Going off to college can be a shock for anyone for any reason. It is significantly different from high school, and you may find your former friends slipping away as you make new ones in the new environment. There is an adjustment period. Specifically, Christians going off to college need to be addressed. College will, simply, make you stronger or drive you away. There is no middle ground. If you stop you are going to backslide. I have seen meager Christians grow tremendously in their faith, and I have seen people raised in good churches that have gotten caught up in the wrong crowds and fall away. What is the dividing line? My list is hardly exhaustive or gospel; consult the Bible and Christian counsel if you have questions. But hopefully, coming from a Christian who has two years in a public university completed, these tips will be of some benefit.
1. Expect a secular environment.
This one seems pretty simple, but it catches a lot of people by surprise. Coming from 13 years of public school, I’ve seen a lot of new things (in a bad sense) in college. For starters, students can’t get away with as much in high school. In a secular university, there is no dress code. As long as a swimsuit would cover it, it’s fair game. There are no rules on personal displays of affection. There is no filter that has to be on professors’ mouths. They can use foul language; they can tout Evolution and abortion and homosexuality and bash Christianity. The line is quickly drawn between those that are ashamed of the gospel and those that will take a stand for it. You will see advertisements and posters than run entirely contrary to what you believe. I’ve seen displays about what sexual consent means. I pass a display that says “Be safe. Use a condom," complete with nearly nude photos. There will be rabid supporters of radical feminism. People will freely speak of one-night stands and abortions as good things. There will probably be at least one group for homosexuals on campus, and they will probably be pretty active in spreading their agenda. They will be a well-loved group while your pro-life group will generally be hated. There will probably be bias towards liberals within the administration of the university, to some degree. Expect it now so you aren’t thrown into boiling water by surprise.
2. Find a ministry to be involved in.
Along with this is finding a local church. However great a campus ministry is, it is still not a church. Don’t think that it is enough. But nonetheless, it is something I cannot stress enough. It is crucial to connect with other Christians on campus. Accountability needs to be there since many of you will be away from any authority you’ve had in your life. You can grow from each other, learn from each other and worship with each other. Even in things that aren’t inherently spiritual, you can still know that you will generally have a good influence. A disclaimer though: don’t stick to just Christian friends. God didn’t put you here to hide out.
3. Find a biblical passion to pursue.
I am not merely speaking of general Bible study, although that is obviously important. This is a sin issue in society that needs Christians to work to stop it. For me it has been the pro-life movement. For others, sex trafficking. Still others, helping the homeless. This can be a host of things. There are many problems in our own cities, our nation and around the world that are here because of our fallen world, and even if there are secular organization that work to help (as there are with the three examples I gave), these movements can certainly benefit from Christians. When it comes down to it, the gospel is what changes lives, and it is the gospel that can counteract a fallen world.
4. Find a secular passion to pursue.
No, I don’t mean parties or blacking out drunk. Something related to your major, or something you find out you’ll enjoy. Some might say that this is unimportant because it is not biblically centered, but if we’re living as we should everything will be. If you aren’t going into full-time ministry, you need a livelihood, and to get one you need experience. You also need to stay sane and not burn out. If you enjoy something and it is not sinful, do it. It is also a way to make friends and extend your testimony to them.
5. Expect diversity.
My high school was legendarily white. I had a couple black friends and a few Asian friends. But even if you come from a diverse high school, chances are your university will have it beat. Certainly you’ll run into Caucasians, African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Latin Americans, but there will probably be higher percentages of minorities. There will also be a lot of internationals. My university has a high amount of Saudi students and Southeast Asian students. I have an Australian friend, a Mexican friend, Saudi friends, Korean friends, friends from different African countries, and have met people from China, Taiwan, Canada, England, Germany, and Brazil. There is certainly diversity when it comes to lifestyles and beliefs as well. Get to know these people to gain new knowledge about other cultures and simply because they might be fun to be around.
6. Be willing to make alliances with people you don’t fully agree with.
This is a tough one, especially if you are very opinionated like me. This goes beyond friendship; this has to do with working for a greater cause. The Baptist Collegiate Ministry, where I am on the Leadership Team, is a Southern Baptist ministry. I am a fundamental Independent Baptist. There are some differences there. We have Baptists, Church of God, Presbyterian, Church of Christ, and nondenominational students involved there. Naturally, there are doctrinal conflicts. I disagree with a lot of people on which version of the Bible to use, on alcohol and tattoos, gender roles in the church, and a number of other things. But does that keep us from working together? No, because we agree on what the gospel is, and that is enough to work together to spread it. That doesn’t mean I’m going to change my mind on things, but I won’t let them get in the way of our calling as Christians. The campus pro-life group is comprised mostly of Catholics. I have many more disagreements with them, including what the gospel actually is. But for the sake of the pro-life movement, we work together on that which we have in common. Does that mean that they are set aside and not brought up? No, nor should they be. But if there is an ideological agreement with someone, it is better to build a bridge. There are few people you will find, if any, that believe exactly as you do.
