I just spent the past several days down in Southern California on a college visitation trip with two of my high school girls and their dear life long friend along with one of my closest friends and mentor to the girls. We had a great road trip complete with long hours in the car, lots of fast food and less sleep than we needed but lots of good times, learning and laughter too!
I found myself looking back to thirty years ago when I was a high school senior choosing where I would attend college. I tried to remember my thought process and how I came to the decisions that I did. I remembered first stepping foot on my college campus as a young and in many ways unprepared student and the many decisions I made both good and bad while I was there. I also wondered if my decisions would have been different had I had older and wiser mentors in my life giving me advice along the way.
I do not remember much advice at all from my high school teachers or counselors other than – “go to college where you can get the best financial aide package” or “make sure they have your major”. (why? because your major will never change several times during college…ha!) My church youth leaders gave no input. My friends talked about having the most amount of fun (dorm life, fraternity parties, football or basketball games, boys etc…) and freedom (from any rules or restrictions) wherever you chose to attend college.
I am thankful for parents who gave me the following advice (aka: non negotiables): You will go to college or you are on your own after high school. You will go away to a four-year college and live on campus. You will not get married until you get your degree. You will visit several colleges to find the right “fit” for you. While these paradigms were quite valuable and more than many high school students receive, I often wish I had been given more from those older and wiser mentors around me.
In fact I began to think this weekend what exactly would I, now three decades later, tell my “college age self”?
- Choose carefully and wisely where you go to college. No other time in life are you more immersed in a community and culture than during your college years. You are living with people outside your family 24/7, you are engaged in constant exchange of ideas both inside and outside the classroom, you are exposed to different and new ways of thinking, believing and living. Is the college environment one that will increase your faith, solidify your values and produce growth and maturity in your life? You will likely make life choices regarding your calling and career that will affect the course of your life. What type of college and professors do you want to influence those choices? You will likely develop forever friendships with both students and faculty and you may even meet your spouse…look closely at the profile of students who desire to attend the college as well as why the faculty are teaching there. Are these the people who you want to have influencing, mentoring, inspiring and challenging you throughout your life?
- Do what you love! Choose a course of study in something you are passionate about regardless of anyone else’s opinion, regardless of whether it will make you rich (or even make you money at all), regardless of the job market, regardless of if it is the “smartest” or most practical thing to do or even regardless of if you will ever do anything career related with your degree. (and if you have many passions…pursue them all!)
- Embrace this season of singleness. (ie: do not spend time the moment you step on campus looking for “the one”) You have spent 18+ years in your parents home and you dream of being happily married for 50+ years. If you live an average life span that leaves less than a decade of being single. Embrace it! Enjoy it! Don’t waste it away always looking to the future and missing the opportunities in the present. Work on becoming the most godly, loving, giving, self-sacrificing, interesting, knowledgable and mature person you can be so that when you are married you will be the most amazing spouse and parent ever!
- Develop positive habits that will add value to your life. Up to this point you have probably been “forced” to eat healthy (as much as your parents could make you), exercise regularly (thanks to PE classes & sports), balance your budget (mostly due to your lack of credit worthiness or available funds), go to class, attend church services regularly and plan ahead. College should be a time that we build upon these positive habits not throw them out the window and live an undisciplined, out of control, “free for all” life. This is the time not only to learn and grow academically but to practice self-control and discipline in your life without being forced to do these things. It is a true sign of growth and maturity and may even be a greater benefit to your life and happiness than your actual college degree.
- Go out of the country. Whether you study abroad for a year, go on a summer missions trip to a third world country or participate in a “semester at _____” (you fill in the blank) you MUST take advantage of at least one opportunity for amazing growth, learning and a life changing experience. After college you will have responsibilities to take care of, bills to pay, careers to pursue not to mention marriage and parenting that may arrive sooner than you think. Do not say you will “do it later” because even if you are one of the rare adults who are able to pull that off – it will be harder, more complicated and you will wish you had gone during your college years. Let’s have no regrets here people!
- Seek out mentors. I really wish that someone would have encouraged me to find older mentors in my life to learn from during my college years. They could be upperclassmen, grad students, faculty members or even college pastors or adults from a local church. I now realize that we can learn and grow so much more from other people “speaking into our lives” than we do through classes, lectures or textbooks. While a few small private colleges encourage and promote these types of relationships, you need to decide to seek them out for yourself. Find people of godly character, full of wisdom, passionate about their purpose and traveling in the direction that you want to go. Then be bold and ask for their time to invest in your life. (You need not be demanding or draining to them…simply be willing to just hang out with them at their convenience or be a blessing by working alongside them)
- Serve others. The college years can often be very self-centered and self-serving. One of the best ways to grow and learn is to serve others and give of yourself. Find ways to serve your college or community. Become a resident or student advisor, start a prayer group or bible study, pick up trash around campus, volunteer to help in admissions or campus tours. Get off campus and feed the homeless, volunteer at a crisis center, participate in a non-profit fund-raising campaign, serve in a church nursery. A life lived only for your self and your own self interests is a shallow and unfulfilling existence.
- College is a valuable investment! If you have to take out loans, do not stress about that. It is a better investment of your money than your future home (that you will likely take out a very large loan to purchase) or a vehicle (that can cost you more than any loans you aquire in 4 years). Your college education will not rust or break down or become worthless as it ages. No one can take it from you, steal it or destroy it. It will be one of the most valuable things you have in life (especially if you go to the right college and use the time wisely) If you have to work several jobs to make it happen…do it! Apply for every scholarship possible (and perhaps some that are impossible.) Ask others to invest in you. Leave no stone unturned!
- Appreciate every aspect of not living in the “real world” — ok so I am sure many college student’s dislike hearing over and over that they are not living in the “real world” but really…it is truth in many ways? When, in your adult “real life” will most of you –
- have someone available to cook for you at every meal (not to mention the wide variety and volume of food available in most college cafeterias – endless salad bars, soft serve ice cream, soda fountain etc..)?
- put your dirty dishes on a conveyor belt to watch them “magically” disappear and then reappear at the next meal clean and sparkly?
- not have to ever clean your own toilet?
- be able to work out at a fully equipped fitness center just steps from your living space?
- wear whatever you want to work (aka: class) or for that matter decide when you want to attend and when you don’t want to attend work?
- have access to social interaction and fun 24/7 (as well as 24/7 access to trouble & temptation)?
- create your own personal hours according to your personal preference by only signing up for afternoon & evening classes (or the opposite if you are one of “those” morning people)or not taking Friday classes and giving yourself a three-day weekend? (I can promise most of you that you will never again get to completely create your own hours)
- and if you go to a Christian college…get to attend an inspirational worship service and listen to compelling, motivating speakers three times a week? (my oh my what I would give to have that part of my “real” life almost every day)
10. College is not for everyone. While I believe that here in our culture in the United States that college may be the wisest way go for most young people, I do not think that everyone must attend college. However, I do believe that the college age is a very important season of life for growth, education, maturity and experience. It is not a time to be wasted or used in a frivolous way. Almost all of the things I would tell my “college self” can be applied to a young person who has decided not to attend college. Be purposeful and productive. Some other great options are trade school, an internship, the military or a missions trip.
What would you tell your “college age self”?