This summer many teens across Missouri will find themselves in new and difficult situations as they get ready to move into the next chapter of their life: miles away from home and sharing a room with a stranger, excited but nervous about meeting new people, unsure about that professor with the “impossible” reputation, walking out of the dorm and into a sea of faces... After four years of high school, routines have become comfortable so it is logical to conclude that transitioning from the very familiar to unknown can be stressful. Here are some guidelines for students and parents.
Talk with others that have attended the same university. The people who have been around the block before can be a wealth of information as you get ready to make decisions about what college is best for you. They can answer questions for you or offer advice on things that you didn’t even think about.
Plug into a Christian community and be involved. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says, “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” Find a community of support on campus as well as a church community. By plugging into a community of people with the same morals and values as you, you have connected yourself with a vital support system. God created us for community which is a necessity no matter how mature we think we are in our spiritual life. But you can’t just sit passively in your dorm room waiting for opportunities, you have to be proactive in meeting new people and be willing to put yourself outside of your comfort zone.
If going away to college, stay connected to home, but from a distance. This can be a tough, since the urge to go home is natural and comfortable. However, spending weekends at home deprives you of those community building experiences in college. Know that almost everyone gets homesick in some way. And while that uncomfortable feeling might be soothed for a short time by going home, returning to the dorm room Sunday night is like going back to square one. You can’t expect to grow in your community if you don’t invest some intentional time to grow it. Alternatively, if you are enjoying your new found freedom and are involved in many things, don’t forget to stay connected with your parents. They want to hear about what’s going on with you. They miss you too. You don’t have to have an hour long conversation with them, but let them know how things are going and what things you are enjoying about college life. They also make a great resource for questions and guidance.
Find an organizational method or time management system that works for you. This is one consistent piece of advice that I hear from college students. Being prepared is key and having a system to help you be successful is imperative, whether that be a physical planner where things are written down, an app on your phone, or a whiteboard calendar. Do whatever it takes to help keep you organized. You will probably find that the workload is more than what you have been used to in high school, so keeping yourself organized can help relieve some of the stress. If you are involved in any extracurricular activities, having a plan for your time is even more important. You only have so many hours in a day and don’t forget that you have to sleep, eat, and go to class. The hours that are left over are yours to manage wisely.
Ask questions and talk with your professors. Approaching a professor for the first time can be a scary experience, but time and time again I have heard from college students that it is so very important to ask questions early on if you do not understand something. Most professors want to see you succeed and are more than willing to help you, but they are not going to come to you. Take the initiative and ask for help. Use your professor’s office hours, contact them via email or your learning platforms. This shows them that you care about learning. Universities have a lot of resources like study groups and tutoring sessions that you can be involved in to help you in understanding class material. Use what is available to you to put yourself in a position to succeed early on.
Take time for yourself. This is important because the stresses of college are real. Build “down time” into your schedule. This looks different for each individual. For some it might be hanging out with friends, for some it might be doing some type of physical activity, for others it might be taking a nap, or listening to music. You are responsible for your own health and well being. You have one body that God has blessed you with. Take care of it.
Develop a routine for yourself – you are responsible for you. In college, expect more responsibilities. You are responsible for getting yourself to class. (Also, don’t skip classes. It may seem fun at the time, but you will regret that decision down the road.) You are responsible for keeping on top of your work. You are responsible for your education. You are responsible for getting yourself to church. You are responsible for doing your own laundry. You are responsible for taking care of yourself. (Eating right, getting enough sleep, exercising, having personal devotion time, etc.) Develop a routine that lists out your priorities and stick to it as much as possible.
Lean into your identity in Christ. This is one of the most valuable lessons to absorb. Your identity is found in Christ. Your identity is not wrapped up in the clothes you wear, the sports you play, the organizations you are involved in, or the accolades you accumulate. You have ultimate worth because God says so! He created you in His own image and you are His. “See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:16a). Rest secure in that promise of love.
Pray daily! Keep God in your schedule. He wants to be a priority in your life. Talk to Him often, when you wake up, in the car, on your walk to class, before a big test, at the end of the day, when you’re in a slump, and when things are going well. Download an app that gives you daily bible verses. Keep your bible close at hand. Do you get the picture? “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18). Your Savior desires to have a relationship with you. Take His hand and let Him lead you.
Be supportive, but don’t be a helicopter. Your child needs some room to grow on their own, and that won’t happen with you hovering over them. Sometimes it takes a little tough love by pointing them to growth and connections rather than caving in to their plea to come home. You want them to learn to be independent individuals, so the focus is on long term growth instead of short term inconveniences. You want them to be able to experience happiness and confidence knowing that they can be successful at taking responsibility as they grow into adulthood. Sometimes this means experiencing short term sorrow in order to point them towards long term joy.
Pray, pray, and then pray some more. Pray for your children. Pray that God would lead them in the way that they should go to best serve Him, and pray that your child will be open to His calling. It’s tough to let your children go, it really is, but trust that God has a plan for them and that He will use them right where they are at this very moment in time to accomplish His work for His glory. Romans 9:17 says, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Pray that your child would know where their true source of strength comes from and that they would tap into that source daily. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).
Discuss expectations. Discuss expectations before they leave for college– and sooner is better than later. Be open to their thoughts as well. They are going to be on their own. What expectations do they have of themselves? What expectations do you have of them when they are living away from home? Will they be working during the school year? What are the expectations when they come home for the summer? Even if they are not going away to college, those conversations still need to be had. The family dynamic is changing. It’s better to be proactive than reactive.
Fiscal responsibility. This is a big one. It’s important to be financially aware, both parents and students. What is your financial plan for college? What is the cost of tuition? Will your child be working during the school year? Do they have scholarships to help pay for college? What does paying back a student loan look like? Encourage your child to take the time to fill out scholarship applications. Even the lower dollar amounts add up. Filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is also a good idea as you could likely get money for filling it out early.
College is an exciting time for families, but the transition is made easier if planning and preparations begin taking place sooner rather than later. Keep those lines of communication open. Ultimately, we want to proclaim the name of Christ in our daily vocations, whatever they might be, giving Him the glory and working for His kingdom knowing that our true destination and reward lies beyond our life here on this earth.
Bach, Amanda, et al. College 101: A Christian Survival Guide. St. Louis, Concordia Publishing House, 2010.
Gentry, Austin. 10 Things Every Christian Should Know for College: A Student’s Guide on Doubt Community & Identity. Gentry Publishing, 2018.