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Review: BustedHalo's "Freshman Survival Guide"

A Spiritual Freshman Survival Guide

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating

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Review: BustedHalo's
Courtesy BustedHalo.com
There's no doubt that the sudden independence of freshman year can be a challenging thing, no matter what your faith. So don't let the provenance of "The Freshman Survival Guide: Soulful Advice for Studying, Socializing and Everything in Between" dampen your enthusiasm for this terrific book. It's written by Nora Bradbury-Haehl and Bill McGarvey, editors at BustedHalo.com, a Catholic youth ministry site, but the book offers nearly 300 pages of practical tips on college life, no matter what your spiritual leaning. It's not preachy. There's no "Leviticus teaches us." It's thoughtful, spiritual but non-denominational, and yes, soulful.

The Soulful Perspective

There are loads of terrific freshman survival books out there that attack the topic from a variety of vantage points, from "things I wish I'd known" peer advice to expert tips on dorms and naked roommates. This book takes a different tack, adding spirituality into the mix and blending practical tips on everything from orientation to final exams, along with encouragement, support and self-awareness of one's "inner gyroscope." Living, in other words, a life of personal balance that's in keeping with one's own core beliefs.

That last sentence alone should be enough to tell you this book was not written by some octogenarian priest who views email as too high tech. The book has won plaudits from campus ministries from coast to coast. The authors clearly get it. And the guide is filled with advice and comments both from students and from campus chaplains of every type, including the Buddhist chaplain at MIT, the rabbi at Tulane and the Muslim chaplain at Duke.

The advice is refreshingly down to earth, there's plenty of humor - including a section on "creepy people to avoid on Friday night" - and some really practical advice couched in witty, memorable prose. Chapter 3, for example, is titled "For the first few weeks, live like a monk." Be a friendly, sociable monk who's out meeting great new people, the authors say, but not randomly sleeping with them (vow of chastity), maxing out the credit card (poverty) or failing to go to class (obedience). It's a catchy way of thinking about the benefits of a little self-restraint during a period of time when everyone's new and you have no way of knowing yet who's great and who's bad news.

From Orientation to Final Exams

The guide is divided into 25 chapters that cover the nitty gritty of lectures, exams and dorm showers, and, the authors says, the "intangible emotional, spiritual and values issues that college students encounter every day but that are rarely talked about." There are chapters devoted to growth, change and spirituality, including one that delves into issues facing students coming from strict religious backgrounds, for example, or deeply conservative families. McGarvey and Bradbury-Haehl point out, for example, that campus ministries can provide compassionate support for gay, lesbian and bisexual students, even if their sexual identity was not accepted back home.

But there is also plenty of practical advice on the challenges faced by everyone: Studying, time management and procrastination, weird roommates, creepy beaus, sex, drugs and mental health issues. Some of the most universally helpful tips surround academics - sit in the front row of the lecture hall (it's harder to doze off there), take notes (ditto, plus it tells the prof you're listening), break through the project procrastination barrier by using the "just five minutes" tactic (you'll spend just five minutes checking the assignment and reading the first chapter, and then just five minutes ... and then just five minutes...). In other words, there's something here for everyone.

Want to see for yourself? Page through the chapter titles and read excerpts at the publisher's site.

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