“We are hoping someday to be more progressive like Berkeley, allowing boys and girls to use the same bathrooms. Eventually, we would like to have co-ed dorm rooms.”
An unnamed administration official at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, 1999
My parents listened to that statement during my freshman orientation. I was sequestered in another building, registering for classes and getting the scoop on catalogs and class-crashing. When we met up for lunch a few hours later, they related this scene and the breakout of grumbling around them. Apparently, as they looked around the room, more than one face seemed to go pale.
It seemed a little weird to me—back then—that a college would even consider co-ed dorm rooms. Out of one side of their mouth they fretted about rape and sexual assault, while out of the the other, they wanted this idealistic progressivism. One of our most vulnerable times is when we are asleep. I could imagine all the ways something could go horribly wrong for both a female or a male in that situation.
Ah, college. A place where logic and insanity collide.
My parents must have prayed for me—a lot—because I survived college with an even stronger faith than when I arrived.
College has always been (and always will be) awash with challenges and temptations. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either blind or deceitful. High stress, binge drinking, drug abuse, mental fatigue, promiscuity, and financial inducements can lead a naive kid to destruction. Even if you put your nose to the grindstone and focus entirely on your studies, you may find yourself idolizing your career and forgetting God somewhere along the way.
So how does one survive the testing ground of college?
#1: Know Thyself
It’s very easy to be overconfident in the strength of your faith. Take a good hard look at your high school years. Take stock of the times you’ve succumbed to peer pressure. Consider the times you really wanted to give in to temptation, but didn’t (maybe because you knew you’d catch it from your parents). Do you have strong connections to your home church? Do you feel motivated to attend worship on your own if you go away to college?
Before you ever enroll in college, you need to take an honest self-exam. If you’re going away to school, you will be tested like never before. Are you prepared? If you’re not sure, ask some recent college graduates (who are also solid Christians) about their experience. What challenges did they face? What problems could arise in the dorms? What should one be wary of?
Only you know the state of your heart. If your faith is weak, or you tend toward following the crowd, it may be more prudent to attend a local college and live at home where you already have a base of support and accountability.
#2: Join yourself to a sound congregation
When I applied to Cal Poly, I knew there was a sound congregation just up the highway because I had already been there once before. To my surprise, someone told me just the opposite, so I had to make the trek two more times before school started to look at other churches and see for myself (again). As it turned out, that congregation was one of the strongest I had ever seen. While my parents were concerned about the distance of the church from the college (it was 45 minutes away), the soundness of the teaching, preaching, and leadership was more than reassuring.
If you don’t have access to a good church, transfer.
Yes, I know it’s extreme, but consider: Is it worth getting the “ultimate” education at the cost of your faith?
The church I worshipped with in college became my family. I was car-less during my freshman year, and someone always picked me up from the dorms to take me to worship and weekly bible studies. We were encouraged (and expected) to make worship a priority. The elders of our church, often like grandparents, always made themselves available to counsel and encourage us. If we missed worship, someone always called to make sure we were okay.
I’ll never forget the time I laid in an emergency room, thinking I would surely die alone (It turned out to be kidney stones), when one couple stopped by to check on me and another came to stay with me until I was discharged. This group of God’s people didn’t just teach the truth, they lived lives of sacrificial love.
Did every college kid who walked into our church stay faithful?
I think you know the answer.
The only people who remained in the faith were those who made God their top priority.
Being part of a strong church does not make you a strong christian, but a sound church can help you stay on the strait and narrow.
#3: Flee Temptation.
Don’t play with the matches of temptation unless you want to burn down your spiritual house.
Spend time with friends and mentors who will keep you on track.
Learn what situations to avoid.
Parties are a hotbed for drunkenness, lust, fights, and rank stupidity; it’s best to make yourself scarce and find something else to do. Being alone with the opposite sex can lead you lots of place you don’t want to go, so shoot for double dates or public places.
Guard your heart from pride—college can make a person absurdly arrogant.
#4: Make time to read your Bible.
You will spend hours this semester reading textbooks, so why not schedule 15 minutes of bible reading per day? That 30-minute break between chem lab and architecture is an opportune time to crack open the bible with a cup of joe. Listen to it on a walk between classes. Find some way to get into the word daily. Anti-Christian sentiments run rampant on college campuses so you need to intentionally balance what you’re taking in every day.
Even if you are attending a Christian college, study the word on your own. False teaching creeps in and leads the gullible astray.
Don’t be a fool. Educate yourself in the book that counts.
#5: Find healthy ways to have fun
I was extremely blessed to have a best friend in college who didn’t think it necessary to get hammered every weekend. She lived across the bathroom from me in the dorm we dubbed “the concrete palace.” We would go to the downtown farmer’s market, visit the beach, hang out at Fat Cat’s Cafe for hot cocoa and homework, or simply gather a bunch of friends and have a potluck dinner once a week. She was my friend through thick and thin, helping me find balance in the grind of work and school.
Choose your friends wisely and allow yourself time for some good, healthy fun. If you need alcohol to have a good time, it must not be that good of a time.
#6: Remember Your “Why”
Why did you decide to go to college in the first place?
A specialized career?
The potential for financial prosperity?
When I started college, I was aiming to get my B.S. in Chemistry and then apply to UCSD to obtain a Doctor of Pharmacology degree. In the end, I graduated with a B.S. in Graphic Communications with a minor in music. Despite the wide shift in study, my overall goal never changed—get a degree for expanded job opportunities and self-sufficiency.
I wanted to serve God, but I was also obsessed with getting my degree. I attended worship regularly, but in reflection, I was far too focused on self. Thankfully, the Lord held my hand through it all and extended me more grace than I deserved. One thing I have learned in my life as a Christian is that God recognizes our short-comings even if we don’t and will help those who seek Him.
Set a goal to get that degree, but don’t lose sight of who you are and who’s you are. You may think you don’t have time now, but I assure you—as someone standing on this side of graduation—the time never really appears. Make time to be involved with the church now and seek ways to serve today.
You can survive college as a Christian. Keep God as king of your heart and stay committed! He will carry you through this!