10 Things I Wish They Told Me at College Orientation

10 Things I Wish They Told Me at College Orientation

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After spending most of my life dreading the end of summer, now as a college graduate, I would love to reunite with my college friends and start a new semester. I hold on to many sweet memories of college, yet I have to admit I am definitely enjoying my current season as a newlywed. But this time of year causes me to reflect on college, the decisions I made, and the subsequent advice I must give.

1. Grades still matter.

I remember thinking after I enrolled in college that grades were a thing of the past. I had been accepted into college and received scholarships; what more did I have to prove? Well, a lot actually. Turns out those good grades I needed to receive those scholarships, I needed to maintain to keep those scholarships. This is something you should look into. You don't want to wake up in January and be a few grand short because you didn't think that that history class was very important. A wise friend once told me, “It takes a lot longer to raise your GPA than it takes to lower it.”

Grades also help determine if you are eligible to study abroad or enroll in grad school. And, although this is somewhat rare, I have had friends whose employers asked to see their college transcripts with an application for employment.

2. Use your summers and breaks wisely.

Come May, you will probably feel broke, and returning to that job you had in high school might sound like the easiest solution. In some cases, this could make sense, but always try to capitalize on spare time. Especially in the current job market, experience is invaluable.

Even if you go home to waitress at that hometown restaurant, find someone if your field of interest and see if there is anything you can do. Shadow them, interview them, volunteer for them. Do anything you can to help discover your interests. A degree does not get you a job when these four years are over; experience, connections and persistence will.

I spent my first two years of college thinking I wanted to be a news reporter. It wasn't until the summer after my sophomore year when I interned (unpaid) at a news station that I realized I actually did not want to be in that field. Don't wait until after graduation to get real experience; at that point it is too late to change your major. The sooner you test the waters, the more time you have to benefit from your education. For more advice about interning, check out my previous blogs.

3. Make good friends.

This tip might seem like a no-brainer, but it is much more important than you may think. When you were in high school, your friends were just your friends. You saw them at school, at sports practice and/or events, and then maybe on the weekends and at church. But after these activities, you most likely went home to your family. They were the ones who defined you. They saw your good side and ugly side, and even if you didn't want to, you most likely spent more time with them than anyone else. Not anymore.

Now you have a roommate you go home to and friends you can see nearly every hour of the day if you choose. You eat with them, study with them and possibly even live with them. “You are who your friends are” is never truer than while you are in college. This doesn't have to be a bad thing; I just give caution. Invest in good friends; you have the opportunity to meet some great ones.

4. Find a church and stay there.

I'll be honest; I was a professional church hopper in college — when I went. For the first time, no one was there to tell me where and when to go. It wasn't that I didn't like church; it was more that I felt I didn't belong anywhere. I don't blame the church but myself for not making more of an effort. If I could do it over, I would have found a church, gotten involved and stayed there. I truly feel like I missed out on a rich community that would have helped guide me during my college years.

When you invest in a church instead of hopping around, people depend on you and notice when you aren't there. Developing a church family during this season is extremely important to your faith that will most likely be tested severely over the next few years.

A few ideas: get involved in a Bible study, teach Sunday school, volunteer in the nursery, sign up to make coffee, get involved in the praise team, or even greet. All of these things will keep you accountable to your church family and will help you build a community to lean on. It will probably even score you some delicious homemade meals!

5. Get a mentor.

College is a new life stage presenting new challenges, opportunities and issues that will take discernment and decision-making to a new level. Having a respected mentor will help make these uncharted waters more manageable.

When you are in a difficult situation, you may be blind to some of the outstanding issues. A mentor whom you can confide in and trust will help you see the obstacles with perspective. He or she can also hold you accountable to your decisions and actions. It can be dangerous for teens to go from parental supervision to no supervision. And although this a great time for learning, weaning and growth, it is also important to allow someone to keep you accountable.

I always desired a mentor in college, but didn’t know how to find one. It seems like a daunting thing to seek out, but simply ask someone at church or someone involved with a Christian organization on campus, and I'm sure they will lead you in the right direction.

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  • Comment by  NeedACatchyName:

    "Use your summers and breaks wisely"

    YES!  Do not sit around your parents' house all summer hanging out with your friends from high school.  Summers are too valuable to waste.  Also consider a summer missions opportunity.  The job market is tight right now, so it's not always easy to find a summer job, but ministry organizations are always looking for summer missionaries.  There is no excuse for squandering your summer sitting on the couch.

