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The Real Freshman Handbook


The Real Freshman Handbook

Jennifer Hanson and Friends

Combining advice from 12 college students from across the country, THE REAL FRESHMAN HANDBOOK bills itself as a lighthearted survival guide for prospective college freshmen. The book is an odd combination of serious advice, practical tips, and silly (and sometimes mildly offensive) humor. Think "Alfred E. Neuman Goes to College" meets "The Idiot's Guide to Freshman Year."

The book does address many of the issues that an incoming freshman ought to consider: choosing a residence hall, picking classes, buying a computer, making and keeping friends, finding a major, planning a semester abroad, studying, and more. Some of the advice is pretty good. For example, on course selection the contributors suggest that, when in doubt, a freshman may be better off choosing a less demanding course or a lighter load and that he or she should listen carefully to the student grapevine on courses and instructors. All this is along with quite a bit of HINTS FROM HELOISE-type chat about removing stains, shopping, cooking, packing, and doing laundry.

Because I have worked in university administration for over 20 years, I know that college students can make some pretty lousy decisions on drinking, drug use, and sexual activity. To the contributors' credit, they do address those behavioral issues, even if the tone is more lighthearted than most adults will feel comfortable with. Some of the specific recommendations are thin, but mostly they are fairly sensible. If nothing else, it can't hurt to emphasize how important it is for college students to stop and think a bit before doing something they may regret for a long time. Unfortunately, it can be easy for freshmen to get carried away in the freedoms of college life; prudence and sound judgment are not necessarily the hallmarks of college students' personal decision-making.

On the other hand, at times the book veers into silliness or even nastiness. For example, want ideas on how to plan revenge on an ex-girlfriend? THE REAL FRESHMAN HANDBOOK offers this laundry room tactic: "While she's sneaking a glance at herself in the dryer window, quickly replace her liquid Tide with Cranapple." That is probably intended as humor. But it is hard to tell what to make of some of the other advice. For example, if you don't want to bother checking books out of the library, the contributors suggest that you "create your own reserves section by stashing the books you need in a little-perused section of the shelves." Lead author Jennifer Hanson is a graduate of Harvard University and a law student at the University of Michigan; I suspect that she knows better.

THE REAL FRESHMAN HANDBOOK is probably intended for, and most useful for, traditional freshman --- that is, 18-year-olds making the transition from high school to a residential, four-year college or university. Young men and women in that cohort might like the style of the book. It probably wouldn't work as well for commuters, students at a community college, or returning adults.

Some readers might enjoy an alternative book on this topic. An excellent choice would be MAKING THE MOST OF COLLEGE: Students Speak Their Minds by Harvard psychology professor Richard J. Light. Another readable and substantive volume in this genre is MAJOR IN SUCCESS by Patrick Combs.

Reviewed by Michael J. Dooris on April 25, 2002

The Real Freshman Handbook
Jennifer Hanson and Friends

  • Publication Date: April 25, 2002
  • Genres: Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books
  • ISBN-10: 0618163425
  • ISBN-13: 9780618163427