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I have to say goodbye to a longtime friend of mine this week as she moves away to finish college. Hearing her share her hopes and fears for her upcoming college experience makes me reflect on my own experience. Sometimes I really miss being at school, and thinking back on my four years in college, there are a few things I would change if I could go back and do it over again.
For those of you heading off to college for the first time or going back for another year, here is my advice on making the most of your college years.
1. Focus on academic excellence, but leave time to invest in campus community. College community is like nothing else you will experience. You are surrounded by people your own age, and campus life is often referred to as a “bubble.” In hindsight, I would have spent less time working and trying to feel like I was in the “real world” and more time getting to know the people around me.
I was often too tired to socialize because I was focused on internships and on-campus jobs on top of taking a full load of classes. Preparing for my career was important, but looking back, I wish I had spent more time simply hanging out and experiencing the college community. Now that I have been out of school for a year and post-grad is nothing like I expected, I wish I had relaxed and focused more on investing in relationships.
2. Plug into a local church with a diverse church body. Speaking of community, I wish I had been more plugged into a church community during my college years. I had to rely on other people to get to church every week because I didn’t have a car, so it was hard to join something like a small group. I wish I had been more aggressive in finding transportation.
Even though I attended a Christian university and was required to go to chapel, I longed for a more diverse community and fellowship with older women who could serve as mentors. One of the dangers of attending church close to campus is that the majority of the congregation is likely to be your classmates. Try branching out and finding a church a little further away where you can meet new people and build new relationships. Do your best to find time to serve in the church or participate in a college group or small group. For encouragement and resources about finding your place in a local church, join Boundless' ROCK THE BODY challenge.
3. Take advantage of special chapels, lectures and events. Junior colleges and universities frequently have guest lecturers or university-wide special events. Sometimes special chapels or get-togethers will be hosted within your major. It is a great time to expand your knowledge on a topic that interests you outside of your classes.
I loved walking through the student art gallery and attending on-campus plays and concerts. I always tried to make it to guest lectures given by speakers of a different religion who wanted to share the fundamentals of their beliefs in a safe setting. I tried to make it to the different types of chapels offered to experience what they were like at least once. Get involved around campus. College is the perfect time for new experiences.
For those of you already out of college, what advice would you give to those entering their first year or returning, hoping to get more out of the experience?
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--The first thing I would say is to join a local church and really get involved. By involved I mean volunteer on the set up crew, in the nursery, etc., and join one of your church's community groups. Then make that a priority over other activities. Parachurch ministries are fun, but they're an artificial environment that doesn't exist outside of college, and post-grad Christianity is going to be a shock if your last four years were spent hanging out at the campus ministry house, attending campus ministry events with your campus ministry friends, being discipled by campus ministry staff, getting advice from campus ministry students who are only a year or two older than you, and never really having to put much effort into friendships, much less growing spiritually.
Second, if you have a greek system at your school, rush. You may not think you're the kind to join a fraternity or sorority, but you can't knock it if you've never tried it. You may find a place that fits like a glove, or you may decide that staying independent is best. Either way, you'll meet a ton of people that you probably wouldn't have met if you hadn't. They're not all Animal House pagans out to sex you up and hook you on drugs.
Third, take your dang classes seriously. Going to every class and actually paying attention will pay huge dividends later in the semester when you don't have to cram for your exams.
--Don't over-invest in campus ministry. Campus ministry feels desperately important and life changing when you are involved in it, but it will give you nothing back after college if you don't make it a career. If you plan to get involved in campus ministry do it while getting rooted in your local church. If anyone in a campus ministry tells you, "But I tithe to/get fed at/go to church at "Campus Ministry" so it's ok that I don't contribute to the church I go to" then you probably want to look for a different campus ministry to be a part of.
Don't allow someone to tell you that God is "calling" you to a less challenging field so that you can devote more time to "following" him on your campus. God can use you with a Computer Science or Biomedical Engineering degree just as much as he can use you with a degree in Communications or Organizational leadership. Sometimes classes are hard not because God hasn't blessed that endeavor, but because they are on challenging topics that even very smart people struggle with. If you are having trouble in school to the point where you are feeling stress from your classes, that is very normal and is not indicative of God's "lack of favor" for your planned degree. Find a tutor, don't give up.
Seek out mentors in your field of study, and seek out adult mentors, don't study the bible under a Modern Dance major when you're majoring in Engineering.
