Books by Donald Smith & Virginia Gordon. Ryan McRae.
Review by Damian Whitney
Graduate Research Assistant
Kansas State University

This review compares and contrasts two publications, both of which prepare and inform the parents of new college students. One, A Family Guide to Academic Advising, 2nd edition”, is a joint publication of the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA) and The National Resource Center for the First Year Experience and Students in Transition. The other publication is The Quick & Easy Parent's Guide to College, an E-Publication by Ryan McRae.

While both publications prepare parents and their children for college, there are several things that make these two publications different. The most significant difference is in the kinds of issues emphasized.

McRae's book, The Quick and Easy Parent’s Guide to College, focuses on the parents themselves more than the actual student, and emphasizes such topics as communication with students, dealing with money, and homesickness. McRae focuses much more on the domestic preparations and emotional wellness issues involved in preparing young adults for college. Some examples of the topics McRae discusses are campus safety, doing laundry, and maintaining communication. He does touch on academic preparation and understanding the structure of the college, but only in a brief and general way.

By contrast, Smith and Gordon’s focus is academic. They go into great depth to help parents understand the academic environment. Some examples of topics they cover are institutional policies, classroom protocol, faculty expectations, and choosing a major, along with how academic advisors can help students navigate all.

The two books also differ a great deal in writing style. The Family Guide is written in the professional style you would expect in an official university handbook, while McRae's publication is written more informally and includes first-person anecdotal sections.

One thing that is similar in both publications is a month-by-month checklist for parents. Bullet points from Smith and Gordon’s "Family Checklist" are placed throughout the book. McRae calls his checklists "Monthly Assignments" and has placed all in one section at the end of the book (they are also split into a month-by-month format). The content of these checklists are also different: Smith and Gordon focus on academic issues while McRae focuses on preparing students to live on their own and how parents can provide support from home.

The most basic difference between the publications is that Smith and Gordon seek to give parents a firm understanding of how college works and what their students will need to know to negotiate the university system. McRae's book is a guide for how to prepare students to live on their own and how parents can deal with the practical and emotional effects of having a child in college (there is even a section about being an empty nester).

Either of these publications is a great resource for advisors, particularly those who have frequent contact with the parents of college students. While the general aim of the two books is the same, their emphasis is very different; thus they complement each other well. While each book is very strong as a stand-alone resource, together these two books cover a comprehensive range of potential issues parents will face when their student starts college.

A Family Guide to Academic Advising 2nd Edition (2008) by Donald Smith and Virginia Gordon (Eds.) Manhattan, KS. National Academic Advising Association and Columbia, SC. The National Resource Center for the First Year Experience. Pp., 31 $3.00 (paperback)
ISBN# 978-1-889-27163-7

The Quick & Easy Parent’s Guide to College (2012) Ryan McRae pp., 63 $1.99. Text Copyright 2012, Ryan McRae

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