By Michael Kelly
This year around 20 million teenagers move off to college with high expectations, great adventure, new relationships, and personal independence. Most of the time these expectations become a reality; however, sometimes it is easy to get tripped up in college. A new student can get the most out of freshman year by preparing for more than just their academics and logistics.
The first challenge is to be prepared for loneliness. Everyone thinks the college years are packed with new friendships and non-stop social events. While there may be some truth to such a statement, most freshmen struggle with feeling lonely.
I have three tips to help combat loneliness.
First, invest time in a local church or college Bible study. This seems obvious, but most Christian teens struggle because they are not investing in the most important part of themselves—their soul.
A close second tip is to call home. You are expected to call your parents, but you should also call other significant adults—teachers, coaches, aunts, uncles, student pastor, etc. This extended support group will remind you of your value and place in the family of God. (If you are a parent reading this article you should encourage other adults in your teen’s life to occasionally send a random text of support).
The third tip is to rebrand loneliness as “solitude or muse time”. While all of us grow in collaborative ways, solitude is famous for bearing much fruit in a believer’s life (Jesus in the wilderness). Embracing moments of solitude can lead to greater personal spiritual growth.
Another important strategy that can benefit every college student is the development and communication of boundaries. Declared boundaries make for healthy relationship with both dates and roommates. Everyone you date should know that you have a Biblical set of boundaries that will not be compromised. Biblical boundaries are set to protect you and anyone you date from being confused about your intentions.
Every year I speak to dozens of college freshmen and every one of them have issues with their roommates. Most of the issues are minor and we all have a big laugh; some stories, however, are not funny. The majority of issues can be resolved when both you and your roommate communicate your boundaries early and clearly—which facilitates a mutual respect for one another. Setting clear boundaries also contributes to better mental health. Anything that clears up confusion and puts feet on a clear path helps mental health. No one needs the stress of undefined boundaries.
Another challenge for the average college freshmen is hearing confusing or aggressive sexual agendas from others. A college professor or older college student can enjoy shocking freshmen with a sexual agenda that is counter to God’s Word or common sense. Think about some of the situations or discussions in which you may find yourself and prepare a response. It is usually best to respond to confrontations on this subject with kindness and gentleness—while being confident in God’s plan for your life. God loves you and wants you to have healthy, vibrant relationships.
Lastly, addictions like alcohol, illicit prescription drugs, illegal drugs, and pornography must be mentioned. All of these things are mind-altering and dangerous. They set up a false reality and usually cripple your ability to operate at maximum efficiency or intimacy.
It is amazing how many people think that there are age-appropriate sins. Comments like, “It’s okay, they’re in college,” or “They are at that age,” are incorrect and were probably whispered by Satan first. Though we all sin, there is never a reason to rationalize sin regardless of age. Destructive habits developed in adolescence destroy adults every day.
The last bit of advice is to remember—you are not alone! Most college campuses have counseling services and drug recovery programs. It is humbling to need help, but it is humbling and stupid to not get help when it is readily available. Whether you are battling depression, anxiety, stress, or addiction, take advantage of what help is available on your campus.
Remember that God designed the church to be a support system for you. You have brothers and sisters of every age and maturity level in your community of faith. Believers cheer for believers. When you get down or are uncertain, reach out to a mature brother or sister in Christ in a local church or back home.
So now that you know a few of the challenges—go ahead and jump in! Your freshman year in college really can be one of your greatest adventures. Enjoy it!
Michael Kelly serves as a student pastor at Broadmoor Baptist Church and works primarily with high school students. He has over 20 years of experience working with students. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.