August is upon us which means another crop of incoming college freshman are about to descend upon their college campuses all over the country the next few weeks. The summer after graduating from high school before my freshman year of college may have been the best summer of my life (the summer after graduating from college right before starting my career and the summer I got married rank up there too). As the summer weeks wound down closer to the time I would be leaving for college I tried to recall all the things that people told me to expect when I went to college. For the most part I could remember all the encouragement, warnings and things I could expect for how college was going to be different than anything else I had experienced.
I appreciate that people tried to prepare me, but honestly nothing they said made that much of a difference because the information in advance paled in comparison to the actual experience. Simply put the information gave me an awareness of what to expect, but in a lot of ways it didn’t prepare me because it was just so different from High School. I remember thinking I won’t bother telling incoming college freshmen all the things I was told cause it just didn’t prepare me. Well now that I’m a youth pastor I feel a little obligated to give some advice or heads up. So here are a few things for you all to keep in mind before you go off to college.
“You’ll Have Way More Time On Your Hands”—This is the one thing that no one told me that I wish they had. If there is one thing that I failed at in my first few years of college it was time management. The best way I can describe college is that you have way more time than you know what to do with. This is especially important to note if you are a procrastinator because you’ll have more time to do just that. Interestingly enough a student I had coffee with this summer had the opposite problem, “I got so used to being in school seven hours a day, and doing homework until at least ten o’clock at night that the first few months of college I never left my room because I thought I should be putting as much time in as I did in High School even though the professors didn’t assign much in the way of homework.” First things first, is the key principle to practice regardless of which camp you fall into. When I finally figured that out, with the exception of the occasional project, I never did homework and studying past eight o’clock and had plenty of time to hang out with people without having it in the back of my mind that I still had work I needed to finish.
“Free T-shirts Are the Doorway to Debt”—most schools that I know of have an orientation at the beginning of the year where you can find out about all the different student organizations on campus. Inevitably there will be one booth set up with the offer of free t-shirts. Well free if you fill out a no obligation application first. More than likely this is a credit card company getting a bunch of broke unemployed college students to sign up for a credit card by baiting them with a free t. Personally I think it’s kind of unethical for credit card companies to prey on college students who don’t have a real job will have an enormous debt awaiting them upon graduation to get into even more debt before they have the means to handle. But they can do it because you all are technically adults so just no what you’re getting into before you sign up to get the free t.
“Find Christ-Centered Community Immediately”—Over the years most of the students I know who maintain a vibrant growing faith in Christ through college are the ones who don’t waste time getting plugged into a on-campus Christian ministry. I know of very few colleges and universities that don’t have either a Campus Crusade or Inter-Varsity. Both ministries have a great reputation nationally. One recommendation I would give though is to go a step further and find a local church to get plugged into. Look for a local church where you can form healthy adult relationships and serve. You’re going to be with people your age and life stage all the time. The local church is a great place to branch out and go beyond homogeny. In all likelihood there’s bound to be a church near your campus that does a great job of recruiting families to ‘adopt’ a college student. During my college years the churches that I felt most connected to and a part of were not the ones that had a college ministry but the ones that I served and formed relationships with other adults.
“Drunkenness is a Moral Issue. Underage Drinking Is A Legal Issue”—So just don’t do it. Even if you have the discipline not to abuse alcohol and become drunk you are taking a risk with the law when you choose to drink as a minor. If you get caught your parents aren’t going to be around to smooth things over with the authorities, and you can actually be kicked out of school if it becomes a problem. [Sidenote–It goes without saying that I’m not condoning it, but girls if you choose to drink at a party I strongly advise you get your own drinks and literally eye ball your drink into the cup to assure that it hasn’t been tampered with]
Don’t Rush To Rush—The only Christians I have known that entered the Greek system and didn’t compromise their morals and lose their identity to the identity of the fraternity or sorority are those who approached it with the mindset of doing ministry; to be salt and light. I don’t want to come across as completely bashing the Greek system because they still do good things, but let’s just call it what it has largely become; a place where you can get easy acceptance and identity as long as you can pay the dues, and become a part of a community that for the most part is about partying, drug and alcohol abuse, promiscuity with the occasional service project thrown in. Sure they’ll have made connections that often prove to be advantageous when they enter the workforce, but at what cost? Not to mention that similar connections can be gained by getting to know at least one professor or administrator and a handful of fellow students in the department you’re majoring in. What was once a culture of developing and nurturing future leaders has become a culture of recklessness. I believe the culture of the Greek system can and should be redeemed but it will require people who enter it with a missional mindset (And if that is your aim I know some people I can refer you to for mentoring on how to do it and what to expect). So if you’re going to rush, rush for the right reasons.
In Closing—As a youth pastor I want to give students the opportunity to take ownership of their faith. In a lot of ways the college years is the proving ground of whether or not they’ve done that. I can’t take too much credit for how they turn out because there are so many variables. That being said, no matter what ups and downs they encounter at college and university over and above all that stuff above I hope my students know where they can find me.