Welcome to College – here’s some advice

School’s in, and for those of you who read this and are in college, I’d like to offer a word of welcome.  As the pastor of a church with lots of university students in it, one of my favorite Sundays of the year is the one when you arrive, back from your summer experiences, to jump into another formative year of education.  As a pastor, I feel incredibly privileged to share, in a small way, in that formation.  I know that these are some of the most significant years of your life, know that the decisions you make and the values you form during these years will shape you for the rest of your lives, and even beyond that!

The NY Times had a great little read recently called, “Ditch Your Laptop – Dump your Boyfriend” filled with good, practical advice on how to make the most of your college years.  If you’re in college, or know someone who is, I’d recommend reading it.  The article started me thinking about what I’d want to offer students and I came up with a short list.

Since my list is incomplete, I hope some of you will add your own contributions by adding comments to this post. Thanks!  So what you can students do to maximize their college experience:

1. Be curious. This, I’ve discovered, is of huge value in the ‘real world’ after college.  Reading widely and developing your capacity to build bridges between different subjects is one of the things I look for when assessing someone’s leadership potential.  Sure, you’ll need some specialization; but you’ll need more.  You’ll need to capacity to think creatively, solve problems, and build bridges – skills which don’t happen accidentally.

2. Get intimate with God. That’s a tall order, I realize, but I think I’m simply talking about developing some habits that will help you and God become friends, like David and God were friends, or Moses and God.  Jeremiah 9:23-27 is a reminder that “knowing God” is the only thing worth boasting about in this life.  Of course, “knowing” isn’t offered here in some absolute sense because the truth is that we can’t know anyone perfectly and completely – not even God.  But we can establish a trajectory of intimacy, whereby God becomes someone to whom we pour out our heart, in both gratitude and complaint, frustration and longing, rejoicing and praise.

This will require some time apart from others, and maybe a journal.  If this is one of your greatest areas of weakness, I’d recommend this book as great place to start.

3. Do something to serve others. I just finished writing a new book, the thesis of which is that each person is uniquely gifted by God to paint the colors of hope on the canvass of our world.  To find your brush, and learn your strokes, you need to say yes to serving in some way.  You can do this on campus, or in your church.  This will help you swim upstream against the consumerism that is so prevalent in our culture.

Some of you love to serve, but have a hard time sitting still long enough to develop intimacy with God.  For others, you have the opposite problem.  If you’re in search of balance, I’d recommend my book, available through Amazon, or the church I lead.

4. Leave campus.  Get to know your city and people who don’t attend your school.  This broadening of your world has great value.  When I attended college in Seattle, I worked at an I-Hop, and the Seattle Sonics basketball team came in every game day.  I became a huge fan, started going to games, and felt deeply connected to the city because of it, so much so that, sixteen years after graduation, I moved back to pastor a church there.

What are some other thoughts you’d add, in order to help students maximize their college experience?

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • fluger

    My best advice! Don’t be a History major! :)

    Actually, my advice is, if you come from a strong Christian family and “bubble” (like I did), it is easy to get confused and distraught by all the differeing opinions and beliefs out there. Its easy to lose your way or get discouraged. Find a strong Christian leader to follow and get guidance from when you have tough questions. Get plugged in to groups that are exploring the world, but are also grounded in faith.

    College really challenges your notions and forces you to think for yourself (both good things), just try and not get overwhelmed and keep your eyes on Christ.

  • http://www.annplana.blogspot.com Ann

    One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was that when you find a professor you like keep taking classes from him/her even if it’s not in your intended major. Basically – follow your heart and not your head and be open to the possibilities. Learning is much more enjoyable when you are interested rather than bored and frustrated.

  • Becca

    Learn what value is outside of money. Education is important and valuable even if it doesn’t lead to a lucrative career, even if you’re a history, or english, or religion (holla) major. Take your classes and do the work, not for the grade but for the learning. It really is worth it. If you don’t have time, keep your syllabuses and read through all of the books during the summer or when you graduate. That’s the point, to learn.

    • fluger

      I guess my issue was that I could’ve learned a lot of what I did in my History classes from just going to the library.

      I think the biggest “education” you get at college is learning to deal with lots of different people with lots of different ideas and backgrounds.

  • Jim

    41 years after graduation from college and 38 years after graduation from law school I’d go back in a heart beat. Soak it all up. Go to the lectures, the seminars, the poetry readings, the concerts, and, yes, the evening beer discussion with your proessor. Read everything you can and particpate. I can’t think of one regret from those 7 years; well maybe the inability to get a date.

    But that was more of a personality defect and really had nothing to do with the college experience. It did lead to joining the church choir (can’t sing), offers to assist with homework in classes not on my schedule, and futile attempts to impress on the field. So it’s all good.

  • http://www.welcometomarriedlife.com Krista

    Do something outside your comfort zone. If you’ve always admired the theater, then try out for the college play – maybe not the lead, but just do it. Be part of the choir. Participate in an intramural sport even if you’re not athletically gifted. All of these activities will help you meet people you might not normally and broaden your horizons. College is the best place to meet a broad spectrum of people! Many will challenge you and you can challenge them as well!
    Whatever you do, don’t spend all your time in your room watching TV or playing video games! ;)

  • antithesisreigns

    1) In terms of growing in your faith, don’t allow your head to grow faster than your heart lest you become disillusioned. It’s easy to get swept up in the knowledge race of college, or even your new church, where new ideas are foreign ideas may be thrown around and soon you’re thinking more about God as a theory rather than a relational Lover.

    2) Get involved in something multigenerational. I’m currently a student at SPU going into my senior year and it wasn’t until this summer that I began to attend one of Bethany’s small groups, which ranges from the ages of 21-35. Being able to interact with post-college adults and married couples has been a tremendous blessing for me. Besides, it gets you off campus anyway, which is essential for one’s own sanity.

  • andrew

    My Advice:
    1) don’t specialize to early. I switched from Education to Business. This is especially important to those parents of running start kids that have a career goal nailed down by 16 and a BA by 20.
    2) if a class interests you, take it. I graduated from Community College with 145 credits. Everything from desktop publishing to Child Psychology to VB Programming.
    3) Take a year off. The only schooling i will pay for my kids 100% will be their choice to take a break in between HS and College. Highly recommend CHBC:-)
    4) if you don’t have a career in mind, or you are unsure of what you want to be, check out apprenticeship or votech. I have a two year welding cert that i got when i was in HS. Best decision ever!