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February 1, 2024

With over 185,000 copies sold, The Freshman Survival Guide has become America’s go-to guide for dealing with the difficult transition to college life while keeping the whole student–mind, body and spirit–in mind.  The book–featured on The Late Show with David Letterman–spends numerous weeks each spring as Amazon’s #1 book in both the student life and college guide categories. 

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The Freshman Survival Guide is pleased to have The Milton Hershey School’s (MHS) Graduate Programs for Success (GPS) come on board as part of our Interactive RA team. Founded in 1909, by Hershey Chocolate founder Milton Hershey and his wife, Catherine, MHS is a private philanthropic (pre-K through 12) boarding school. The school currently serves more than 2,000 students and is the largest residential education program in the US.

The school’s Graduate Programs for Success is an initiative that helps their students make the transition from high school to their next steps in life–college or other postsecondary education, the workforce or the military. We are honored that MHS has used the Freshman Survival Guide as part of their GPS curriculum for several years. In many ways their program is like a laboratory during 11th and 12th grade in which students, teachers, counselors and administrators can discover what has the most impact on making the transition out of high school–particularly for first generation college students–as successful as possible.

The Freshman Survival Guide’s Interactive RA?

Soon after arriving on campus, many freshmen realize they need real help in making a smooth transition to college life. In researching The Freshman Survival Guide, it became clear that some students didn’t feel comfortable approaching their local resident assistant on staff for any number of reasons (e.g. their issues felt too personal and they were embarrassed, they were afraid of getting in trouble, they simply didn’t like their RA etc).

While we believe it is best for students, in general, to avail themselves of their local support staff, we also realized that it could be helpful for some students to have the option of contacting an experienced RA anonymously with some of their more delicate issues. The Interactive RA (iRA) is our attempt to bridge that gap. In every chapter of our Freshman Survival Guide book we encourage students to go online if they have questions they’d like to ask of our team of actual resident assistants about topics that might be embarrassing or difficult to discuss with their own RA.

Resident assistants from colleges around the country are available to answer your questions online through our partnership with, the nation’s leading online resource for residence life—a free service of Campus Advantage, Inc., the largest private student housing firm in North America. The Interactive RA is an unpaid position–though each team member will receive a copy of the book for free. We’re looking for people with some experience dealing with freshmen and some insight into their lives so that they will have a feel for what these students are coping with.

Ultimately we’d like our Interactive RAs to give some sound advice online and encourage those who contact them to also seek help on their local campuses. We also expect our iRAs to contribute to our iRA blog by writing up some experiences/advice from your own experiences working with students.

If that sounds interesting to you, please send a cover letter, a resume and three references to this email address:

Some Suggested Exercises for Using The Freshman Survival Guide
Developed for LaSalle University’s New Explorer Program

1. Get involved …but Not Too Involved (Ch. 16)

-Service contest: “On a smaller campus (or in a smaller department) you may want to choose activities that are entirely apart from your major so that you’re meeting different kinds of people. At a smaller school, look for activities that will stretch you beyond the campus boundaries into volunteering opportunities such as tutoring or Habitat for Humanity.” (p 159). Have various FYO sections compete with who can do the most service before midterms start. Metrics for how to measure amounts of service will need to be decided upon etc (hours for tutoring? Days for service trips? You will need to decide ahead of time). *This goes for any contest ideas…NB: Make sure you incentivize the contest. You’ll definitely need a good group prize. Perhaps even overall individual winner as well (iPad?). If you get creative in your thinking, there are inexpensive—or free—ways of creating prizes for students that they will respond to(extra points? Dinner with someone important on campus or famous local alum?) Don’t be afraid to beta test your prize idea by asking them (or other people on campus) what would be the biggest motivator…crowd sourcing ideas can be helpful here. You will be able to come up with something.

-Be a Quitter: “Three thoughts to ease your conscience when you have to drop an activity” (p 161). Counter intuitive advice as most people think of quitting as a negative…Overcommiting can be a big hazard for Freshman. One idea will be to bring this topic up early on and have each member reflect on times in their lives so far when they’ve been overwhelmed and list on a card 5 warning signs they need to be aware of when they are overburdened and need to take a step back. Have them share the list with someone in the group they trust who will be able to keep an eye on them and challenge them respectfully when they see the warning signs happening.

