BkRv #1765, The Freshman Survival Guide: Soulful Advice for Studying, Socializing, and Everything In Between, Bradbury-Haehl, Nora & McGarvey, Bill, ISBN: 978-1-4555-3900-0, 2016


Mark Ward

Center for Academic Advising and Retention

Eastern Washington University

[email protected]


The Freshman Survival Guide: Soulful Advice for Studying, Socializing, and Everything in Between by Nora Bradbury-Haehl and Bill McGarvey is an easy-to-read practical handbook for college freshman.  Throughout the text, the authors enlist input from current students, student affairs professionals and campus religious leaders to provide practical advice about topics such as academics, sex, belonging, food, and spirituality.  There are several college preparation books out there, but very few provide the depth and diversity of viewpoints as this book. 

The book contains thirty chapters with each chapter beginning with a Survival Strategy that sets up the purpose of the chapter, and ends with The Takeaway, which summarizes the main points from the chapter.  In between, there is practical advice from peers, advisors and on-campus religious leaders.  

The tone of the book is a combination of friendly peer-to-peer conversational style, parental caring, and frank to-the-point warnings. For the most part, the authors successfully accomplish this set of tonal gymnastics to provide a coherent, clear and practical message.  Additionally, in providing different tones throughout the book, the authors provide several different avenues for the reader to connect to the content. For example, in chapter eight entitled “Sex and the University,” there are stories from students at several different universities, statistics and empirical evidence from renowned researchers, and musings on sex and culture from campus religious leaders from around the world. 

One of the most impactful chapters of the book is entitled “Who Are You?”  This chapter attempts to encourage and understanding the daunting task that is self-exploration and reflection.  More importantly, the authors outline accurately the struggle of identity transformation that most college students experience.  Additionally, they encourage students to be open to new friends and new experiences, but to hold on to their true self or the “bones” of their identity: “Hang on to your basic framework, the things you’ve believed in all your life” (pg. 94).  Finally, the authors ask the students to build a constant conversion with themselves questioning decisions and actions. This self-accountability system allows students to grow, but maintain their true selves.

The primary limitation of the book is that while it provides an understanding of several broad topics, it fails to provide deep knowledge of any singular topic.  Advisors will not find much in the text that will influence their advising practice. Having said that, there is information that will provide advisors with a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities that students face today.

The focus on the varied challenges that college student’s face and the practical, honest advice makes The Freshman Survival Guide an ideal text for a First-Year Seminar or a college prep class.  For advisors, this book serves as a useful reminder of the holistic experience of college and can be used as a resource as academic advising goes beyond identifying a student’s major or sequencing courses to encompassing the many important aspects of student’s lives. 

Posted in: Issue 36(2)
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