The Send Off

This fall over 1.5 million students will start their freshman year of college. Some of them will hit the ground running and never look back. For others their freshman year, especially the first few months, will be more of a challenge. Thirty percent of them will actually drop out during their first year. If you’re one of that 1.5 million and don’t want to be part of the 30%, check out our Freshman Survival Guide.

Busted Halo’s Freshman Survival Guide is the first college guide to offer a holistic look into the lives of college students by combining practical advice on student life — academics, relationships and lifestyle — with guidance on coping with the emotional and spiritual issues college students face.

Armed with a little bit of information, you’ll be in much better shape to handle the difficulties that lie ahead.

Why is starting college so difficult?

  • You’re in a new place away from everything and everyone familiar.
  • There’s no one to keep you accountable and true to the person you have always been.
  • You’re learning to set your own limits.

These are major changes! It’s easy to get overwhelmed. Keep in mind, though, others have gone before you and lived to tell the tale. Here’s’s list of tips and tricks to help you avoid the most common pitfalls, plus advice from other college students and experts to get you through the next few months…

The 2010 Online Freshman Survival Guide

1. Be generous with your friendship but stingy with your trust. The friends you have back home didn’t get to be your friends overnight. Some of the people you meet in your first few weeks may turn out to be the best friends of your life, but every class has its gems and its criminals (I’m not kidding, some of them are actually criminals). Which ones are which will come clear over the next few months. Wait until you get to know them before you loan them your car or share your deepest secrets. (See our chapter excerpt from the forthcoming book, The Freshman Survival Guide.)

The biggest lesson for me was to take it slow. There’s no need to friend half the freshman class online before you show up to school. I knew many people who were ‘friends’ with hundreds of students before they stepped on campus. Meet people in person and friend those that you like and trust. This is how true friendships are built. There was a time that people made friends before Facebook.

Sophomore, Middlebury College

2. GO TO CLASS! Seems obvious, it is why you’re at college, but you wouldn’t believe how many freshmen skip their way out of school. Do a little math and figure how much it costs for you to have your butt in that chair per hour. You’ll be less willing to blow one off. Save your absences for the end of the semester when you’ve got mono and three papers due in the same week.

If you’ve always been able to skate along without really working too hard, that might just catch up with you now. Check out the Busted Halo Study Budget to help you develop a plan of attack.

3. Help! I’m Drowning! There are lots of helpful people on campus ready to throw you a life preserver — health services, counseling, academic advisors, campus ministry, first year experience staff, and your RA — to name just a few. The transition to college life can be a rocky one. If you find yourself behaving in ways that are contrary to your values or you feel like you’re in the bottom of an emotional pit and can’t get out — get help.

Trust the institution of RA’s and adults as mentors rather than looking at them as authority figures.

Michael Galligan-Stierle, Vice President of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities

4. Don’t be afraid, just be smart. Want to stay safe on campus? Don’t walk alone at night (whether you’re female or male). Don’t go to a party alone and look out for each other when you do go out. Lock up your stuff: your door, your car, your bike, your locker, EVERY time. Your cell, your laptop, your iPod, your backpack/purse should never leave your sight. Most on-campus theft is opportunity crime — you left something of value “just for a minute” and a minute is all it takes for somebody to steal your stuff.

Be aware of people… your parents always told you never to talk to strangers. They were right. Yes, making new friends from class, the residence hall, or around campus is a good thing; however, don’t fully let your guard down. Don’t assume the worst in everyone, but don’t be naïve either. You should never feel obligated to compromise your values for friendships, grades, or for the next party. If you don’t feel safe going to a party, hanging out with a certain person, or walking around late at night… don’t do it.

RA & Hall Director Zahrah Ektefaei at Fordham

5. Be yourself! Don’t forget who you are just because you’re in a new place. You’re still you and it’s gotten you this far! Your values, your likes and dislikes, the things you’re good at haven’t changed; hang onto those things, especially while you’re getting used to this new environment.

College is a great time to find yourself and what you love. Some people have known what they wanted to do when they grew up since they were 7; others, not so much. You don’t have to figure it all out at once. With all of the pressures, I found I really figured out the big questions little by little, and I learned from lots of different experiences and people.

RA Joshua Daly

6. Too Plugged In. IM, computer games, TV and your favorite game system can be nice diversions; just don’t let them suck up all of your time. Give yourself an “allowance” each day for time spent plugged in and don’t go over it! DON’T stay up all night playing video games or letting Facebook eat your life just because you can. Electronic distractions can be addictive.

7. Get some SLEEP! Do it at night as often as possible. Staying up all night and sleeping all day screws up your body clock and your ability to attend your very expensive classes. Lack of sleep also impairs judgment. It may not seem like a big deal to pull a few all-nighters, but according to Dr. Richard Kadison, Chief of Mental Health Services at Harvard, poor sleep quality can lead to depression, anxiety, reduced physical health, poor problem-solving and attention difficulties, and increased use of drugs and alcohol.

