Freshman Survival 2013 — A User’s Guide

Download and distribute our free Survival PDF to share with the high school grads you know

The next few months are anxiety-filled times not only for students but for parents and high school educators as well, as they begin finding out about college acceptances, financial aid packages, and everything else surrounding the move from high school to college. As the authors of a book about how to make a smooth transition to college life, we have become intimately aware of how stressful and exciting (and all the emotions in between) these next few months can be.

When The Freshman Survival Guide was first published in April 2011, we were confident that — after years of research and feedback from the online versions we’d posted on Busted Halo — the information, insights, advice and real-world on-campus experience found in these pages would prove to be helpful to students heading off to college. Two years and tens of thousands of copies later, that initial confidence has been validated many times over.

We hadn’t anticipated, however, the audiences beyond the students themselves that also found the book helpful. The fact is there’s a small army of people helping students make the transition to college — parents, high school guidance counselors, teachers, freshman orientation and first year experience staffs, residence life staffs and RAs, college administrators, campus ministers, on-campus counseling services, etc. — all of whom have a deep interest in the tools and information that The Freshman Survival Guide offers.

Over the past two years, we’ve visited numerous high school and college campuses around the United States and worked with the full range of those helpers to adapt our book’s resources to their specific community’s needs. There’s a tremendous amount of information in the book, but not all of it is relevant to everyone.

Below you’ll find some suggestions for how The Freshman Survival Guide can act as a toolbox that you and your community can use for programming, classroom discussion, or for when specific issues arise. We also encourage you to download and distribute a PDF version of our free one-page condensed Freshman Survival Guide.

We’ve helped develop customized programming for a number of high schools and colleges that have bought the book in bulk for their students. We encourage you to contact us via e-mail at to discuss how we might help.

How to use The Freshman Survival Guide if you’re…

High School Juniors and Seniors

A great deal of energy and attention is given to applications, scholarships and how to choose the right college, but a crucial question is sometimes left out in the admissions scramble: How will you manage once you’re actually in college?

Reading through The Freshman Survival Guide now will help you consider some of the issues beyond simply getting in, such as: How will you maintain the friendships you have now? (Chapter 1) What kinds of friends will you look for once you start college? (Chapter 1) What are your biggest worries? Are you a procrastinator? (Chapter 12) Where do you struggle academically (Chapter 11), socially (Chapter 5), or emotionally (Chapter 8), and what can you do now to prepare to deal with the problems that might arise?

Some suggestions:

  • Make this book your own. Highlight and take notes. Keep a journal of questions it raises for you and things you want to remember.
  • Bring your questions to a trusted mentor, teacher, minister, or even a friend who is already in college; or email the Interactive RA ( on our website.
  • Find a few friends who will commit to reading this book with you and discussing each chapter.
  • Talk to your parents about the issues The Freshman Survival Guide raises. You deserve the support and guidance of the people who have gotten you this far in life.

College Freshmen

There is a big difference between reading a book about college life months before you arrive and actually setting foot on campus. Here are some shortcuts for using this book once you’ve hit the ground:

  • Struggling academically? (Chapters 11-14)
  • Homesick? (Chapter 4)
  • Struggling spiritually? (Chapters 9, 17)
  • Bored or lonely? (Chapter 16)
  • Not feeling healthy? (Chapter 20-23)
  • Take a look at the Interactive RA (iRA) section of our website. Our veteran team of Resident Assistants — Megan Stamer (New Jersey), Kailynn Cerny (West Virginia), Danielle Shipp (California), Josh Martin (California), and coordinator Jennifer Sawyer (New York) — is ready to help with any questions. E-mail them at The iRA Blog is also updated regularly with timely content addressing real issues facing first-year students in dormitories across the United States.