    And I think there's also a Scriptural basis for making productive use of your summers.  Scripture admonishes us to put away childish things.  Well, sitting around relaxing all summer and not doing anything productive is what high school kids do.  You're an adult now, and adults don't (or shouldn't) waste a whole summer sleeping until noon and watching TV.

  • Comment by  AmyNichole:

    These are all so very true! I just graduated in May, and these would definitely be on my list as well.

    Fortunately, I did do all of those things -- use summers wisely, stick with a church, make godly/loving friends, etc. -- and I am so thankful for it.

    Another think I would suggest is to get involved in 1 organization your first year...giving yourself time to learn about the others for the next. By your sophomore/junior year, being committed to 2 organizations seems like the perfect number according to my experience. My organizations of choice were a large campus Christian organization and Residence Life (as an RA). If I had to do college over again, I would still choose those core two. They developed me personally, professionally, and spiritually beyond what I could have hoped.

    Given those two organizations, my biggest lesson for that season of life was COMMUNITY. That 9-letter word was redefined for me in those 4 years, and can't be expressed in words.

    Words of wisdom: Seek God-honoring, compassionate, academically focused, & fun community...and your time at college will be over before you know it.

  • Comment by  James:

    My experience was a little different as I went to a private technical college. (thankfully before prices and policies became absurd, and now nearly illegal)  The first few quarters I treated as highs school, but I quickly realized the game had changed...and my parents money (and mine) was on the line.  I went the next seven quarters (no summers off) in a machine-like mentality - and that's what you have to do to succeed.  Grades aren't the issue with a performance-based job (as I learned) - it's your work, what you can "do."  That's different from the traditional four-yr college mentality...which does seem to be an extension of high school in many ways.  So, I'd agree with the points here (just replace 'grades' with 'work'.)  I lived at home, had my friends, mentors (my storyboard instructor, now a competitor - still recommends me for jobs) and my Church.  All were a great help during those two years...and the time since.

  • Comment by  Jenni:

    3. Forget church. you're an adult now. Enough with the fairy tales.

  • Comment by  Cyan:

    Very good points. I started grad school in the Spring, and attended the closest church to my apartment for that semester.

    Now, I'm ''church-shopping'', trying to find somewhere to fit in. But its hard because I was already used to the church that I went to back home.

  • Comment by  Kellie:

    Actually, my high school friends were my life-long friends. I keep in touch with 3 lovely girls I grew up with and consider them my best friends (even though we all live in different places).  My college friends are merely facebook friends.

    But I agree with the part about summers.  I worked at camps, went on mission trips, volunteered with an inner city ministry.  I had great summers when I was in college!

  • Comment by  Paula:

    If church were about fairy tales, your comment might apply, Jenni.

    Chelsey: What you've said is so true. I'll be passing this post onto the high school grads I know. Thanks.

  • Comment by  Becca:


    I understand where your comment is coming from, no church is perfect. However, I am currently in a secular college, commute from home, and just transferred from a JC. If you are in that position (or any) the support of church, and the friends young and old you will make there are invaluable. I actually wanted to go out of state to a Christian school, but the funds weren't there. Instead the lord has led me to invest in our home church where I sing for offertory, lead children's choir, and work in nursery. I have found friends young and old whose friendship I have enjoyed. I even found that our creation based VBS that I helped with recemented my faith as I had the opportunity to learn through the eyes of my group (ages5-7). It's hard to tune out the secular world and follow Christ, it's hard to be a light at college and stand up for your beliefs. Church helps hold you accountable.


  • Comment by  nathan:

    Great advice on all 5 points! Thanks for the post. As a pastor now thinking back on my college days, I can easily see how doing each of these five things made a radical difference in making me who I am today. I'm looking forward to the next 5 points.

  • Comment by  Ria:

    I "wasted" my summers in college by working my lame high-school job:P I wanted to do things related to my interests, but my old job always offered the best hours and pay, and I needed to make enough during summer to pay for tuition><

    I did find a job in my field anyway 1 month after graduating, I think that was God and not me though!

    I would second the make friends thing. Not just make friends but keep in touch with them. I've found after graduating, people who were my whole world have just faded away, as that whole world of college has faded away.  It's kind of sad. I've heard lots of older adults talk about best friends from college they are still close to, but I don't think I'll have any lasting connections to my college. It was kind of a spring-board for me, not a place to put down roots. I regret that mindset a little^^

    I would add: study abroad, study abroad, study abroad! Go for longer than a single semester. Go by yourself (not in a group of friends from your school)if you can and try to live the way native citizens do. Learn their language, cook their food, do what they do on weekends. It changed my life forever, no joke. Go go go!! :D  

  • Comment by  Daniel:

    I know this is probably an unpopular opinion, but I would disagree with the advice to study abroad.  Why?  College offers a lot of unique opportunities, and you have to prioritize between them.  But I think far and away the most unique is the chance to form close friendships with people you live with.  It may not seem like it ahead of time, but you probably will not be able to do that ever again for the rest of your life.  

