "Advisor" column to remedy their personal problems:
"If you run into trouble, write to the Playboy Advisor . . . You'll find in the 'Advisor' column one of the sanest, most enlightened collections of good advice about women to be found anywhere."
No doubt, those smooth-thighed nymphets who love kittens, sunsets and Slurpees also provide sound counsel on selecting engineering courses. Perhaps one of the reasons the Carneses believe that Playboy should replace the Chronicle of Higher Education is the fact that their book is published by Playboy Press.
Women, on the other hand, are advised to "pick a man who respects your academic prowess and ready wit." But don't skip the eyeliner: "Looking for a basic four-minute makeup for day?" Valerie Carnes describes all the fun we girls can have with gloss, blusher and those "deeper murkier makeup tones you choose for evening." Feminine readers, however, are not urged to peruse Playgirl to check out the quality of beefcake on various campuses.
To be fair, the Carneses' "Essential College Survival Handbook" does offer adequate academic and excellent financial advice for the college-bound. If you can't find another source of information, then use this one. But skip the rest of the book. Its sexist hypocrisy and blatant plugs for Hugh Hefner's empire will offend enlightened readers of either gender.