Just because you’re not living on campus, don’t sell yourself, or your college, short. Follow these tips to fight that “I’m just a commuter” mentality:

  • Get involved in campus activities. It’s a great way to meet new people and feel more connected to what’s happening on campus. (Chapter 16)
  • Use your school’s resources, study groups, library, writing and math labs, and professor’s office hours. They are there for your use. (Chapters 11, 13, 14)
  • Set up your schedule so you’ll have some time on campus a few days a week. If you’re also working it can be tempting to pack your classes in the morning so your afternoons and evenings can be spent off campus. If at all possible, though, consider leaving some gaps in your schedule so you’ll have time built in to hit the offices (financial aid, academic advisement, the registrar), go see your professors, visit the library, or attend student activities.
  • Visit our website and click on “The Commuter Lounge” for more great tips.

Parents (and Siblings, Aunts, Uncles, etc.)

The first concern for many parents sending kids off to college is survival in the literal sense of the word. Too often our campuses have been places where a poor decision or simple bad luck can have tragic consequences. We encourage parents to read this book and use it as an opportunity for family discussions about the things that matter. Fortunately, most challenges in college don’t have life-and-death consequences, so make sure you also emphasize the small, everyday habits that build success and happiness.

Chapter 24 deals with emergencies and how to handle them. Chapter 3 could be a good starting point for talking about the first few weeks of on-campus living. Chapter 18 deals with all the different places on campus to find help.


  • to listen as much as you talk; and
  • that you’ve already done most of the work.

You’ve been teaching life lessons since this kid appeared on the scene. Find out how much they’ve picked up. Consider setting aside time each month during senior year to talk through the worries and concerns you both have about college.

High School Educators (teachers, college counselors, mental health professionals, principals, librarians, ministers, etc.)

The Freshman Survival Guide has been used as a text for half-year courses for seniors, as the springboard for panel discussions, “off-to-college” nights and leadership programs. It has been used with parent groups and student/parent discussions, as a gift for members of the senior class and senior award winners. It can be a great tool for preparing first-generation or at-risk students for the issues they will face. Here’s one way we’ve found helpful to divide the material for use in workshops and mini-courses:

  • Balance — dealing with time management, procrastination, mind-body-spirit health, choosing activities/extracurriculars (Chapters 8, 11, 12, 16, 21-23)
  • Relationships — parents, dating and sex, homesickness, friendship, maintaining old friendships and finding new ones that will help you grow (Chapters 1, 2, 4-6, 18)
  • Identity — setting goals, decision making, habits (Chapters 7, 9, 15, 17)
  • Academics — learning how to be a college student, study budget, dealing with profs (Chapters 10-14)
  • Risk — positive risk-taking (stepping outside your comfort zone) and negative risk taking (drugs, alcohol, sex, criminal behavior) (Chapters 3, 5, 9, 19, 20, 24)

College/University Educators (RAs, Freshman/First-year Orientation Staffs, Counseling Centers, Campus Ministries, etc.)

We’ve worked with administrators, professors, professional staff (counseling, orientation and residence life), and campus ministers at institutions ranging from large state universities to small private colleges and everything in between.

Just a few of the ways The Freshman Survival Guide has been implemented at colleges and universities so far:

  • Mailed out to an entire class of 1,500 incoming freshmen as summer reading.
  • Used as a textbook for a semester-long, small group, first-year experience class (for credit).
  • Residence hall staffs have used it as a discussion text for mandatory floor meetings.
  • Campus ministries have purchased it for their university congregations and hosted workshops.

The challenges that affect incoming college students are as varied as their individual personalities, but some perennial issues include:

  • Roommate drama (Chapters 1-3)
  • Struggles making adjustments to college academics and time management (Chapters 10-14)
  • Drinking and drugs (Chapter 20)
  • Sex and dating (Chapter 6)
  • Mental and emotional health (Chapters 7, 8, 18)
  • Emergencies (Chapters 18, 19, 23)

Visit and click on “User Guide” for additional tips as well as examples of how other colleges have used the book.

And don’t forget to download and distribute a PDF version of our free one-page condensed Freshman Survival Guide.