    You can go to another country for an extended period of time later in life.  It is not easy, but it easier than living with and forming lifelong friendships with people.  That is a chance you will never have again, and as all of us with friends that studied abroad will attest, leaving for a long period of time significantly disrupts that.

    The biggest and most important advice I could offer is to live on campus if that is at all possible, especially if you go to a Christian college.  It may seem scarier or more expensive at first, but it is one of the truly life-changing experiences.

  • Comment by  Ria:

    Daniel, 11, it is true study abroad disrupts life with friends at your home college. But you know what, for the year I was abroad, I still made a ton of great friends--just in a different country. I made friends with native people and also with others studying abroad at the same university. Being abroad together bonds people in ways I'd never experienced at home. We were family. And now if I ever want to go to Europe or Asia, I have someone whose couch I can crash on in just about every country^^

    Friends are important but I think geographical location of where you make them doesn't matter. Who knows, you might end up back in the country you studied abroad in, like I am now with my first job!

    But I understand for some, leaving the safety net of college and their comfy nest of friends can be not worth the trouble. I've always been the unmoored sort anyway, and naturally made friends with others also going abroad/interested in other countries, so it was just a good, good thing for me to do^^

  • Comment by  khalil:


    I'd have to disagree with the living abroad and on campus points you raise. There may not be a better chance than in college to travel or to take some time to live internationally or cross-culturally. If the opportunity had presented itself when I was in school I would have gone overseas in a heartbeat. Fom spending time with international students who came to the US for a year as well as being among US students who travelled for a term of two, it seems the benefits outweigh the costs. Myself, I spent the time working and traveling for summer classes in Maine, which gave me a lot of experience for my degree. Don't just sit at home, do something.

    In regards to living on campus, this is purely from my experience and how I've witnessed others deal with this...if you can swing it, life off campus will make you deal more with "real life" than remaining on campus. You must budget, pay bills, and experience life outside the bubble of living on campus. I never regret for one bit that I lived offsite for all but one year of my college career. I'd say this is even more important for a Christian school, as the bubble of living on campus makes it easy to remain separated from the community around you. During classes, meals, and other events you can connect with peers...staying involved and being part of campus life doesn't require remaining on campus.

    Just my experience and thoughts :-)

  • Comment by  Daniel:

    Kahlil, #13 - I guess it depends on what you are going for.  I am focusing on what makes college unique; you will budget and pay bills and live alone (or with a spouse) for the rest of your life.  College is a special time and a unique opportunity.  I don't mind terms like "bubble" to refer to it - the whole point is that it is unlike the rest of life.  

    Hurrying past the unique aspects so that you can have a couple years more practice paying the electricity bill before the next 60 years of that just doesn't seem wise to me.  The Christian life is primarily about relationships, and college offers opportunities for relationships unlike anything else in life.  I think this can be by far the most important aspect of that time of life, and I encourage people to focus on that aspect.

  • Comment by  Lauren:

    Kahlil and Daniel --

    You both make valid points. I spent four years of my time working in Orientation during college. I was an NCAA Cross Country runner, belonged to 5-7 student orgs including the fellowship of christian athletes and went to church regularly during college. I love all of the recommendations made for new college students, and these were all things that my univeristy - Michigan Technological University made sure that kids focused on (church only if that was their preference, but they did not advocate away from it). Living on campus for the first couple of years is wonderful to build relationships and college is about that, but what many students that I counseled post their college degrees or those who moved off campus found was that they were no longer coddled by the idea of having friends right there. Yes, they learned about the responsibilities of life, which is important (my sister did not do this in college and is struggling now), despite having an extremely strong relationship with God and all of the Christian orgs on her campus, but God looks at our lives wholistically. When I moved off campus in college midway through I went through a challenging time with God because my friends weren't forced upon me in close quarters - not that I minded that, but I had to search them out and God out. College can sometimes make Christianity into a production and then people do not know how to respond when it is just God and them. College should be a life education about finding who you are, a deeper faith relationship in what you believe, and transitioning into God's dreams for you. If you are successful at the first two, the third will fall in your lap. And even if you feel this wasn't how things worked out for you in college, God will still help you find His way just through other means. :)

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