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  • The First Year Out: Understanding American Teens After High School
  • Adam T. Brigham
The First Year Out: Understanding American Teens After High School Tim Clydesdale Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007, 265 pages, $20.00 (softcover)

In The First Year Out: Understanding American Teens After High School, author Tim Clydesdale describes his research project on the student experience of transitioning from high school to college. The author began his data collection while the participants were in their senior year of high school and he attempted to follow those students through to the completion of their first year after high school. For many of his participants this included some form of post secondary education, though it is worth noting that the "first year out" does not equate to college enrollment. In the introductory chapter, the author quickly dismisses his a priori hypothesis that "the majority of teens who headed off to college had broadening, if not liberating, experiences akin to my own during their first year out, while the majority of teens who stayed home did not" (p. 2). Instead, Clydesdale finds that in the first year after high school students are less interested in intellectually and socially broadening pursuits than they are in "daily life management" (p. 2).

In chapter 1 Clydesdale presents the stories of four high school students. These four individuals are not the subject of the book, but rather the author presents their stories to provide context for broader analysis and to thematically illustrate some of the findings. The majority of the data were collected through 125 interviews in 6 different states (Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Oregon). Prior to these interviews, Clydesdale conducted fieldwork in a New Jersey high school with the goal of better understanding "the culture of American high school seniors and to diversify the project's interviewees" (p. 9). At his field site the author conducted 90 minute interviews with 21 students. The author uses chapter 2 to situate these interviews within larger bodies of sociological research on moral culture and adolescent transitions, specifically through the prisms of faith, family, and community. Clydesdale also acknowledges that his work connects to other bodies of literature within the educational sphere, such as studies on college impact and student cultures.

Using the context created by the individual stories presented in the first chapter, the author creates a metaphor for the post high school experience. Clydesdale describes departing high school seniors as all seated at a wobbly table, with the table representing the first year out. One leg of this table represents "new economic realities" in the United States, and [End Page 635] that leg has a tendency to "raise and lower its end of the table on a schedule of its own choosing" (p. 39). The other leg of the table represents the "popular moral culture of mainstream America" and the author argues that this leg is "starting to crack" (p.39). On this table are two items: an intricate, intense, and interactive board game called "Daily Life Management," and an "Identity Lockbox." While absorbed in the game, the students place their numerous identities (gender, racial, political, religious, etc.) in the lockbox for safekeeping as the game is complex and the table is wobbly.

Clydesdale devotes the next three chapters to describing how students engage in the "daily life management" process. In "Navigating Relationships, Managing Gratifications" (chapter 3) the author shares his findings on how students negotiate changing relationships with peers, parents, and romantic partners both in the transition to college and throughout the first year after high school. He also uses this chapter to detail the familiar challenges that many students have in negotiating the increased personal freedoms that often come after high school. The themes that Clydesdale illustrates in the chapter are all well known to student affairs professionals: importance of social and peer norms, negotiating sexual relationships, safety in sexual behavior, alcohol and other drug use, and the management (or mismanagement) of that substance use. Chapter 4 ("Working for Money, Spending for Fun") outlines the financial practices of students during the high school to college transition. Especially interesting is the relationship between "consumptive leisure" (e.g., movies, going...


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pp. 635-637
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