Book Review – Off to College

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 offered some recommended reading, and there is something for everyone. See the Recommended Reading section of our Resources page for more suggestions.

There are many good books out there for college parents and we recommend several of them.  But Off to College: A Guide for Parents by Roger H. Martin is a bit different.  Dr. Martin has served as a professor and college president, but more important than his titles is the inside view he has taken of the freshman year.  For an earlier book, Dr. Martin spent some time as a college freshman (a good reading experience on its own), but for this book he spent time visiting several colleges – talking to professors, staff members, administrators and many college students. Off to College shares an insider’s look at how college works.

Martin makes the point that many parents, including those who attended college decades ago, don’t understand what happens during the freshman year – or why.  This book gives parents a view through that window.  As we read the book, we understand how students feel, and we understand why colleges do some of the things that may seem mysterious or even odd to parents.  And Martin backs much of his anecdotal stories up with plenty of statistics and data.

We like that this book anticipates many parent questions about how to deal with their students or with college administrators.  (Probably because Martin has already heard them all as a college president.) We gain a perspective on college from the institution’s vantage rather than simply our own or our student’s.  We hear from financial aid personnel, health care personnel, academic advisors, deans, residence life, public safety, and disability officers.  We get a realistic picture of the routines, needs, and problems of students and faculty and staff.

Off to College shares insights about college freshmen and about college life, then speaks directly to parents about their place in the process.  It offers a consistent rationale for why students should handle most problems on their own – and how college personnel are there to help.  Readers come away with an inside look and how colleges support their students – and why they do what they do.  We understand how our students grow through their experiences and, as one director interviewed put it, “If you think about it, we parents grow up as well.  By the time my kids graduated from college, I was a new person.  It’s not just a one-way street!”

Off to College can give you a head start on that growing-up process.

About the author:

Roger H. Martin served as president of Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia.  He serves on the Board of Education in Mamaroneck, New York, and is president of Academic Collaborations, Inc., a higher education consulting firm.  In 2008, Martin spent a semester experiencing life as a first-year student at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, which serves as the basis of his book Racing Odysseus: A College President Becomes a Freshman Again.

What the author has to say about the book:

“No one completely understands how the first year works or how parents are supposed to relate to their children.  Many parents don’t understand the rationale behind general education requirements, whether taking on a campus job will compromise grades, how to deal with a child who is calling home every day and seems depressed, what to do when their student athlete is warming the bench, what the special challenges are for a child who is the first in their family to go to college, and whether it’s a good idea to report a child’s learning disability to college officials.

I wrote Off to College to answer these and many other questions that are on the minds of parents. The answers I give are based on my almost forty years of experience in higher education, twenty of them as president of two liberal arts colleges.  The answers, however, are not just my own.

The book is written from the perspective of deans, coaches, residence hall directors, and my own insight about what happens in the first year.  It’s from the perspective of the people who are teaching, and administrators who are responsible for freshman students.

Join me for a guided tour of the first year!” 

What others have to say about the book:

“Martin has, in Off to College, written a much-needed handbook for anxious parents of new college students.  Based on large numbers of interviews at several colleges and universities with students, parents, and campus administrators who work closely with first-year students, Martin’s insider look at the college experience should help parents know what to expect as their adolescent children go through the sometimes volatile changes that make college a truly transformative transition from childhood to adulthood.”

Richard Ekman, president, The Council of Independent Colleges

“Martin knows a lot about colleges. He’s attended them as a student, taught at them as a professor, and ran two of them as president. He even went back to school to write a book about what it would be like to be a 61-year old freshman. In his new book Off To College: A Guide for Parents, he talks to everyone from cops to coaches, and hangs out everywhere from dorm rooms to drinking parties . . . all to give parents a sense of what happens when they drop their kid off and drive away.”

WBEZ Morning Shift

“Parents should be knowledgeable about their youngsters’ challenges starting higher education. But just as important, [Martin] said, is letting young adults deal with their own problems on campus. It’s all part of ‘the growing up experience.’ . . . That philosophy infuses his new book Off to College: A Guide for Parents . . . aimed at preparing parents for the empty nest, advising them on how to handle possible major crises such as students’ mental health problems and substance abuse while urging them to avoid micromanaging choices of academic majors or squabbles with messy roommates.”

Larry Gordon, LA Times

“No, parents, college is not like it used to be way back in the good old days when you were living on campus!  It’s a whole new world.  You really need to read through this thoughtful and informative profiling of the realities first-year residential students face on America’s four-year campuses.  Your student does need your help and that doesn’t mean just money.  What your student needs most is your understanding.  And this book can help make that possible.  Compared to the investment you are about to make in your child’s college education, the investment of time in reading this book is miniscule.”

John N. Gardner, president, John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education.


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