--Wow, looking at the above comment, I guess it's depending on the campus ministry you get involved in. The best decision I made in college was to get VERY involved in the campus bible study. They taught me a lot about love, faith, and fellowship, lessons that are enduring and were more important than the education I received from my classes (not that I'm saying to sacrifice your scholastics for a church group! Just make sure not to sacrifice your spiritual well being for your education).
--I get to tell my college students stuff like this all the time. Let's see, a few of my favorite tips are as follows:
1) Passing your classes really does matter. Big time. That first F might not seem like the end of the world, but it could ruin your chances for a scholarship (or cause you to lose a scholarship that you already had). Also, once you've failed one course, it doesn't seem so terrible to fail another. And another. And before you know it, you are a year behind, in academic trouble, with student loans piling up, and if you drop out of college, those loans start coming due...but you don't have a degree, and it's harder to get a good job without a degree, and without a job, it's hard to pay off those loans. I've seen it happen. More than once.
2) As great as it is to have straight A's, it's also important to have a life. So work hard and make good grades and pass all your classes, but don't neglect your social life completely. Be active in church. Maintain friendships. Make new friends. Find something you are interested in and get involved. You might not graduate with a 4.0 GPA, but you'll graduate with lots of great memories. Just remember to balance your social and academic life. And there might be days, weeks, or even entire semesters where you have to focus solely on academics. That's OK.
3) Don't let your parents pay for everything. I know it's easiest to just let Mama and Daddy foot all the bills, but if you work a part-time job and pay for at least some of your expenses, you'll have a MUCH greater appreciation for what you have. Working is also a good way to get some experience for that resume...but like Amy mentioned, don't work too much! Live life and "do college," too.
4) Do you best to graduate with NO student loans or debt of any kind. It wasn't easy, but I finished my BA and MM degrees without taking out any loans, and therefore I started my first full-time job without payments looming over me. If you can find some way to pay for college as you go, DO IT. I know it's not always possible, but try. Please. You'll thank me for it later.
5) Don't choose a major based on how great a job you think you'll be able to get when you graduate. At the same time, DO consider if there are ANY jobs in that field. Also consider whether or not a graduate degree will be required. One of the psychology professors that I know tells his students that they better plan on getting a doctorate (or masters, if they want to do something like social work or counseling), or start practicing the phrase "Would you like fries with that?" I don't regret majoring in music, but if I had it to do over again, I might choose something that has better job prospects!
6) Don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it. If that means going for tutoring, taking a day off of classes or work to recover from an illness, stopping by a professor's office to ask for clarification on an assignment, or seeking help from a counselor or pastor, do what it takes to stay healthy emotionally, academically, and physically. It's much harder to get better than it is to stay healthy in the first place.
--I second the suggestion of going to alternative chapels instead of the main one. In my experience, they were ten times better and actually had spiritual meat instead of watered down milk. Chapel leaders were always telling us we would miss chapel when we graduated, and they were half right because I do miss the alternative ones.
--Be thoughtful and curious. Listen long and well. Be humble. You probably don't know as much as you think.
--@RKim, my point is not that parachurch ministries are bad. My point was that your involvement in your church should trump your involvement in a ministry. PCMs can have a lot to offer, but they should not keep people from being involved in their church, and they definitely shouldn't replace church.
--Hey G&B, actually I was referring to MrsAshelyTOF's post. Sorry, should have been more specific!
--@RKim, I don't want to speak too boldly for her, but I think her sentiment was about the same as mine. By its very nature, over-investment is investing too much. If the ministry you're part of takes away from your church involvement, you're over-invested. You may have been lucky to have found one that encouraged church involvement, but many PCMs either think they're a replacement for church during college.
--@RKim: What G&B said. I went to a secular university where there were three big campus ministries: two baptist affiliated and one charismatic. I was involved with the charismatic one. I can't tell you how many people I saw feel "led" to drop out of majors in Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Engineering, Nursing, etc to instead major in humanity, modern languages, organizational leadership, psychology or communications because those degrees were much easier and took much less time away from their campus ministry involvement. Because they had decided that they would be "campus missionaries" after graduation, it didn't matter what their career plans had been previously, because clearly God wanted them to "pour back into" college students.
