Book Review: Letting Go: A Parents’ Guide to Understanding the College Years

There are many good books and resources available for college parents.  Each book takes a slightly different approach to the process of sending your child off to college – and surviving the transition.  We’ve provided a Resources and Tools page for suggestions.  However, in addition to providing titles, we’d like to introduce you to some of the books.  We plan to review one book each month over the next several months.  We hope this will give you some insight into the books, and provide guidance as you choose some titles to read.

In this first review, we’ll look at one of the seminal titles in college parenting: Letting Go: A Parents’ Guide to Understanding the College Years by Karen Levin Coburn and Madge Lawrence Treeger.  This book is a comprehensive, thoughtful, and practical guide for parents of college students or soon-to-be college students.  In fact, it would be most helpful to read this book during a student’s junior year in high school as it covers the college application process as well as the transition to college itself.

Letting Go does an excellent job of providing parents with an understanding of the college student experience.  It is especially good for anxious parents or parents who may be less familiar with the world of college.  Now in its fifth edition, Letting Go is updated to include information about the newest technology and changing campus diversity and their effects on college students.  The information included serves as a good reminder to those parents who attended college several decades ago that college life may not be as we remember it.

Although Letting Go focuses mainly on the freshman year of college, one of its strengths is that is also includes information about the application process prior to college as well as information about the college years beyond the freshman year.  The authors of the book give parents information about what to expect during various stages during a student’s entire college career.  They remind us that the “work” of adjusting to college does not end after the first few weeks of the freshman year, but continues through an ever-evolving progression or sequence which lasts through graduation.  The book also reminds us of the value of looking at the college experience from our student’s perspective rather than being entirely focused on the parental perspective.

Topics included in Letting Go are wide ranging.  The authors touch on admissions, orientation, finances, eating disorders, homosexuality, date rape, choosing a major, parent visits, sophomore slump, communication and graduation.  They focus on the experience of traditional-age college students who go to school away from home, but much of the information included is equally relevant to parents of college students who are living at home as well.  Like some of the child-rearing books we read as new parents, Letting Go provides reassurance by discussing the normal development and challenges of college students.  It is filled with stories, anecdotes, and comments by college students.  It is a reference to which parents will return again and again throughout their student’s college career.  A list of resources and a comprehensive index at the end of the book make the book especially approachable for specific topics.

Letting Go: A Parents’ Guide to Understanding the College Years emphasizes the relationship and communication between the student and parent – a key to successful college parenting.  It reminds parents how they can help, or hurt, their student along the journey throughout college.  It offers parents tremendous understanding about college and college students, but also provides opportunities for parents to gain understanding about themselves as parents – and understanding about the challenges of transition for everyone.

About the Authors

Both of the co-authors of Letting Go have spent much of their professional lives working at colleges, as well as having parented through the college years.  They bring their first-hand knowledge and experience, as well as their research, to the book.

Karen Levin Coburn is Senior Consultant in Residence and longtime Assistant Vice Chancellor for Students at Washington University in St. Louis.

Madge Lawrence Treeger is a psychotherapist and a former member of the Washington University Counseling Service.

What the authors have to say about the book

“(It) is the soul of our book: the ongoing but changing relationship between parents and their about-to-be children during the college years. . . . We hope to offer a realistic view of the many facets of this experience – one that reflects the trials and tribulations as well as the excitement, opportunity, and promise of these years.”

What some others have to say about the book

“Sensible, thorough, comforting.  The authors offer a wealth of helpful information to guide parents through an important family transition.”

Parker J. Beverage, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, Colby College

Letting Go should be a required text for any college parent.  It reflects today’s college students’ reality and helps prepare parents for the exciting journey that awaits both them and their sons and daughters.”

Marc Wais, Vice President for Student Affairs, New York University

“Sending a child off to college can be jolting as well as joyous.  Letting Go offers a treasury of insights into this rite of passage, rooted not in psychological jargon but in experience and common sense.”

Edward B. Fiske, Author, Fiske Guide to Colleges


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