2. Be Generous with Your Friendship but Stingy with your trust (Ch. 1)

-Your Seven Supports (a personal network ranking): “In with the New (Keep Up with the Old) (p 4) Have the members of your group take time to rank for themselves their own list of who they contact first, second, third etc …maybe have them go up to 7 (your choice though). These need to be people they’ve known for a while, people they trust etc. Tell them they need to keep this list somewhere and suggest they look at it—and use it—when they’re feeling stressed. You might even want them to create support lists for different challenges (the first person you call when you have relationship or academic troubles might not be the first person you call if you have a serious health issue).

-How to meet new people: “The five best ways to meet new people in college (according to students)” (p 6) The list in the book is good but it’s general. What are the ways that are specific to LaSalle’s campus? Have a session where you get very specific and list them out…create a contest challenging them to be the one in their group who has attended/tried the most.

-Toxic Friends: (p.7) We listed 6 in the book but we have zero doubt that you will easily be able to come up with some of your own that we haven’t thought of (or didn’t exist yet when we wrote the book). Try describing to the group the type of toxic friendships you’ve seen or experienced and get feedback on how to deal with it and what name you’d give it.

-How to Disengage: (p.9) We gave you three…repeat the same process that you did with Toxic Friends with this topic. (add them to our website in Ch 1’s comments sections)

3. Living with a Weirdo and Other Roommate Issues (Ch. 2)

-Roommate Bill of Rights: (p.24) You can read it in the book, but one good exercise might be to download the free pdf on our website—under ch. 2—and have students read it over bring it back to their rooms to have a discussion about it, perhaps even sign it to signify their agreement to the points listed if the RA on their floor hasn’t asked them to do so already. Obviously you’ll want to tread lightly so as not to interfere with the RA’s job.

-Keeping the Peace: “Two issues tend to make things fall apart between roommates: noise and visitors.” (p 15) Have students discuss their own limits in terms of what they can handle in terms of noise and visitors. Have them read it out to the group and constructively discuss.

-The Roommate Dirty Dozen: (p. 19) We gave you 12 in the book but we know we’ve missed some. Come up with some of your own, try describing to the group come up with a good name and a decision on whether to deal or ditch (add your ideas to the comments section of Ch. 2).

-Commuters: “Commuters might need to be more deliberate in their efforts to get involved in campus life but make no mistake, the lectures, social events, service opportunities and sporting events (the list is practically infinite) that occur practically every night on campus are there for you as well” (p. 26) Make sure you are aware of who in your group is a commuter at the start of the program and be conscious of their limitations in terms of schedule, commute etc when planning events, contests etc. Depending on their desire and personality type, try to utilize and involve them as a good resource for local ideas etc and have them help out of town students understand the metro area better.

4.How to Be a College Student Studying and Time Management (Ch.11)

-Study Skills: Where? When? What? How? Why? (p. 115) Lot of good info here. Have students download the Study Budget (on site Ch 11) and fill it in initially to give them some goals to shoot for in terms of structure etc. Encourage them to continue doing so and holding themselves to some discipline in terms of time management.  ALSO, encourage them to think about how/where/when they concentrate best and suggest they keep these in mind as they try to decide how to approach studying in college. Have them write it down as a reminder for later in the semester when they start running into trouble. (Share their tips in comment section of our website ch 11).

-Stealing back time: We gave you 10 tips for stealing back time on page 119. You can add to our list and share them in comment section in the “Stealing back time” section of our website ch 11.

5. Too Much Of a Dangerous Thing: Alcohol & Drugs on Campus (Ch.20)

-Quiz on stats: [p.197] Do a quiz with students on the reality of drinking on campus. Use it as a discussion starter to have a good conversation about potential dangers etc.

-Alcohol abuse: [p.201] Again, good info to do a quiz to start discussion on what alcohol abuse is and stats about problem behavior etc.

-Drinking and Sexual Assault: [p.203] Not a pleasant topic at all, but there are real statistics in this section again to quiz people about the reality vs. their perception of the issue.

-Study Drugs: [p.207] Another reality on campus that might seem like an “aid” but in fact the risks—listed here—are real as well.

