Let me tell you the one lie that will sink your college career.
“College is the best four years of your life.”
Students, have you heard that from parents, relatives, friends? Have you been told to live it up the next four years because it’s all downhill from there? That after college is all just work, settling down, and “adulting?” Well, that is a lie. If you’re the one saying such a thing, you are doing life wrong. You shouldn’t peak in college. College can be awesome, but it’s just the launching pad for an incredible planet-denting life.
I’ve been hanging out with college students for twenty years as a volunteer in parachurch ministries like Young Life and Navigators, as an adjunct professor, and the last four years as a community pastor at a church called Crossroads in Oxford, Ohio. After watching countless students believe that lie, I can’t think of a worse thing to say to an incoming college student. It only does one of two things:
- Distracts: If you are having an easy time transitioning to academia, then it’s easier to believe the lie that these are the best years. You think, “I had better hurry up and enjoy everything this place has to offer because life will stink afterward!” So you over-engage, exhaust yourself, and if you graduate, you’ll become more likely to fall into depression believing that it just will never get that good again.
- Discourages: If you have a hard time adjusting to college, you immediately think there’s something wrong with you. You will wonder why you haven’t been asked out, aren’t going to the different parties, or making friends easier. It will likely lead you into more and more reckless choices chasing after this dream of the best years or to retreat into defeat.
Here’s the reality: beginning your college career requires a period of adjustment for everyone. You leave what is known to what is totally unknown and have the added pressure of new academic challenges. Unsurprisingly, first-year students often find themselves feeling depressed and homesick those first few months. It is an overwhelming amount of change. You’re not alone in feeling the highs and the lows that come with it.
So, give yourself some time to slow down and really think through what this college thing is all about. If trying to live it up during your college years leads to distraction or discouragement, what should college be about then?
College should be trajectory-setting for an even better life ahead. It should lay a foundation of wisdom beyond the classroom you can build upon to impact the world. But as much as your university may try to help, being prepared to change the world won’t be automatic. It takes intentional choices and resiliency. It takes having a perspective of long term goals instead of instant satisfaction. And after years of watching students transition into college life, I have found one surprising reason why some succeed and launch from college into successful careers and social lives and why others circle the drain:
The students that I see adjusted and happy in college have found a community that treats them like family. Best case scenario is that they are actual families, but some kind of authentic, mature community is imperative. These surrogate families opened up their homes and lives to students like you. They gave an inside peek at another family dynamic, a chance to interact with kids and have someone around to give you a different perspective. This “home away from home” is especially valuable when things feel like they are falling apart.
When I first started noticing this sort of thing, I thought they were outliers; unique situations that were healthy for certain personalities or situations. But now, after 20 years of college ministry, I am confident that it is the reason for success as well as long-term happiness for students that were fortunate enough to find them.
And I’ve noticed it’s awesome for the adults in the dynamic too. But you’re not going to be issued a surrogate family during orientation. Finding one isn’t an exercise in UNV 101. It’s going to take effort so here’s a roadmap for finding one:
- Don’t go home for the first two months. I know that is a lot to ask. Your family can come to you and visit but if you go home on the weekends when most are making connections—you will be missing out on that time.
- Minimize video games and time binging on Netflix. Think about not even bringing the consoles to college unless you are a gaming major. You will make no memories playing them. Stranger Things can wait until Thanksgiving. You need that time to be intentionally making memories and connections with others.
- Say “yes” and be uncomfortably outgoing. In order to find a surrogate family, it means you will be uncomfortable in putting yourself out there. You will need to ask for time from people, and that means new experiences that may or may not exhaust you. Find time to recharge and do it again until you find people you really love.
- Try church. And then go out to lunch with the friendliest family you can find. Church will expose you to faith (and if you’ve never done this before, it may be part of #3: being uncomfortable). It will regularly challenge you to invest in time with God. Whether you believe in God or not, I believe He is the one who made you and knows you best. That means He’s also the one who will develop you the best too. If you’re attending Miami, UC or UK then you’re in luck, there’s a Crossroads near you full of your kind of people. You can find service times here. Whatever church you check out, just make sure they speak in a way that you can hear God. When you look around, you should be able to throw a rock and hit nothing but people you’d like to be like if you’ve found a good one.
- Get in a group. Regular weekly time connecting with people and sharing what’s going on in your life is critical. Being vulnerable and hearing others share too will fight against the feeling that you are alone. Check out all the options Crossroads offers at crossroads.net/groups or go to your local church and ask. If that’s not something they value, then it’s not a healthy church. Keep looking.
- Ask for and offer help. Ask for advice. Maybe you need a ride to get groceries. Whatever you need, go to this new community first. It builds trust and a healthy reliance.
- Go on adventures that create memories. Real friendships are forged in doing stuff you’ll actually remember. Spend extended time doing things that are new or challenging. Road trips. Late-night pranks. Or check out Crossroads’ College Camp, Man Camp or Woman Camp. Get outside the grind, unplug, sleep outside, build fires, laugh, build friendships, and connect with God. Shared experiences are the fastest way to create memories solidifying a bond between people.
If you do these things, you are sure to find a community that will love, support, and stabilize you while you go through the whirlwind that is college. I’ve picked up multiple students in crisis and taken them home. I’ve gone to the hospital and sat with them while their other family from out of town arrives. I’ve gotten calls mid panic attack, and spent the day with others that were so homesick they said they would never have graduated had it not been for this surrogate family. We all need to belong. We all need perspective beyond our own, and we’re all desperately needed in this world to make it a better place.
Who you will become is up to you. Exchange the lie that these are the best years of your life for the confidence that the best is yet to come, and it’s largely built on how well you set yourself up for it.