Book Review: Making the Most of College — Students Speak Their Minds

From time to time, we like to review some of the books available for parents of college students.  There is a wealth of literature available to help parents cope with the transition to college and the changes that occur throughout the college years.  We’ve created lists of recommended reading, and there is something for everyone.  Check our Resources and Tools page for suggestions.

Richard Light’s book, Making the Most of College: Students Speak Their Minds is slightly different from many of the other books we recommend for college parent reading.  This book was not written specifically for college parents, but is of value and interest to parents, students, and college faculty and administrators alike.  It is this universal appeal that is perhaps one of the most unique and valuable aspects of this book.

Making the Most of College does not specifically help parents with the college transition process or with dealing specifically with their college student.  What this book does do is give parents valuable insight into the world of college and into the minds of college students.

Light conducted his extensive research project at Harvard University.  At times, readers must realize that Harvard students are not typical of most college students in the United States.  However, much of what Light’s research found is applicable, with perhaps some variation, to students anywhere. In his book, Light explores the realities of campus life, and he advocates integrating the different parts of life on campus.  He helps students, and their parents, explore ways of increasing the meaning of the college years.

Some of the important topics covered in this book include helping students deal with predictable questions regarding life on campus, what makes certain classes especially memorable, what makes some advising particularly helpful, how certain faculty members can make differences in students’ lives, demographic changes on campuses,  and suggestions from students to campus leaders.

Hundreds of students were interviewed to gather the information in this book.  Richard Light personally interviewed nearly four hundred of them.  The research is extensive and thorough.  Students described critical incidents or moments in their college life, successful and less successful courses, relationships with faculty members who influenced them — or didn’t influence them – assignments that worked — and didn’t, class sizes that mattered, and racial and ethnic experiences that affected them.

Richard Light’s Making the Most of College is important because of its author’s thorough research and because of its multiple audiences.  There are surprises here, there are sections that reinforce what many students and their parents already know.  The fact that students, their parents, faculty members, and college administrators, should all read and benefit from the same book is in itself a wonderful endorsement of the book.  We recommend Making the Most of College as an important book, with a different approach, for any college parent.

About the author:


Richard Light is a professor in the Graduate School of Education and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.  His work in recent years has focused on higher education policy analyses.  Light has led a team of faculty and students to explore the effectiveness of undergraduate education, and how to strengthen it.  Richard Light is currently chairing a project at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences that explores the changing demographics at colleges and universities. Light has been granted numerous honors and won numerous awards for his work.

What the author has to say about the book:

”In this book I offer a synthesis of findings from years of research on two broad questions.  First, what choices can students themselves make to get the most out of college?  Second, what are effective ways for faculty members and campus leaders to translate good intentions into practice?”

”All findings in this book come from in-depth interviews.  Early on, my colleagues and I decided that to learn what works best for students, we should ask them.  So we did.  More than sixteen hundred undergraduates have been interviewed during this effort, many of them more than once. . . . Their convictions are changing the way I, and many of my colleagues, think about teaching and advising.”

”I hope students reading this book will find many of the results useful.  Advice from fellow undergraduates, based on their own experiences both good and bad, should be helpful as students think about making decisions.  What to look for when choosing classes, and the faculty members who teach them?  How to interact most productively with advisors and mentors?  What to consider when deciding about living arrangements?  How to allocate time?  The students we interviewed have suggestions about all these topics.”

What others have to say about the book:


”Harvard Professor Richard Light reveals secrets from his 10-year study of successful students.  [Making the Most of College] offers practical advice to school administrators, parents and, most importantly, to the students themselves.”

Alisha Davis



”Light’s recommendations sound straightforward enough: Encourage collegial work.  Urge students to get involved in extracurricular activities.  Foster and promote diversity.  Get students to form study groups. . . . Scholars and administrators who have read the book say it is the research behind such recommendations, not just the personal touch, that makes Light’s work valuable.”

Alex P. Kellogg

Chronicle of Higher Education


”Based on 10 years of interviews with Harvard students, the book distills their wisdom and quotes them liberally on such matters as choosing classes, studying, diversity on campus, and the importance of writing . . . What they have to say would apply on most campuses.  . . .  A good read for students, teachers, and parents.”

Amelia Newcomb

Christian Science Monitor

Note: Some links in our post are for affiliate products. If you use our links, College Parent Central receives a small percentage of your purchase price. This does not change the cost to you.  We think it’s only fair to let you know that.

Related Posts:

Parenting College Students: Recommended Reading List

Parenting College Students: More Recommended Reading

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