7. Don’t choose a major that you can’t spiritually handle.
This is one point that I hope not to alienate people on. I am not saying you should not pick a certain major, but know that in some your faith will be consistently challenged.
Honestly, I can’t think of why a Christian should be in a Women’s Studies program. There is little good that will come out of this major that is heavily controlled by radical feminists.
Any science program at a secular program will probably be better than one at a Christian school, frankly, but will not be without its blights. Any branch of science is going to use Evolution as its basis. You will hear ballooned radiometric dating and the process by which we came to be, all heavily flawed and possible to refute. I have known science majors that have come out just fine, and they can attest. There are times when it will be better not to cause a scene, and other times when it may be necessary to stand for your faith. Either way, it will require a lot of extra study on your part to dig up the truth.
I have taken a Philosophy class, and it certainly brings out the wackiest ideas and, as an extension, the wackiest people. Relativism is rampant in this field. The most ridiculous and immoral ideas will be defended with obscure hypothetical situations that are unlikely to occur. Know what you will believe and why you believe it (this goes for anything).
Theatre and other fine arts majors face more of internal problems. The administration will probably be free-thinkers, but there will be a high demographic of homosexuals, especially males. That doesn’t mean you can’t do it, but you have to be aware that this very touchy subject will be broached practically daily. Show the love of Christ and stand firm in biblical truth, and hopefully you can see fruit. Otherwise, you risk getting sucked into the world. I’ve seen it happen.
8. Be very cautious with Greek Life.
Here’s an even more controversial tip, but one I stand by. I can’t count the number of people I’ve seen start out in a ministry and staying true to their Christian values, only to join Greek Life and fall away. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen a few stay strong and even be a witness to those in their fraternity or sorority. But sadly they are the minority, by far. Greek Life takes a lot of time and usually pushes lifestyles that simply don’t mesh with Christians. Not that we should ignore them, but doing it internally requires much spiritual strength. Of the freshmen I’ve dealt with during my tenure as the Freshman Focus leader at the BCM, I’ve looked at where many have went after disappearing from campus ministry. I would say about 10% leave because of academic stresses and other time problems. At least 90% leave because they get caught up in the life of fraternities and sororities and choose them over God. I have been dumbfounded at where some have ended up, sacrificing eternity on the altar of temporary pleasure. I don’t speak this out of judgment because I am certainly not guiltless, but out of warning to you.
9. Be diligent in your spiritual life as well as your academics.
Spending time with God makes a big difference in how a day goes. It is important to have time in your busy schedule for it. Many who grow up in church ride on the coattails of their parents and then try to find something else to drive their spiritual life. But there is not any daily influence anymore apart from your time alone with Christ. Don’t sacrifice this.
It is important to stay up with your academics as well. This is an important part of your testimony at college. If you squander God’s blessings and opportunities by neglecting schoolwork and allowing grades to suffer, it will look bad on you. Procrastination can be a joking matter, but not getting assignments done and not studying tells people that you are not a hard worker. Proverbs speaks a lot about being slothful, and it is far from a good virtue. Professors will see something in you if you are putting in the extra effort, as will classmates. Take advantage of the opportunity, and you will be rewarded.
10. Take care of yourself.
This has certainly been a struggle of mine. It is easy to let yourself go in college. Schedules are so busy that it is hard to find time to take a mental break. Exercise is neglected. Eating habits wax worse. Sleep declines. All of this is bad for your body, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit. If you are declining, your health will decline. Without proper care, you are not able to properly worship God, or spend time with Him. It will be harder to study and complete assignments. Paying attention in class becomes a challenge. Every part of you will suffer. Don’t overdo or think you can do everything.
11. Don’t think it can’t be you.
It is easy to look at other stories of people that have failed in their spiritual lives, but think that will not be you. People who started in campus ministries probably didn’t think they would degrade into carnality. They didn’t think they could be affected by pressure to sin. But slowly they started to succumb until they got to a spot where God was nothing but a pesky Father who has dumb rules that don’t need followed. Slowly Christ became less than their all-in-all, if He ever was, and more something that they can wear to make themselves feel better. “Well I’m still religious in some sense.” Don’t believe Satan’s lie that you are invincible. Yes, Satan will tell you that so that he can puff you up and prepare you for a fall. You are not better than the next person. You have to lean on God, not yourself.
12. Stay humble and give God the glory.
You will have achievements along the way. Good grades, awards, solid interviews and the likes. With your accomplishments, you have to remember that they all come from God. Not just the accomplishment itself, but the gifts that allowed you to get it. "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." (James 1:17). Everything you have - your abilities, your achievements, your friends, your future - comes from our Heavenly Father, and hence He rightly expects the glory from it. Don’t take the credit for something He has done. He who gives can also take away.