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Freshman Survival Guide by Bill McGarvey and Nora Bradbury-Haehl Book Review

March 3rd, 2022

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Freshman Survival Guide by Bill McGarvey and Nora Bradbury-Haehl Book Review

The best guide for students and parents alike!

The Freshman Survival Guide by Bill McGarvey and Nora Bradbury-Haehl was published in 2016. Having sold over 150,000 copies, the book is part guide, part mentor, covering everything from roommate disagreements to making friends, dating on campus, mental health, and time management to name a few. Reading through The Freshman Survival Guide, I was reminded how much I loved college. In September, freshman year seemed like the world’s biggest obstacle, but by March my fears of not fitting in and not having fun had completely disappeared. 

My freshman year is clear as day: I pulled up to my campus with my mom and two suitcases ready for whatever was ahead of me and then…it went exactly like nothing I could have planned for. College, especially the fall of my freshman year, was a different kind of growth spurt. I struggled to fit in and while most of my friends were older, I couldn’t seem to socialize with those who were outside my door. I kept to myself, befriended my RA, and kept my head down. I didn’t embrace extracurriculars or events hosted by my school. I barely even spoke in class. The one place I found respite was in the cafe on campus. It had a window facing the Boston Common, so as I sat and worked on homework for hours or read, I’d occasionally glance up only to find two people walking side by side through the grass, a group embracing a game of football, and, more often than not, a person dressed as a bear playing an electric guitar (a staple if you have ever visited the Common). I knew where I wanted to be, but I just couldn’t get there as easily as it seemed everyone else could. 

If I had been handed The Freshman Survival Guide prior to the beginning of my first semester in Boston, I would have had an advantage. For a new college student, feeling a sense of community and understanding can be the difference between staying in the shadows and breaking into the light.

In their chapter on making friends, McGarvey and Bradbury-Haehl write, “The people you choose to be friends with can make a huge difference in nearly every aspect of college life: study habits, interactions with other groups of people, how you spend your free time. Choose carefully and remember you can make a new choice anytime.” I wasn’t close to either of my roommates freshman year, which made me think I was inadequate or doing college “wrong.” Luckily, I began to fall in love with my school enough that I joined extracurriculars and clubs allowing me to widen my social circle and meet new people who later became friends. 

During college, I knew I would have ups and downs, but what I didn’t know was that over a decade later I would look back at the teenager I was walking through those doors for the first time and miss every second of it. I made my experience as special as I could by tasting what my campus and college had to offer, working towards goals, and making sure I made time for both studying and playing. And though I did lean on my advisors throughout my years in college, as Bradbury-Haehl and McGarvey write, “The decisions you make about the courses you take, the clubs you join and, ultimately, who you choose to be—are yours.” 

The friends you meet in college could be those you share stories with years after graduation.

If you have a nervous student, child, or a young person you know about to take this big leap into uncharted territory, this book might be a good addition to their dorm room and maybe even act as a talking point among floormates. It will definitely be a way for anyone starting college to know they’re not alone. 

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