8. Don’t Just Sit There… DO SOMETHING! The college experience is about so much more than just sitting in classes. Campus activities and organizations are a great way to expand your horizons and connect with other students who share your interests. Charles L. Currie, S.J., president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, explains that there is “an explosion of options” for students in their first few weeks on campus. Every club, activity, and association will be vying for your time. But, be choosey and if you’re a “joiner” be careful not to over-commit yourself.

Campus Minister Dave Nantais at the University of Michigan warns against doing too much at first — Sometimes I see freshmen who come in and sign up for everything under the sun and by mid-October they’re already burned out from being too involved.

I [talked recently] with a rising sophomore who worried about making new friends this second year of college because she joined an unfit social circle her freshman year. In order to prevent that I suggest joining many activities you enjoy — social justice work, your school newspaper, or club sports — in order to meet people of different interests and backgrounds. That way if one social scene is not for you, another will be at your finger tips.

RA Michaela McDonald, Providence

9. Pray. Whether you’re an experienced or novice pray-er, now’s a great time to do it. Your understanding of who God is and how God works will most likely change a lot over the next few years. When you have a decision to make, Fr. Charlie Donahue suggests prayer. “Spend some time in your own head and heart mulling over what you really want to do and what would be healthy.” Prayer can keep you open to new directions and insights. It can also simply be a reminder of God’s love and care for you. And most importantly it can keep you centered, calm and ready to deal with everything life is throwing at you right now. Don’t know how? Check out some of the resources here on to get started.

In your new world of College life of constant motion and very little down time with you wanting to take everything in you need to build in quiet time with the Lord. Try to spend the time walking to class, or waiting for your laundry to finish in the dryer as a time to prayer. One of my favorite phrases to ponder when life seems to not be going the way you want it is to think about one of my quotes, “Don’t tell God how big your storm is but tell your storm how big your God is.”

Fr. Marty Moran, Executive Director of the Catholic Campus Ministry Association

10. Your New BFF? Dealing with your Roommate. They might be weird or messy or talk too much or keep different hours than you, but work hard to establish and maintain a positive relationship with your new roommate. You may not spend every waking moment together, nor should you, but even roommates who are polar opposites can still offer each other a little sympathy after a hard day.

If you ever have a problem with something your roommate is doing…TELL THEM!!! It will only get worse if it is ignored!! By worse I mean eruption of tears and anger and frustration! It is best to get everything out on the table because most likely it is something that can be easily fixed, like wearing headphones while listening to music while your roomie is studying. It will make everyone less stressed and will create a better living environment.

Sophomore, Juniata College

The most difficult thing was learning to live with new people. I was used to my family for 18 years, and then I had to live with another person that I never had to before. The way she or he did things was different and coping with how she or he did that was also different. I had to learn to be more vocal in my wants and needs, and be more compromising.

Senior, Penn State University

11. Homesickness

You will get homesick. For the past five years, I’ve lived in a freshmen dorm. The first week everyone is frenetic, happy, rushing around loving college. About day 12 or so, all of the sudden, almost every freshmen looks like someone just stole their puppy. Homesickness is normal, and it is also normal to think you are the only one feeling it. The truth is, you just left the nicest place you will ever live. Those folks let you eat for free, let you use their car, and even paid for your cell phone. Now you’re on your own. It takes some time to adjust. Homesickness passes. Go to class and get involved in some activity you enjoy or want to explore

Fr. Rick Malloy SJ

Boys Cry Too at Busted Halo

My freshmen experience of homesickness was staying in that first night (turning down my roommate’s request to join him in the common area where many freshmen had gathered) and crying until I fell asleep. That next day I felt a lot better and started going out to meet new people. For me, I just needed to let it all out for one night before moving on.

A sensitive (and anonymous) male BH staffer

“I saw so many people get homesick and go home every weekend, and they ended up alienating themselves from their peers and having a harder time adjusting. Everybody’s going to get homesick at some point, but really try to push yourself to stay on campus for the first few weekends, and socialize as much as possible. Going back home may make you feel more comfortable, but it will only make going back to school on Monday that much more difficult.”

Jennifer, Senior, Fordham University

“If you’re constantly on your phone calling or texting friends at home, people WILL notice, and trust me, it gets annoying and can really hinder the beginnings of friendships. So instead, put the phone away, turn it off even, and make plans to talk to your friends later in the evening or online. I allowed myself one visit home before fall break, but only one. So many students go home the first weekend and as often as they can, but this can be a mistake. You get to finally have fun with your friends on the weekends – it’s hard to make friendships like that if you aren’t around for it.”

