A Great Gift for College-Bound High School Graduates — An Encore Review: Make College Count: A Faithful Guide to Life + Learning by Derek Melleby ON SALE

I know you know what re-runs are.  

Or “encore performances” as they are sometimes called.  Sometimes, we are really glad to see one — the first showing was so good that you want to see it again;  or, maybe, the “encore” allows folks to see something they missed previously.

With my celebration a few weeks ago of my new book designed for those young adults who are transitioning out of college or trade school, or finishing up graduate work, and taking up vocations in the work world (Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life published by Square Halo Books; at a special sale price here, $11.50) we have not forgotten that many readers give books to their high school graduates this season, too.  

Churches, youth ministries, private schools, moms and dads, godparents, confirmation sponsors, uncles and aunts, older sibs, even — who doesn’t want to honor the twelfth graders who survived senioritis and made it to graduation day?

My favorite book to give to high school grads who are going off to college is the fine book by Derek Melleby, Make College Count: A Faithful Guide to Life + Learning (Baker; $12.99.)  I’ve mentioned it a bunch of times over the last few years, but I don’t think I’ve actually done a re-run. 

For a list of suggestions for those high school grads who are not going off to college, see here.

So, without further ado, with only minor editing, here is the “encore performance” of a review I wrote when this book released. Since I wrote this review a few years ago, I’ve only deepened my appreciate for Derek as a young leader, for the usefulness of his book, and for the impact it has made. The publisher has been happy to keep it in print, and it has developed a fantastic reputation. So it deserves this re-run of a review.  Enjoy.


It is always a joy to be standing around the church hallway and see some teens sauntering up the stairs to their Sunday school class.  Many medium-sized mainline churches don’t have many youth, and it is a blessing that we have a good handful.  It was a joy this morning as I was sitting in the back of the sanctuary, noticing a few seniors, students that I have nearly watched grow up.  A few I played with in the nursery 15 years ago; my own youngest daughter’s cohort will soon be graduating from high school.  Last year this time — well, most every spring for the last dozen years or so, since my oldest was first active in youth group and I knew many of those kids with senioritis—I was in a serious funk about what might become of these older teens. 

These were kids I knew and cared about, mostly all heading off to some kind of higher education.  Would they get involved in some campus fellowship group when they went off to college?  Would they find themselves being followers of Christ in their new homes?  Would a local church reach out to them?  Would they develop good new friends that would wisely assist them in discerning the big questions about their future, their major, their callings and careers?  Would they, like most young adults in what developmentalists now call the critical years, take up the materialistic and secular values of the American way of life or would they choose God’s Kingdom’s ways — upside down values of service and justice and a deeper purpose better than upward mobility?  Would they find a spouse that suits them well?  Oh, how we fret about these very young adults.


Of course, the fretting comes to a head for me when we pray over them (if we do at all) or recognize them in some churchly ceremony.  Does your church do something for students graduating from high school?  And does it sound something like God’s radical call to them and a profound blessing upon them, or just a religious veneer over the same kind of stuff they hear at their mawkish high school commencements?  Do we commission them to a new phase of Kingdom living, with fear and trembling, or do we just sprinkle a little civil religion over the hope they’ll be happy and successful?  I hope it is the former.  

That is, I hope our churches really inspire our young adults to take their faith seriously, and to move into the next stage of their lives with gusto, intentional discipleship, and a desire to have their lives count, really count.

This concern of what message we send to our graduates really comes to a head for me when we give them some sort of graduation gift.  We are asked this in the store each year, too — what do we recommend?  In our experience some well-intended folks get students a plaque or pen or gifty type knick-knack. (A tie tac, you ask?  How do you ask a customer if they are out of their cottonpickin’ minds?)  Most students find these remembrances pretty boring, I’ve heard, reinforcing their hunch that church is about as relevant to their lives as, well, their great grandma’s gifts of a monogrammed hanky. 

Often, though, we try a offer something a bit better, so we give them a book, like a faux leather compilation of Bible promises, as if some 18 year old is just dying to do a concordance type study of every listing of every Bible verse around a certain theme.  Anxious about leaving home?  Wondering what major might make sense or what classes to choose?  Sad about leaving your bff from kindergarden?  I am not so sure they will turn to that handsome little pocket guide, even if they do deep down want to know what God might say to them.  I recall one kid trying to sell such a book back to us; you had to admire not only his ingenuity but his honesty.  “I just wouldn’t use a book like that,” he said.


And so, I am here to announce, as urgently and as plainly as I can, that we have found the best book to give to college-bound high-school seniors and graduates.  

Make College Count.jpgThose in the throes of that  “college transition” will enjoy this book which is substantive, interesting, important, and — and this is important, too — cool looking and fun. It is called Make College Count: A Faithful Guide to Life + Learning by Derek Melleby (Baker; $12.99 — one sale here for $10.39.)  As Steve Garber (one who has studied, and studied with, college students as intentionally as anyone I know, most college professors included) writes of it,  “Make College Count is just right!  What Derek Melleby has done is find a way to come alongside someone on the way to college and offer guidance about things that matter most.”  


