College Advice From "Naked Roommate" Author

Harlan Cohen addresses freshmen at Webster University on Aug. 19. Cohen is the author of the New York Times best seller, "The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College." photo by Claudia Burris, Webster University (click for larger version)
August 26, 2011
The nightmare roommate. The toughest class. The countless new faces.

Local incoming college freshmen are dealing with a host of daunting experiences as they are thrust into a new environment.

At Webster University's freshman orientation on Friday, Aug. 19, New York Times best-selling author and nationally syndicated advice columnist Harlan Cohen presented a humor-filled talk based on his book - "The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College" - aimed at helping students navigate through the exciting, yet challenging, days of the first year of college.

"I'm worried about meeting people," said Rebecca Sachtleben, a freshman art major at Webster University. Sachtleben said for the first time she will be without her twin sister and best friend, who is attending another college.

Amid dim lighting in Webster's Loretto Hilton Center, Cohen told Sachtleben and about 200 of her fellow freshmen that staying open to new experiences and new people was the best way to enjoy college.

"If you put yourself in lots of rooms around lots of people doing lots of things you love, you will have the experience you want," he said.

During the hour-long presentation, Cohen played guitar, called for audience participation and cracked jokes about the difficulties and triumphs of college life in an effort to get students to "relax about college." Within minutes, Cohen had Webster students roaring with laughter and opening up about their hopes and fears about college.

Cohen's books and 15-year-old "Help Me, Harlan!" advice column for students were inspired by his own "traumatic" college experience. He said he was "thrown for a loop" as a freshman at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wis.

"It wasn't what I expected," he said. "My long-distance girlfriend dumped me, my my best friend transferred schools and I didn't get into the frat I wanted."

After suffering through these common college pitfalls, Cohen said he realized the only person who could take care of him was him.

"I realized I was waiting for everyone else to give me my college experience," he said.

Two years later, he chose to transfer schools and start with a clean slate at The University of Indiana in Bloomington, Ind. There he said he made the decision to push his fears aside, express himself and take in any experiences he chose.

"Give yourself permission to have whatever experience you want," Cohen told the Webster students. "Have high expectations, but not unrealistic expectations. And give it a semester, two semesters, even two years."

Since his school days, Cohen has offered survival tips to thousands of students through his books, columns and presentations at more than 400 colleges across the nation. Over the years, he has tackled a wide range of horrific and hilarious experiences - from a roommate having relations with someone while you are in the room, to the forbidden teacher-student hook-up, and the overprotective parent who can't quite seem to leave freshmen orientation.

"If you are the only parent in the room, there is something wrong," Cohen said.

Cohen, who also hosted a presentation Friday for about 200 parents of incoming Webster freshmen, was invited to speak at the school after a professor chose "The Naked Roommate" as the required book for the university's Webster 101 college transition class. The book and accompanying workbook, "The Naked Roommate's First Year Survival Workbook," are in use at colleges throughout the country.

Cohen also has a book for parents to help their students - "The Happiest Kid on Campus: A Parent's Guide to the Very Best College Experience (For You and Your Child)."

For further advice from Cohen and ways to connect with other college students, the author hosts a website,

Visitors to the site can start their own page, talk with fellow students and share college experiences. Cohen provides advice to students through blogs, videos and forums.

Next, Cohen takes on the world of dating. In April 2012, he will release his next book - "Naked Dating: Five Steps to Finding the Love of Your Life (While Fully Clothed and Totally Sober)," - to help college students find mates.

Webster University is a private, nonprofit college with 22,000 students across 100 campuses worldwide. Its home campus in Webster Groves has a 2011-12 freshman class of 580 students.

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