Four tough years of public high school had set me dreaming of another world-the world of Christian colleges. My best friend and I collected glossy brochures from a myriad of Christian colleges and the inside of our locker was covered with cut-out scenes from picturesque campuses where beautiful student-models apparently sat around casually for hours, books at their side, savoring that oh-so-green Christian college grass!
But the full-color ads never prepared me for the depth of the Christian college experience. Looking back, there are things I definitely wish I'd have known…
#1 Get ready for a cultural change
I think my jaw fully dropped the first time one of my profs opened class in prayer. And our cross-country team started each day of practice with devotions. I couldn't believe it! I felt like I was permanently attending summer Bible camp! These were some of the ideals I had dreamed of-but now that they were happening my only response was shock! Obviously not every student who attends a Christian college comes from a secular schooling background. But for those who do, there will certainly be a substantial sense of cultural change. Stereotypical partying "norms" find an alternative in endless good, clean fun!
#2 Studying helps!
The first semester of my freshman year brought the realization that if I was going to maintain my high GPA I'd have to exert more energy than before. I remember having tests handed back to me with more red ink than I'd ever seen, making me aware that I had been overindulging in all of that "good, clean fun." I would need to do more than occasionally crack a book! College was a definite "step up" as far as academic difficulty. For the first time in my life I was personally contributing big bucks to my education and that sense of investment caused me to rethink the frivolous class-ditching habits being quickly formed by some students around me.
#3 Don't study all the time
It sounds a bit cliché to say it, but the memories and friendships made during this season really do last a lifetime--so dive in deep! But while diving, don't forget to push beyond the walls of your campus. Without that intentionality, Christian college can feel like living in a bubble. It's possible to live, work and worship there, completely forgetting there is a whole world just beyond. For example, a Christian college cannot-and should not-take the place of the local church. Churches need the vibrancy of college students; college students need the stability of a more diverse network of relationships. I would also recommend working or volunteering off campus. Some of my best college memories involve doing street ministry in the inner city not far from my campus.
#4 It's ok to not know your major
As I began taking classes my interests continued to develop. Eventually I ended up switching my major-and then switching again. Though I lost a few credits in these transfers, the loss was not substantial, and it allowed me to hone in on the area of study that was ultimately a better career match. I discovered that 30-50% of college students change majors and that most core classes required the freshman year apply toward any major, allowing for some "flex time" for students who haven't nailed down an official direction. Having said that, I did find that academics became more exciting and engaging the deeper I moved into my chosen area of specialization.
#5 Independence feels great but...
...adult responsibilities can be overwhelming. For example, I had no idea how to balance a checkbook or manage my finances and quickly began making mistakes common to rookie grown-ups. What had seemed like superfluous, boring detail had suddenly become a necessary survival skill! So pay attention when your parents offer advice on how to cook a healthy meal, do laundry or set wise limits with technology. And don't assume the unlimited cafeteria food comes with an unlimited calorie count and gain the dreaded "freshman fifteen" in four months flat! Rather than extra, unneeded pounds-or debt! -look to gain the wisdom necessary to sustain your growing freedom.
#6 Not everyone attends Christian college with the same motive.
When I first set foot on my campus, I didn't take into account that every student would be at a different place spiritually. Not everyone was there seeking growth. In some ways this posed a challenge when it came to choosing friends. I quickly learned that some students were attending Christian college only because of parental pressure or athletic scholarships. Many did not like the rules of our somewhat conservative campus, and this led to an "underground rebellion" I wasn't prepared for. The stakes were raised when it came to my own beliefs and moral choices; there was no "middle ground."
#7 There are so many opportunities for growth
While opportunities for trouble are certainly present, there are also numerous chances to deepen your faith. Every time I turned around I was being invited to an on-floor Bible study, outreach event, or ministry venture. Because my college was relatively small, the student-teacher ratio was also small and I found myself surrounded by caring, mature adults. In essence: if you want someone to invest in you, it's there-seek it out!
#8 You contribute to the atmosphere of your college
It may be tempting to think of your Christian college as a stagnant institution, but actually it's an ever-morphing entity in which each student contributes to the overall tone. Teachers and administrators who work at a campus year after year will tell you that a subtle swing happens with each incoming class. This swing can be positive or negative and is determined largely by the attitude of the new students who attend. Will they be consumers or contributors? Complainers or encouragers? Make a decision now to lead well when you get to your Christian college and make an impact for good!
Make a difference!