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Reading Children's Books Got Me into My Dream College

I mentioned this to one of my blog friends in an offline discussion today, and Cheryl suggested that I share it with people who read my blog. Specifically, she thought that parents would be interested. So here it is. I went to Duke University for my undergrad degree. It was a great experience (I was there right when the basketball team started to excel), and I feel very fortunate to have spent four years there. I was also fortunate to get support in my goals from my parents, and to receive generous finanical support from Duke. I was very, very lucky.

But here's the thing. I honestly don't think that I would have gotten into Duke if I hadn't loved to read. I wasn't much of a joiner in high school (I'm still not). I have no athletic, dramatic, or musical ability. I was the kid who sat around reading books all day (I know that many of you who are reading this can relate).

This sitting around reading does not directly look good on college applications. (What are you going to include? Pictures of yourself sitting in a tree reading a book?) However, I received a pretty high score on my SATs, especially the verbal section. This was before the days of SAT prep classes and re-takes of the exam (at least for me). I went in, took the test, went home, got my score, sent it off to colleges, end of story.

And I simply have to think that my verbal SAT score, and even my math SAT score, owe themselves to the hundreds upon hundreds of books that I had read up to that point. I remember reading Dickens in junior high school (David Copperfield). I remember reading Joseph Conrad and Shakespeare in high school. Not to mention Madeleine L'Engle and L. M. Montgomery and Alexandre Dumas, and ever so many other authors. And every one of those books was there with me, in one way or another, when I sat down to take that test.

I'm not writing this post to brag (though I'm aware that it might sound that way). And really, I don't sit around every day basking in SAT scores from 20+ years ago, or even thinking much about where I went to college - I have certainly moved on. But my point is that I am my own test case, and I personally believe that reading books helped drive the scores that got me into the college that I was dying to attend. I know that there are studies to support the link between reading and academic performance (try The Read-Aloud Handbook for examples), but here I'm giving a personal, specific example.

Of course getting into college is different today than it was in 1985 - you can't rely on just SAT scores, you need to be well-rounded and all of that. I also know that there are issues with the fairness of SAT scores, and that some schools are moving away from them. I'm sure that this is a good thing - we should be rewarding the many different ways that kids are remarkable. But still, a lot of attention gets paid to those scores...

That's why I'm telling you what reading children's books accomplished for me. I didn't read those books because, as a six year old or a fifteen year old, I thought that they were "good for me". I read those books because I LOVED them, couldn't possibly be without them, would have found a fifteen minute car ride an eternity if I didn't have a book for company. I believe that those books rewarded my affection by helping me get into into my dream college. No, of course that's not everyone's goal. And yes, there are plenty of other benefits that people gain from reading books. I just thought that a few parents out there might find this tiny little case study of interest. If you do, consider it one of the many reasons to be fostering a love of books in your children. We'll certainly be discussing others in future posts. Thanks for listening.

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.