Nora Bradbury-Haehl observed that colleges routinely accept more freshman students than they can accommodate, for very practical business reasons: many leave school after just a few months.
“You’ll notice there are a lot of kids in triples (three students for a two-person dorm room) the first semester. Something like 30 percent of freshmen don’t make it through their first year,” Bradbury-Haehl said, adding that as first-semester finals loom, this is the time of year when many frosh are beginning to realize just how far behind they’ve fallen.
In her two decades of youth and young-adult ministry, Bradbury-Haehl has been a sounding board for first-year collegians struggling to embrace independence for the first time in their lives. Among the issues they face are shyness, homesickness, roommate conflicts, academic stresses, out-of-control partying and questionable romantic choices.
“Not everybody at 18 is going to be able to handle that transition. It’s a huge transition — who you’re living with, what you’re eating, your sleep schedule,” said Bradbury-Haehl, who serves as youth-ministry director at Webster’s St. Paul Parish. “Everything they knew has changed in a space of 24 hours — ‘Now what do I do?’ After you see a certain number of kids crash and burn, you say, ‘Can we prevent this?'”
Bradbury-Haehl did her part in 2005 by penning the “Freshman Survival Guide” for BustedHalo.com, a popular national online Catholic magazine for young adults. The lengthy article — her latest in a growing numbers of writings to appear nationally — offers tips for college freshmen and has proven so popular that it’s been updated and reissued each of the past three years. It can be accessed by visiting www.bustedhalo.com/features/the-2008-freshman-survival-guide, and is available as a PDF document as well.
According to BustedHalo.com, the article has been read by and distributed to hundreds of thousands of young people, administrators and parents. Last year’s edition was the most e-mailed and viewed story for more than four months at www.catholic.org, getting forwarded more than 30,000 times.
In “Freshman Survival Guide ’08,” Bradbury-Haehl lists 25 key points — actually 23, because she’s so adamant about attending class that she repeats that plea twice. Among her other pieces of advice are:
* Get balanced amounts of sleep and food.
* Involve yourself in activities, but don’t get over-involved.
* Work through differences with your roommate if possible.
* Fight the urge to go home for the weekends.
* Withstand peer pressure to engage in drinking and sex.
* Limit your time on the Internet, watching television, etc.
* Enter cautiously into friendships and dating.
* Confide in, and keep contact with, family and trusted friends.
* Make time for personal prayer, and seek out campus ministries where people with like values and beliefs can be found.
The “Freshman Survival Guide” on BustedHalo.com also features input from such adults as priests, professors and counselors, as well as reflections and advice from college students. Readers can add their own suggestions and experiences by logging onto Facebook.com and searching for the group “BustedHalo.”
Bradbury-Haehl, 41, serves as a contributing editor for BustedHalo.com. She also is author of the book ScriptureWalk: Discipleship(2000), and was one of six writers for Break Through! The Bible for Young Catholics (2006). Both were published by St. Mary’s Press.
She may well have another book brewing, based on the success of the “Freshman Survival Guide.” Bradbury-Haehl said negotiations are under way to expand the guide into a full-length book with a mainstream publisher.
“It just got huge,” she remarked, stressing that she’s happy not so much with the attention she’s received as writer, but because the guide resonates with and helps so many people.
“To me, there’s just no bigger thrill,” she said.