There are several very nice books for college-bound students and they have useful stuff about getting along with room-mates, doing laundry, avoiding the college party scene.   A couple warn about the atheism of their secular professors.  They almost all admonish youngsters to not have sex, to stay in touch with mom, to study hard.  They are fine.  And they are almost all cleverly written and still mostly inane.  This 17 or 18 year old has just completed the first major phase of his or her educational life;  it feels (at that age, at that transition point) like one of the most important moments in their whole life, and they are off to one of the most challenging (and expensive) and life-changing, formative episodes of the rest of their life, and we give them a whimsical guide to doing laundry, and one last warning not to have sex?  This is the best God’s people can do??  This is all we have to say?

Make-College-Count-Hardcover-218x300.jpgMr. Melleby, in Make College Count, thinks more foundationally; without seeming at all high-minded or overly serious, he winsomely invites students to think about, as Garber says, the things that matter most of all, and without sounding preachy.  There are seven questions that Melleby has discovered to be important for students to ask themselves, most usefully, before they get to State U, or at least early on in their college experience. 

Derek is increasingly known as a national leader on the psychology and spirituality of the college transition (he now directs an innovative Christian gap year program called OneLife) and he affirms the research that has shown that college is a time where emerging adults will become the person they most likely will be for the rest of their life.  How can they make the most of that time?  What might we ask them to consider, to set them in the right direction?  What are the things they should wrestle with a bit before they jump into the pace of the collegiate experience this fall?

Melleby is a fine and at times funny writer, and after each chapter, where he takes up one of the primal questions, he does an illuminating interview with a young woman or man who has recently been out of college.  He invites them to look back over their shoulder and tell their story, how their identity and sense of calling was shaped by their university years.  These are not composites — they are real interviews. I actually know almost all of these students. Derek (I’m happy to disclose) is a very good friend and his campus ministry work where he met these students occurred at a campus near here.  I can say that nearly all of these students who are now young alum, have bought books from us, have shared some of their stories with Beth me, and we can vouch for their thoughtfulness and integrity.  The interviews in Make College Count are like little sidebars, and they are upbeat and very interesting.  And really helpful.

We are confident that this little book — offering a way to discover a path to true success at college and beyond (as it says on the back cover) — is the best thing we’ve seen like this in over 30 years of book selling.  There is simply no other book that asks these very basic sorts of fascinating questions and offers such solid counsel about such good stuff in such a brief, colorful, (and likely to be read) format.  

Here is a part of the table of contents:

What Kind of Person Do You Want to Become?  Following Jesus During the Critical Years

Why Are You Going to College?  Finding Your Place in the Story of God

What Do You Believe? Taking Ownership of Your Faith

Who Are You?  Securing your Identity in Christ

With Whom Shall You Surround Yourself?  Connecting with the Christian Community

How Will You Choose a Major? Putting Your Faith into Action

How Do You Want Your Life to Influence Others?  Leaving a Legacy

And, happily, he selected a few key books and websites that he suggests as “resources for the road ahead.”  He names that great college conference that we help with, the CCOs annual Jubilee Conference, and, yes, he mentions Hearts & Minds BookNotes.  How cool is that?

Derek is an associate staff with the CCO and used to work with the great Walt Mueller at the Center for Parent and Youth Understanding.  He co-wrote (with Donald Optiz) my favorite book for collegelearning for the love of god.jpg students about taking their faith perspective into the classroom, Learning for the Love of God (a must-have resource for students, presuming a somewhat more intentional reader.) This illustrates the broadly evangelical perspective he holds, and the exceptionally thoughtful approach he brings — all offered with an upbeat tone, alongside funny stories, great interviews, and the artful design of the small hardback.  This is a book you can give to any college-bound student with great confidence that it will be appreciated. 

You know the old story of Goldilocks’ bears?  Some books for graduates are too this, some are too that; some too long, some too short, some too heady, some not heady enough.  I can hardly name any that are truly “just right.”  Make College Count: A Faithful Guide to Life + Learning is the prime example, perfect in tone, fabulous in content, great in appearance and price.  We cannot recommend it any more highly; we think it will be used in the lives of emerging adults at this key transition point in their lives.

Here is a simple video clip of Derek talking about the book, noting some initial feedback he has gotten from young readers, explaining just what he was hoping he would accomplish by providing a resource like this.  It is low-key and a great illustration of Derek’s clear, kind, and insightful style.  I hope you enjoy it.  And then I hope you buy a boat-load of the book.  From us, of course.  We told the publisher we would get behind this, and we look forward to promoting it anywhere we can.  Won’t you help us?  It sure beats the tie tacs…

If this impresses you as it does us, if you are eager for the high school grads that you know who are heading off to college or trade school to have an opportunity to reflect on these basic matters — who they want to be, what they feel called to do, with whom they will be involved and the like —  why not forward this review to whoever it is at your church who buys the gifts for the graduating seniors?  If you have a relative or friend heading off to college, buy the book yourself.  

Thanks for helping us spread the word.  We think it can make a difference.  We are glad for those that get the importance of this, honoring our grads in ways that are meaningful and have the possibility of really being helpful.  We are very glad for any orders you send our way — but if you don’t know any senior high kids heading off to college, just say a quick prayer for the next generation of the college-bound, their unique time in history, and the call for them to ponder deeply “the things that matter most.”  




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