First-year college students are on a steep learning curve, says Dana Steward of Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Mo.
“They’re adjusting to new academic expectations. They’re adjusting to a new physical environment. A lot of them have maybe never shared a room before. They’re not eating mom’s cooking. And on top of that, they’re adjusting socially.”
Because all that change can be overwhelming, many colleges and universities have programs in place to help ease the transition from high school to higher education. Administrators also shared tips for preparing students for college before they get to campus. Their advice ranged from the practical—time management and making new friends, for example—to the spiritual, like how to encourage a Christ-centered worldview.
On your own
Time management is often the biggest challenge for new students, said Steward, director of SBU’s University Success Center. Parents can help students prepare for the responsibility of managing their time by creating opportunities for them to practice. Help them learn to keep up with their obligations without being reminded, she said. And encourage them to learn a system—using a planner, calendar, or an app on their phone—to schedule major projects and assignments, and to design a plan to tackle those things.
Steward said students often get to college not ever having failed. If parents or grandparents or caregivers can create spaces where it’s safe for students to fail, and then learn from their mistakes, they’ll be better prepared for life on campus.
At SBU, all first-year students take a seminar class designed to orient them to campus and to college life, including study skills and time management. They also take a class on how to think critically.
Socially, college is a time of transitions, and parents can help prepare students for those ahead of time too, Steward said. “I think some students come to college with the expectation that they’re going to find their best friend within three weeks,” she said. If that doesn’t happen, disappointment can lead to homesickness. Steward advised parents to remind their students that making friends takes time.
As students grow in their ability to manage their time and build relationships, many are also diving deeper into the faith they’ve been developing since childhood. At Trinity International University in Deerfield, Ill., students are encouraged to build on that faith, and invite people into the process as they determine who God is leading them to be.
“It’s natural—this is the time for them to recognize, ‘This is what I was raised in, and this is who I’m becoming,’” said Scott Samuelson, Trinity’s director of leadership and formation. “When it goes well is often when it happens alongside someone else,” he said, whether it be a mentor, staff member, older student, or small group.
At Trinity, students at 11 a.m. on Mondays for residence hall floor-based Bible studies led by upperclassmen or graduate students. These “Life Together Groups” are designed to help students build relationships while studying God’s Word—a foundation that Samuelson said can overflow to other facets of campus life.
“Once I know I belong, I feel like I have courage for the other stuff.”
Before they get to school, students can benefit from conversations with their parents about the church and faith tradition they’ve grown up in, Samuelson said. Acknowledge that they’re going to encounter different expressions of faith, he said, but also that God’s going to honor the foundation that has been laid.
“The more students come to college with a familiarity with the faith they’ve been raised in,” Samuelson said, “the better equipped they are to engage differences.”
College years are formative for the student, but also for the church, said Mark Weinstein of Cedarville University.
“Many students enter college with a need to develop confidence in the truth claims of Scripture and to develop their identity in Christ as they seek to interact with the world,” said Weinstein, executive director of public relations at the Ohio university. “The foundation of a Christ-centered view of the world is often challenged at many universities, yet is essential for the discipleship of Christian college students and the future of the church.”
At Cedarville, academic life is designed for every student to earn a minor in Bible, with classes focused on Scripture and theology. In addition, Weinstein said, “Our scholarship pursues Jesus Christ as the axis of all truth and seeks to orient every academic discipline around him.”
Outside the classroom, he said, students engage in Christian community through chapel services, mentoring, and opportunities to be involved in missions and service.
“The college years are a strategic stewardship to set the trajectory of future church leaders,” Weinstein said. “Therefore, every experience is directed toward loving God and loving others.”