Junior, Juniata College

12. Let Someone Else Bring Sexy Back. What are you posting? When you put that sexy bikini picture up or your body-building shots you probably weren’t thinking about your student teaching application or your junior year internship. Keep in mind that (even with privacy settings) the internet is a very public place. If you don’t want your mother, that creepy kid up the hall, or your prospective employer to see it, DON’T post it! Pictures of last night’s party might seem funny today but probably won’t make you proud when it’s time to suit up and go job hunting.

13. Beer + You = a very expensive waste of a semester. Underage drinking is a really embarrassing way to flunk out. Find friends who can have fun that isn’t entirely fueled by alcohol and your first semester will go a lot easier. Rule of Thumb: If you’re getting wasted every weekend you’re headed for trouble. If you’re missing class because you’re hung over you’re already in trouble.

I think one of the biggest lessons that you need to learn when you head off to college is moderation. I don’t mean that you can’t do this or that, but that you shouldn’t spend all your time with your books …or your friends. 

Jesse Barr, Senior, RPI

14. Dating, Relationships, and Sex on Campus. Everyone seems to have a story about a bad dating decision or a hook-up gone wrong. Whether it’s an older student that takes advantage of freshman naïveté, a crush turned stalker, or simply a case of leaping prior to looking, campus relationships can be a bit of a minefield. Be particularly cautious in those first few weeks when everyone’s still adrift. Falling for someone who’s just looking for a little recreational intimacy early in your first semester can mess up your head, not to mention your grades. Besides a broken heart or a bruised ego there are lots of other reasons — health, safety, values — to avoid hooking up.

Wait till you’ve been on campus and have built some friendships you can fall back on before getting into a romantic relationship. Then if your romance works out you’ll have some friends to be happy for you, and if not there’ll be somebody to hand you a Kleenex when you’re crying into your teacup.

Watch out for the campus “player.” Every campus has a guy who is notorious for hitting on the incoming freshmen. This guy shows up to all the freshman events, will say all the right things, but be smart and be safe. I’ve known a number of freshmen who beat themselves up for things they did with that guy (or girl).

RA & Hall Director, Fordham, Zahrah Ektefaei

15. Taking Faith to College. There will be lots of different ideas floating around campus. It’s one of the best things about the college atmosphere, and an open mind is a great thing to bring with you. Hopefully some of your ideas will be challenged and you’ll explore your faith more deeply because of it. However, if you find yourself in a conversation about God that leaves you feeling defensive, don’t feel like you have to keep talking or listening. Just because you’re not a good arguer that doesn’t make you a bad Christian! (Or Jew or Muslim or Buddhist.) There are churches that train their young members to recruit, and even to attack the beliefs of, other Christians. (Nice, huh?) Usually that person is not interested in your ideas or your understanding of God, they only want you to leave your church and join theirs. Bring your questions back to someone you trust.

Larry Rice, CSP, Director of Catholic Campus Ministry at Ohio State suggests — Your Catholic campus minister, chaplain, or Newman Center staff members are here to help. If you need someone to talk to, a place to belong, a community to be a part of, and a place to be accepted for yourself, look us up. Generally speaking, we’re a different kind of church than you may have experienced before: energetic, welcoming, faith-filled, and fun. Seriously.

16. Learn how to be a college student. Organizing your time and using it effectively, utilizing study groups, the library and all the different learning centers and resources available on campus, and learning to advocate for yourself — this is a whole new skill set for most people. Give yourself some time to get used to this new learning environment and don’t expect that you should be able to figure it all out yourself. Use your professors’ office hours. Ask upperclassmen, especially those in your major, what they did freshman year to keep up with class material, study for tests and relate to professors.

You have made a conscious, informed choice to be a member of this class. This means that you have read the syllabus, and know the workload required. Be aware that on average, you should spend 3 hours on your own (reading, studying, making notes, working on assignments, etc.) for every hour that you are in class.

Loyola Marymount professor Amir Hussain, Ph.D. and author of Oil and Water: Two Faiths, One God

17. All Work and No Friends. One of the biggest challenges is worrying about all these new issues at the same time you’re building a new support network. Make sure you take time to tend your relationships — the old ones and the new ones. Parents can be one of your most important supports right now. Take time with new friends to really get to know each other and keep in touch with friends from back home. When the chips are down and you need some encouragement to keep moving forward you’ll be glad you did. Even if you haven’t been great about keeping in touch, an old friend or mentor is usually thrilled to hear from you, even if it’s just so you can whine for a little while. Don’t let guilt or worry about work to be done keep you from tending these life-sustaining relationships!

We encourage people to print out and distribute the condensed our one-page PDF version of the 2010 Freshman Survival Guide — click here to download it.

Check out the Freshman Survival Guide fan page on Facebook to see even more tips, ask questions and add your own suggestions.