How to Thrive in College
College should be a temporary season of academic preparation and personal growth to propel a lifetime of effective service to God and neighbor. It should be a launching pad into all that goes with responsible Christian adulthood. Yet for some it’s a time when they abandon the Christian faith, displaying that they never really belonged to Christ (1 John 2:19). For others, their faith remains intact, but they waste their college years with video games, partying, and other frivolities — an expensive vacation funded by Mom, Dad, and (often) debilitating student loans.
Today, seven out of ten high school graduates immediately go on to college, but about 30% will never become sophomores, and almost half will not have graduated even six years later.1 Many who do graduate move right back home with their parents, assuming little responsibility and armed with little ambition for Christ.
Own Your FaithI’m convinced that you should not just survive college but thrive at college. Don’t just maintain your faith, but really come to own it — growing thick, strong roots (1 Timothy 4:12). Don’t just perpetually visit churches but find one to join — one that clearly proclaims the gospel, practices vibrant worship, and welcomes you into authentic iron-sharpening-iron community. You need a good church off campus as much as you need strong Christian friendships on campus.
Don’t trifle with sin; stay clear of impurity (Ephesians 5:3). God is not mocked; we never get away with anything (Galatians 6:7–8). Be quick to repent when you stumble. Practice being deeply satisfied with all that God is for you in Jesus and the pleasures at God’s right hand will overwhelm the deceitful siren calls of sin (Psalm 16:11). Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life (Proverbs 4:23).
Walk With the Wise
Preempt loneliness with a strategy to find Christian community on campus, particularly at secular schools. But even at Christian schools, be intentional about cultivating relationships that most provoke you to live fully for Christ (Proverbs 13:20). College is a time to establish life-long friendships — not just the kind you have a great time with (good as that is) but the kind that spur you on to love, trust, and follow God. Pursue relationships that help you put away childishness, grow in maturity, increasingly make wise choices, and “expect great things from God and attempt great things for God.”
College is a time for assuming responsibility, for becoming a disciplined steward of time and money, for recognizing that recreation is a gift of God to be enjoyed in measure but never to dominate our lives. Rather, when properly pursued, recreation empowers us for our work rather than distracting us from our work.
Be Trained to Make a Difference
Don’t just squeak by in your classes with as little effort as possible, but strive to discover your calling — what God uniquely wired you to do — and to love God with all your mind by giving it your very best (Ecclesiastes 9:10). As a student, remember that your work is learning (studying) so that you can, for a lifetime, increasingly love God with a well-trained mind, a mind that can identify key questions, pursue understanding, dissect arguments, discover logical fallacies, and communicate effectively.
College is an opportunity to get the training you need to make a difference in the world — by becoming a business person, an engineer, a doctor, a teacher, a historian, a physical therapist, a husband, a wife, a parent, who sees God’s lordship extending to every area of life and every corner of the globe.
It’s a time to take the gifts God has given you and develop them into finely-tuned skills — the kind that can really serve and benefit other people (some of whom may even pay you). It’s a time to become a man or woman with unshakable character and faithfulness — the kind that can be given increasing areas of responsibility, and who can eventually rise to leadership. It’s a time to honor all that your parents did for you by learning to own your decisions, even your mistakes, as you embrace a full-orbed, God-dependent adulthood.
1 "College Enrollment and Work Activity of 2010 High School Graduates," United States Department of Labor, April 8, 2011. Mike Bowler, "Dropouts Loom Large for Schools," U.S. News and World Report, August 19, 2009.