6. Who are you (Ch.7)

-Sexual Identity: [p.75] Another topic that should spark some interesting discussion. You might want to check out our online resources (Ch 7) for organizations with the most up to date stats, help etc. This can be a good opportunity to do an exercise where you have people group themselves according to how they react to a statement you create (Homosexuality is…  Gay people are…) make people agree or disagree etc and have them articulate why. Make sure everyone is aware that personal attacks on others aren’t permitted. ALSO: there are some good quotes from campus ministers on p 76 about the topic of orientation that might be eye opening for some who believe that religious people are only anti-gay etc. This could also be fertile subject matter for discussion.

7. Go to Class (Ch.10)

-Cold Hard Stats: [p.104-105] Find any way possible (quiz, contest, small group discussions etc) to make students look at—and take seriously—the facts and statistics regarding the correlation between class attendance and success in college. It is the single biggest predictor of success or failure. The need to understand how important it is and how much it is costing them. Have them check out our online “Nap Calculator” (ch 10) that allows students to figure out how much their time wasting is actually costing them—or their parents in real dollars.

8.Procrastination: Are you Earning you BA or your IM (Ch.12)

-Tips to Put Procrastination in its Place: [p.123] The points on this page can serve as a good discussion starter to get people to describe how they procrastinate and strategies for how they deal (or don’t) with procrastination. Encourage people to be as honest with themselves as possible and share how they can help each other out in terms of accountability etc.

9. Am I Safe?: Don’t Be Paranoid, Just Be Smart (Ch.19)

-My Survival Guide: [Online Ch 19] People are going to have different levels of comfort with this topic—some might not recognize dangerous situations staring them right in the face while others will see danger lurking around every corner.  Any way to start a very frank discussion about the reality of living on LaSalle’s campus will be helpful here (quizzing students on crime stats in terms of theft, violence etc on campus and the surrounding area can be sobering).  Getting someone from campus security or a student who had a difficult safety-related incident on campus to come speak might also be eye opening. The trick is to let them know they are safe but that they also need to be smart and aware. ALSO have them download the “My Survival Guide” pdf from Ch 19 online and tell them to find out and fill in ALL the emergency info on there and to keep it handy in case of emergency.

10. I Miss My Old Life (Ch.4)

-Homesick Pledge: [p.40] Often around the third or fourth week of college students can start to run into the homesickness wall. There are some great tips on p 40 of the book. Having people share their feelings on it and hear other people’s struggles as well is a fundamental human need. Encourage them to reach out to someone they’re comfortable with to discuss their struggles. Some schools have also taken to asking students to sign a “homesickness pledge” that challenges students to stick out the first six weeks or so and not to go home before the Columbus Day weekend. Some might not be able to commit to it, but it’s a good goal to put out there for Freshmen.

Since our earliest talks with publishers, we’ve been adamant that our book needed to be as interactive an experience as possible. The physical, printed copy of The Freshman Survival Guide book has always been intended to be the centerpiece of a larger discussion about making the transition to college life.  The Freshman Survival Guide was written for students who are at the threshold of what is likely the biggest change they’ve ever experienced in their young lives: their first year at college. While the book is incredibly comprehensive and covers nearly every topic they’re likely to encounter, college life is tremendously dynamic so we knew it would be essential to supplement The Freshman Survival Guide with real-time advice, updates and answers.

That’s why–in addition to the web-based tools, surveys, information, quizzes etc that we referenced in the Online Survival Guide sections throughout every chapter of the book–we also created the Interactive RA (iRA) in partnership with, the nation’s leading online resource for residence life. Some students don’t feel comfortable approaching their local resident assistant for any number of reasons (e.g. their issues are too personal, they are afraid of getting in trouble, they simply don’t like their RA etc).  We wanted to offer students the option of contacting an experienced RA online with some of their more delicate issues. The iRA blog is a similar supplement to the advice in The Freshman Survival Guide. Our team of iRAs will be updating the blog regularly by posting important tips and insights from their own experiences as well as answering your questions. Make sure you check back regularly or join our Facebook page or Twitter feed (@freshmanguide) to receive our blog updates.


Bill McGarvey