Don't just apply to college… Position yourself.

Off to College: The Hero’s Journey

My sister and her daughter just returned from the beauty salon. They did the school spirit pedicure, with Bucknell‘s blue and orange colors on alternating toenails, and the signature B on the big toes. Their outing reflected not only my niece’s enthusiasm for her new freshman adventure, but a nod to the mother-daughter bond, in no way over but evolving into an adult relationship. One more day of packing the car with Bed, Bath & Beyond dorm gear for the drive to Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, my son and I prepare to drive his mini-cooper to Atlanta to begin his junior year at Emory University. We are far more casual (I haven’t painted my toenails blue and gold!), but our adult relationship continues to evolve too.

There is much written about the rite of passage of going away to college, both for the young adult leaving and the family staying behind. This undertaking captures the modern imagination because it has the psychological ingredients of the start of the archetypal hero‘s great odyssey.

Distinguished mythologist Joseph Campbell explains the “monomyth” of the hero’s journey in his classic book, Hero with a Thousand Faces“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

George Lucas’ Star Wars emphasizes the part of the archetypal myth where the hero must “kill his father” to grow up and grasp his destiny. In the 21st C. reincarnation of the hero myth, conflict between parent and teen culminates in the young person’s ultimate bid for autonomy, figuratively “killing” his parents by leaving for college. Judith Viorst writes about separation from our parents as essential to adult growth and development in her psychoanalytic masterpiece, Necessary Losses.

Cat Stevens summed it up in his classic song Father and Son: “There’s a way, and I know: I have to go away.” So this dramatic parting has a firm grip on our archetypal emotions. There is a need for, and therefore many resources, to offer wisdom and support for this distinct rite of passage (for both kids and parents). I recommend the resources below:

Freshmen:  How to Become a Straight-A Student: The Unconventional Strategies Real College Students Use to Score High While Studying Less by C. Newport,  2010 The Naked Roommate: College Survival Guide by H. Cohen,  and How to Survive Your Freshman Year: By Hundreds of College Sophomores, Juniors, and Seniors Who Did  by HOH Books.

Parents of Freshmen:  Letting Go: A Parents’ Guide to Understanding the College Years by K. Coburn,  The Happiest Kid on Campus: A Parent’s Guide to the Very Best College Experience (for You and Your Child) by H. Cohen, The iConnected Parent: Staying Close to Your Kids in College (and Beyond) While Letting Them Grow Up by B. K. Hofer & A. S. Moore,  Parenting College Freshmen: Consulting for Adulthood by L. Bips,  Don’t Tell Me What To Do, Just Send Money: The Essential Parent Guide to the College Years, by H. Johnson, and Almost Grown: Launching Your Child from High School to College, by P. Pasick.

I recommend resources for college upperclassmen, which perhaps can be suggested by a parent (depending on your relationship). But generally these resources will be sought out if desired by the college student himself. In fact, I write a career blog for college students and recent grads, which has nothing to do with parents! Even if you once spoon-fed your teen when he was applying to college, you cannot simply re-create that role when he is beginning to explore careers, consider graduate programs, internships or entry-level jobs. Your role needs to become progressively more consultative, only offered when requested.

Books: Now What? The Young Person’s Guide to Choosing a Career by N. Lore, You Majored in What? Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career by K.Brooks, How’d You Score That Gig? A Guide to the Coolest Jobs–And How To Get Them by A. Leavit, Getting from College to Career: 90 Things to Do Before You Join the Real World by L. Pollak, and How to Survive the Real World: Life After College: Advice from 774 Graduates Who Did by HOH Books. Websites:,,,,, and Quint Careers.

You may be able to gently pass these resources along to your young adult in college, only if solicited. Generally college students want to experience life rather than read about it, so do not take it personally if your young adult is not interested. He is clearly now in the driver’s seat of his mini-cooper, and his life.

Related posts: College Dorm Checklist: A Sneak Peek! College Move-In: The Aftermath,  Helicopter Parents: College and Beyond, Adjusting to College Life: Friendsickness,  When Big Brother or Sister Goes to College, Accepting the Empty NestCollege Freshmen Home for Thanksgiving, and Empty Nester Holiday Blues.