So you’re headed off to college! If you’re honest with yourself, you probably have mixed emotions about it. College is an exciting new chapter with new friendships being formed and new opportunities placed before you. But all of these changes can be a bit overwhelming. I wish we could sit together at your favorite coffee shop and talk about these things, but instead, here is the advice I would give to you:
1. Join a campus ministry.
Campus ministries exist to connect with you and to connect you with Christ. The goal of a campus ministry is to grow your faith, give you opportunities to put your faith into action, offer you deep, life-giving friendships, and provide wisdom and advice throughout your college chapter and into the next. Odds are, whatever denominational background or style of worship you have come from, there will be an on-campus ministry that reflects that. So get involved! Go to the weekly Bible study. Plug in deeper through smaller groups. Serve alongside them.
2. Your job is to be a student.
If you’ve ever worked a job before, then you know with a job comes expectations and responsibilities. Being a student is now your job. You have prepared for this role for most of your life under the support and guidance of your parents. Now it’s time to use all of that guidance (while still calling on them for support—don’t forget to call mom!) and move away from home to begin this new endeavor. Your whole academic life has been leading up to this moment. You’re ready.
Here’s the job description: Be a good student. Learn, grow, and set goals for the future. You’re about to invest a substantial amount of time and money into this life endeavor, and what you are to expect in return from this is your future.
So don’t ignore your grades, because they do matter. But don’t become obsessed with them, either. Do the best you can do to please God with your work. Someone once told me that college is more about learning how to think well than about getting good grades. But grades are valuable indicators of how well you’re learning.
3. Explore your call.
The beauty of all of us being individuals is that each of us are invited to play a role in doing something to make the world a better place. This invitation to do something is known as a calling. A calling can be something that you are passionate about, and because of that passion, you’re eager to do something about it. For example, I care deeply for orphans. It’s on my heart. It’s on God’s heart. At first, I had no idea what I could even do about it. But in college, I had the opportunity to begin sponsoring a child with Compassion International. Then, I had the opportunity to go on a mission trip to Ghana, Africa, through the Wesley Foundation where I visited a specific orphanage. That was life-changing. Now, I am the executive director of a non-profit that raises support and care for that specific orphanage. All this came to be because I had passion for it.
My campus minister quoted Frederick Buechner one night, and it changed my whole perspective on calling: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” How can you partner with God to lend a hand to the world? What do you feel led to do?
4. Start forming healthy habits now.
In your lifetime you’ve probably heard a sermon illustrating a garden as an example for life. I won’t teach you that sermon today, but I know no better image. If soil represents life, then everything I do has the potential to plant seeds, which can produce fruit—both good fruit and bad fruit. You’ve been forming habits all your life, and now is the time to make sure you are forming good habits. Choose healthy habits. What do I mean by this? Make a budget. Go to the gym. Cook your food. Balance your time. Communicate well. Limit social media use. Keep your commitments. Take responsibility. Ask good questions. Accept criticism. Learn to argue well. Be a good friend. This will produce good fruit in your life now and through the years to come.
5. Decide who you want to be before going.
Who are you? What kind of person do you want to be? These are important questions to ask yourself before going to college. Honor your values and choices ahead of time. Flee from morally compromising situations, and engage in life-giving things. Protect your reputation and integrity. Select friends with similar values and lifestyles as yours. Don’t settle. Don’t compromise who you are. Have a vision of the person you’re wanting to be. It’s also a good idea to ask someone to hold you accountable to be that person.
6. Be in relationship with people and not just one person.
There is a temptation when you go to college to feel pressure to “find your significant other.” Because this is ingrained in our minds, thanks Hollywood, freshmen begin dating early in their college days and sacrifice forming a deep community. Every year at the Wesley Foundation, I give the same advice to freshmen over and over again: consider not dating your freshmen year. Instead, get to know people—all kinds of people. Learn to be a good friend to the community you’re in.
7. If you date, date well.
It’s hard to discuss the topic of dating biblically because the Bible doesn’t say anything about it. Dating is less than a century old, and the Scriptures were written thousands of years ago. What the Bible does talk about is sex, marriage, and relationships. So the ‘how to guide’ to go from liking someone to ‘dating, pursuing, courting’ them for marriage is determined by us; however, that freedom needs to be shaped by what the scriptures do say about honoring God and one another. If you’re struggling with singleness, see this article: 10 Biblical Tips for Christian Singles
8. Take advantage of having a roommate.
Jesus said, “Love your neighbor,” so that basically means, “love your bunk mate.” Get to know your roommate. Take this opportunity to learn skills in being a good listener and communicator. Invest in them. Learn how to settle disagreements well. Put the fruit of the Spirit in action every day before you even leave your room: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
9. Leave the past behind.
What once defined you for years no longer defines you in college. You won’t be known for your past achievements, relationships, failures or regrets. For some of you, this is an encouraging thought. Maybe you’ve had many struggles in high school and you’re eager to let go of the past and start over. College is a good place to do that. For others, this is a disappointing thought. Maybe you’ve built who you are based upon your academic success or sport/art accomplishments, and the idea of not having those things known is disappointing.
Carry the accomplishments with you to give you the encouragement and affirmation you need, but know that you will gain new achievements during this next season. Let go of the past mistakes, failures, and hurts and allow the newness to bring healing for the brokenness of the past.
10. Belong to a church.
It’s important to get up on Sundays and spend time with God in a community. To taht end, remember that no church is perfect. Churches are made up of broken people striving to follow Jesus. Find a church that is alive and full of Jesus and is making an impact within the community for the Kingdom.
Before you move, you can check out churches online. Once you get there, begin to ask around about the churches. Make this a priority. You might have to church hop a few times to find the place where you can be fed and also where you can give. May I encourage you to not just show up on Sundays, but to go a step deeper by joining a Sunday school class, community group, or Bible study? Surrounding yourself by all kinds of people, of all ages, in all stages of life, will strengthen your faith, give you wisdom, and add much joy to your life.
Remember that the college season is a growing season, which means it can be difficult. Be patient with yourself and give yourself and others grace. I’m excited for you and wish you the best!
P.S. Keep in touch with those back home. Mom and Dad are eager to know about this new life of yours, and they’re going to want to continue to walk through it with you. Trust me, you’ll need them. #PhoneHome (You’re welcome, mom!)