Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Alex Chediak's book,Thriving at College, (Tyndale House Publishers).
College is a crucial time to prepare for the life God wants you to enjoy as a young adult – an independent, productive life focused on fulfilling His purposes for you. Yet many college students today move back home with their parents after graduating, with debt to pay off from college costs but no job lined up, and confusion about God’s calling for them.
It doesn’t have to be that way for you. If you avoid common mistakes students make while in college, you can do much more than just survive the experience. You can thrive, turning college into a launching pad for an adulthood in which you reach your full, God-given potential.
Here’s how you can thrive at college:
Grow closer to God. Don’t make the mistake of throwing away your faith in college. Expect that your faith will be questioned and sometimes attacked at college – even if you’re attending a Christian college – as you interact with students and professors who have different perspectives on faith and Christian theology. But use those challenges as opportunities to seek God in fresh ways and discover more about what you believe and why, which will ultimately deepen your faith because God has promised to be found by those who search for Him wholeheartedly.
Expect that you’ll encounter moral challenges, too, in the form of all sorts of temptations to sin. But you can overcome temptation if you stay close to God in prayer and remember that it’s worthwhile to sacrifice sinful pleasures so you can later enjoy the greater pleasures that come from living faithfully. Rather than just fitting your relationship with God into your life, revolve your entire life around God at the center of it.
Maintain healthy habits and boundaries. Don’t make the mistake of treating college as if it were high school. In high school, your parents likely still made many decisions for you. But in college, you must learn to make your own decisions so you can successfully navigate the different aspects of your life. Be sure to work when it’s time to work, rest when it’s time to rest (including getting enough sleep), choose your friends wisely, choose your extracurricular activities wisely, eat nutritiously, exercise regularly, and invest in your spiritual growth by going to church and praying and reading the Bible regularly. Ask God to help you say “no” to bad choices, but also to good pursuits that simply aren’t the best for you in college.
Find great friends and mentors. Don’t make the mistake of not being intentional in relationships. Purposefully seek out friends who have a similar worldview to yours, challenge you to keep growing closer to Christ, and are responsible, loyal, loving, truthful, encouraging, self-sacrificing, and respectful. When relating to other students and faculty members who don’t share your faith, be a good Christian witness by demonstrating love and respect, as well as academic excellence and integrity.
Attract the right kind of person to date. Don’t make the mistake of ignoring or idolizing the opposite sex. Feel free to date, but don’t so casually. Instead, only date the kind of people that you’d consider marrying. But rather than focusing on searching for the right person to marry, focus on becoming the right person yourself so you can attract the right kind of spouse.
Before you begin any dating relationship, make sure that you’re in a spiritually healthy place where you’re looking to God alone to fulfill you, so you won’t expect the people you date to meet needs that only God can meet. Ask God to help you stay sexually pure even when many others around you are giving into sinful sexual relationships. Keep in mind that sacrificing temporary pleasure now will make it possible for you to avoid great pain later.
Become independent of your parents. Don’t make the mistake of refusing to grow up. Use your time in college to learn how to function as an independent adult who can confidently perform tasks such as paying bills, balancing a checkbook, resolving conflict with coworkers and bosses, and juggle a social life with the responsibilities of daily living, like chores and errands. Move from relating to your parents as authority figures to interacting with them as friends. If you’re still living at home with your parents, make sure that you’re working at least as much as they are.
Keep your commitments. Don’t make the mistake of being a flake. Ask God to help you develop a strong character and reputation. Honor the commitments you make whenever possible. Avoid making excuses or exaggerating. Take full responsibility for your attitudes and actions.
Balance work and play. Don’t make the mistake of living out of balance. Rather than overworking and burning yourself out or playing too much and becoming lazy, spend time working and playing regularly so you can be both productive and rejuvenated.
Choose a major wisely. Don’t mistakenly think that the major you choose now will necessarily reflect your professional field for a lifetime, or mistakenly hesitate to choose a major because you’re too afraid to commit to one. Pray for the discernment you need to discover God’s calling for you, and consider both what you most enjoying doing and what you do best when considering potential majors.
Recognize that growth requires challenge. Don’t make the mistake of ignoring your grades, since they matter, but don’t become preoccupied with them, either. Just do the best you can to please God when you work. Keep in mind that learning how to think well is a greater college goal than just getting good grades. But also recognize that your grades can be valuable indicators of how well you’re learning, and that God may use your grades to either confirm or redirect your sense of His calling for you.
Use your downtime wisely. Don’t make the mistake of wasting opportunities. While you should devote most of your time and energy to your relationship with God and then your academic pursuits, it’s also important to take advantage of opportunities such as internships, mission trips, student organizations, and special events that can help you grow. Also, use some of your downtime to learn better time and money management skills so you’ll be well-prepared for life after college.
Adapted from Thriving at College, copyright 2011 by Alex Chediak. Published by Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, Ill., www.tyndale.com.
Alex Chediak is an author, speaker, and an associate professor of engineering and physics at California Baptist University. Alex has been involved in campus ministries and mentoring students for many years. He has published numerous articles in Boundless, an online magazine for young adult Christians, and he is the author of 5 Paths to the Love of Your Life and With One Voice. Alex has an MS and PhD in engineering from University of California–Berkeley. Originally from the Chicago area, Alex and his wife, Marni, and their three children now reside in Riverside, California. He maintains a blog at www.alexchediak.com.
Whitney Hopler is a full-time freelance writer and editor. You can visit her website at: http://whitneyhopler.naiwe.com/.