For many students across the nation, back to school means more than shopping for new pencils, backpacks and clothes. It’s time to start searching for the right college or preparing for the first year away from home. While either experience can be daunting for teens and parents alike, several new books guide readers through the college selection process, the transition to college and even adventurous alternatives to the traditional university route.

“No future decision will carry as much social visibility as the college choice,” contends college advisor and author Joyce Slayton Mitchell. In her accessible 8 First Choices: An Expert’s Strategies for Getting into College, she eases high school students’ pressure by walking them step by step through the college admissions process—from testing, researching universities and selecting eight first choices to how financial aid works and how to nail the college essay, application and interview. In an age where college applications are at an all-time high and still on the rise, she shows the specifics deans are looking for, with tips from some of the most selective universities. Mitchell also describes how to demonstrate diversity, personalize the college selection process and stand out among thousands of applications, even if you’re an overrepresented applicant. Above all, she encourages high school students to take ownership of the decisions that will direct their future. In a concluding chapter to parents, she addresses their concerns while gently reminding them to foster their children’s independence in this character-building experience.

Temptation Island
For young women who’ve earned a spot in college (hopefully, one of their eight first choices), U Chic: The College Girl’s Guide to Everything offers hip yet down-to-earth suggestions on all areas of campus life. More than 30 women who’ve recently graduated from universities across the country give an insider’s scoop on getting along with roommates, dorm decorating, sororities, college perks and thriving when in the minority. While they touch upon studying and other ways to succeed in class, deciding on a major, campus safety, budgets, exercise and nutrition, the majority of this guide is dedicated to topics that parents tend to avoid. As one contributor writes, “College is the ultimate Temptation Island.” Whether it’s ditching the dorm and getting more involved on campus, “tech etiquette for a Facebook Age,” the dating scene, sex ed, “dormcest,” partying responsibly, depression or eating disorders, the authors dish it out with frank advice on surviving the newfound freedoms and temptations.

Letting go
Teenagers may think they know everything, but they can always use some help making the switch from high school to college. So can parents. Marie Pinak Carr’s Sending Your Child to College: The Prepared Parent’s Operational Manual provides myriad tips for parents’ new role and for preparing their children for the next big step in their lives. Kicking off with the mountains of required paperwork and making sure they aren’t billed twice for insurance, this chatty guide also reminds parents about checking accounts, budgets, laundry, campus safety, alcohol and drug use and other important topics they need to discuss with their fledgling collegiates. While some chapters focus on more serious matters, such as navigating campus, travel arrangements, health care and car emergencies, other chapters on furnishing a dorm room and thematic care packages remember the fun side of college. For parents who really want to stay connected, there’s even a quick chapter on volunteer possibilities, whether near or far from campus. But it’s the extensive checklists and forms throughout that are reasons enough to purchase this useful manual.

While the book above touches on the practical side of college, Marjorie Savage’s You’re On Your Own (But I’m Here if You Need Me): Mentoring Your Child Through the College Years focuses on the emotional transition—for students and parents—and makes an excellent companion guide. For parents who want to give their children space but also want to know how soon they can call after settling them into their dorms, this comprehensive book explains the change from primary caregiver to proud mentor and supporter. It addresses how college affects the entire family, from students’ range of emotions, especially in their first six weeks away from home, to ways parents can avoid empty nest feelings. Always encouraging parents to help and not “helicopter,” the author does let them know when their insights are important to share in such matters as finances, health, safety and the social scene. Each chapter concludes with a list of “Quick Tips for Students” for parents to pass along to their children. And just when parents are starting to grasp their new relationships with their children, they come home again. Luckily, there’s a section that covers this adjustment, too!

Going global
If all the talk of standardized tests, college applications and high tuition rates are causing extreme dizziness and heart palpitations, then the “anti-college prep handbook” The New Global Student: Skip the SAT, Save Thousands on Tuition, and Get a Truly International Education may be the best guide yet. In the summer of 2005, author Maya Frost, her husband and four teenage daughters left their suburban life in Oregon to live around the world. Whether parents are considering sending their high school- or college-age children to study abroad or the “full-family deal,” a short stay or total immersion, Frost describes how all of these options focus on children’s total development rather than just on their education and help prepare them for a global workplace. While packing up the family and moving to a foreign country may seem scary or like a glamorous never-ending vacation, the author also explains how to let go of fear, numerous expat misconceptions and key qualities for making the experience a success. A plethora of first-hand statements from experienced travelers reveals invaluable insight and the inspiration to get up and go—abroad.

Angela Leeper is the Director of the Curriculum Materials Center at the University of Richmond.

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