I have several problems with this approach: One of them is that this is the very first experience some people ever have with the church, and it's very insular exposure because even if the students in your ministry are active in a local church, chances are they only participate there with other members of their ministry. I didn't realize until after I graduated what an actual drain on the church they attended my campus ministry was until after I graduated and I wanted to start a bible study for college students in our church that didn't attend a campus ministry. I got told by *several* different student leaders and pastors in my old affiliated ministry that I was "stepping on their toes" and that if those students "wanted" to be ministered to, they should seek out campus ministry. So some people come to Christ in college, never experience any other part of the church and think that everything about the church should be like campus ministry. They never interact with or involve themselves with people of older (and more mature) faith, and often develop attitudes of heightened hubris toward them, because their worship patterns and habits look and feel different from what is normative on campus. One of the student leaders told me, when I suggested he find an older man to mentor him, that he could never learn from older people with "such lukewarm faith." This hubris often causes people to cling to extra biblical legalism with a fervor and intensity that could be tempered by more seasoned faith. My group was particularly hard hit by the Ultra-Purity movement, and by the books "Captivating" and "Wild at Heart". No one dated until magically our senior year God started "telling" the guys to propose to the most beautiful women in the ministry (whom they were vastly outnumbered by). Gender roles were absolutlely ahered to without exception. Any women who were enrolled in ROTC and a part of our campus ministry had a *really* tough time of it and ultimately had to chose between the two.
Another problem is the pushiness with which campus ministries perpetuate, and the amount of guilt and shame they heap on their students to get them to fall in line. There were three big ministries on my campus, and while my sister was there, a fourth was trying to start up. They made a critical judgement error by starting in the commuter lounge with a bunch of engineering students who, frankly, didn't have time beyond their studies to go out and stump for a new campus ministry. After my sister and her peers told the ministry leader this, he questioned the authenticity of their faith and condemned their lack of concern for unsaved students on their campus. My sister and her buds gave him the level of eye roll he deserved. They didn't not care about the saved, they all attended church and bible studies and were frank about their faith with others they knew, but they were at an institution to study and gain a degree. Most campus ministries place secondary emphasis on education, even, at times going so far as to advocate that if you spend time serving their ministry, if you just pray hard enough, God will give you extra time to study and help you remember what you needed to know for your test. Finally, they are pretty intense about re-enlisting graduates. Have you prayed about going full-time with their ministry? Why not? Are you going to be a full time missionary with their denomination? Why not? Don't you have priorities? Don't you care about the 10/40 window and attrocities in the third world? Are you going to "give a year back" to the ministry? Why not? Hasn't this ministry given you SO much during college? Don't you kind of owe it to them? Ok, so you aren't going to give a year back, Aren't you going to financially support us? Aren't you going to financially support our students who are giving a year back? Aren't you going to financially support our mission trip? Our Missionary Journey? Our corporate offices? Why not? Are you not trusting God with your finances? Are you withholding from God what is rightfully his? I emerged from campus ministry with such a colossal guilt complex I hardly knew what to do with myself.
Another problem is the insularness of community. When I graduated, all of the sudden all these "close" relationships I thought I had with my Christian sisters on campus dissapated. Why? because I was no longer on campus and no longer a part of their mission field. All of the sudden it was inconvenient to hang out with me because I worked 8:00 to 5:00 and couldn't be on the quad for impromptu worship at 2:00. So while I was loved and important and cared for in college, once I graduated *poof* no more community. Because I hadn't established and rooted myself in a church that would be there for me after graduation, I floundered around until someone at my church caught me and helped me up.
Another issue is the double standard that campus ministry employs in "bringing people in." In my particular case, the campus pastors told a girl who was actively investing in me (and is one of the few I still talk with) to quit because I was a senior when I started coming to the ministry and would be graduating soon. I went on to go on to grad school and become very, very active in the ministry, but I never really forgot that simply graduating soon made me not worth the time or notice of their ministry. Apparently we should care about the hurting and the lost, but only if we can cultivate them into something useful for us.
I'm not saying that all campus ministries are like this, but these are MAJOR red flags that I missed because I was very swept up in the drama and the glamor of being "important" to God and "used by him", which was something that I had not taken away from my church upbringing. It felt very important to be "free" in worship and to find new ways to interpret the word (which, WHY? :P God has made smart people before you, you know!) and how focused we were on being "the generation" that has gotten this whole Christianity thing right. Like, for some reason, in two thousand years of the church no one has gotten it right before? But when you're hurting and confused and you're looking for God wherever you can find him, it is easy to miss warning signs.
I'm not saying that it was all bad. I certainly learned how not to be shy to start conversations about faith, and I definitely read a lot more of my bible and learned a lot more about God. It certainly set me up to ask the types of questions that in the end did mature and grow my faith, but it cost me a lot, too.
--If you haven't done it, do NOT take out loans to pay for college. You would be better off working and saving than going into debt. And if it means you don't get a BA in 4 years or ever, so what?
If you haven't decided on a major, do NOT just follow your heart or your interests. Find something that will lead to employment , such as engineering. Actually do a cost/benefit and ROI study on what you plan to study.
Straight sciences are a waste of time, just like much of the humanities. You would be better off not wasting your time.
If you are female and thinking of engineering, do a study of how many female engineers stay employed doing that engineering long-trm. See how their lives are. Do they have chldren and/or husband(s)? Is that what you want? If 90% of the females doing that engineering drop out to have kids and never return, why are you wasting your time? You might be better served just foregoing the degree and getting the husband and family while you're at your prettiest and most fertile. You can always go to college in 12 years or so if you must. I know a number of men and women who went to college even in their late 30's/40's.
Do not expect some sort of mystical self-actualization from education or work. That's nuts. Treat college as a means to better employment and make choices aimed at that.Trying to find yourself or fulfillment in colege or work is a fool's errand.
--1. Focus on academics. What has God 'called' you to do? What is your vocation? Well, if you are in college, then your calling and vocation are to do all yo can academically; doing your best to learn the material does not guarantee straight A's, of course. But at the end of the day, you want to walk out of the test saying, "You know, however that went, I gave it my all and pleased God by doing it heartily, as unto Him," not, "Well, I bombed that, but it's my fault. I was too busy doing X other good thing."
2. Become a member of a local church and serve. Don't "plug in" like a replaceable Glade plug-in, only there for while as long as you smell good :-), but join a church and behave like a responsible adult member. Serve in groups, service projects, and tithing.
3. Realize that college is the 'real world.' Oh, no, it's not like being in your 40th year on the executive board of a large company; but it is very much a microcosm of the whole, as all communities, villages, towns and cities are. Treat college very much like a regular job.
--Re: G&B and Mrs A.
I never would have grown if I'd focused on a local church and not heavily invested in a para-church organization (and yeah, I'm going to name names: Cru.) In a local church, I would have gone along just like always, working in the children's ministry or something like that, and I never would have been pushed out of my comfort zone and discovered how much growing I had to do. I would have worn my perfect little godly girl mask, and feel more and more burnt out, until I'd just have given up on being "involved" at all.
Cru didn't guilt me into getting involved or anything like that (granted, every Cru is different) instead, they simply gave an answer to every one of my excuses why not to go on a Summer Project and then asked, is there any reason you still "can't" do this? And I was like, "no, I guess not."
It changed my life. Completely. It showed me all the areas I needed to grow, and then Cru helped me along the way. As I approached graduation, the woman who was mentoring me that year focused on going through Cru materials aimed at how to apply what I've learned in a local church setting, How to actually grow in a local church and find community there.
And it didn't pressure or guilt me into working with them after I graduated, they simply asked me to think about where God was calling me and how I could live "missionally" there, be it as a teacher, an engineer, a journalist, a lawyer, a nurse, etc.
So basically all I'm trying to say is not all para-church ministries are created equal, and there are some out there that could be just what you need for the time you are in college.
P.S. @Greg: This go and get married and start a family business – please tell me how to make that happen. You seem to think we can chose that like one choses a major at college.
--Clarification: "P.S. @Greg: This go-and-get-married-and-start-a-family business – please tell me how to make that happen. You seem to think we can chose that like one choses a major at college."
I'm not saying starting a family business, I'm saying this "business" *of* getting married and starting a family, :) (I realized this comment could be taken very differently after I posted it.) :D
--Joanna: I totally think that YMMV. That is entirely why I didn't identify which big-name Campus ministry I was affilitated with I can't imagine that all chapters are as pushy and domineering as ours was/is, though I will say that Cru was one of the three (all my college roomies were in Cru at some level), and at least on our campus, Cru graduates did seem to be among those who best adjusted to off-campus life and chruch placement.
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