As the summer comes to a close, students across the country prepare to head back to school. For many, this means returning to a familiar campus, classes, and friends. But for the freshmen, it is the beginning of an exciting adventure into the unknown. After two years of college, my experiences and observations have given me some insight into the common obstacles that come with the adjustment to college. With this in mind, I would like to offer some advice to those beginning college, and some reminders for those of us who are returning students:
First, the basics. Make sure you stay healthy. College dorms are a petri dish where germs can thrive and sicknesses get passed around like a hot potato. As you make the transition to college, make a real effort to help yourself stay healthy. Eating right can be difficult in a dorm cafeteria, but it is worth the effort to avoid the dreaded "Freshman 15." So is exercising regularly even when your schedule is busy. Also, drink plenty of water, wash your hands often, and try to take a break from all the studying and socializing to get a good night’s sleep.
In addition, be prepared for the academic adjustment that comes with college. Classes are often taught differently than in high school, and it is essential that you attend all your classes, do the homework, and ask for help if you need it. Don’t get behind in your reading, because it can be very difficult to catch up. Remember that your education is the reason that you are at college. Your studies should be a priority.
If you are like most college freshman, you have been living with your family for the last 18 years. Now, as you go off to college, you are on your own, possibly thousands of miles away from home. College is an important time to grow and develop on your own, but don’t completely leave your family behind. During this transition period, it is important to keep in touch with your family. They are your home base, your solid foundation, and an excellent source of advice when you come up against difficulties. As you start school, make an effort to stay close to your family members, to keep them updated on your life as you go forward.
But beyond this basic advice, the best advice I can give to incoming college freshmen is pray pray pray! Find a Catholic Church on or near your campus, go to it regularly, and do everything you can to grow in your faith. A strong faith will help you in nearly every other area of your life, and it can help you conquer any other challenges you may come up against. Here are a few examples of challenges commonly faced by college freshmen, and how a strong faith will help you get through them:
Making friends – Probably one of the most important bits of advice I can offer for those heading off to college is to make good friends. Your friends will play a crucial role in determining the person that you develop into over the next four years. The Bible tells us, "A faithful friend is a life-saving remedy, such as he who fears God finds; For he who fears God behaves accordingly, and his friend will be like himself" (Sirach 6:16-17). After a while, our friends really do start to become like us, and we become like them. Like it or not, when you start spending all your time around your friends, as you do at college, a lot of their qualities will start to rub off on you. This means you will start picking up some of their traits, habits, perspective on the world, way of thinking, and even sense of humor. You will be spending huge amounts of time with your friends in college, and they will influence the decisions you make. Good friends will help build you up into a better, holier person, while bad friends will drag you down into vice and temptation. Having good friends is critical in practicing your Catholic faith at school. Where can you find these kinds of people? It can be hard, especially at a large, secular school. But going to Church regularly, as well as looking for a Newman Center or FOCUS program if your school has them, are great ways to find good people with strong morals and values who share your beliefs and interests.
Homesickness – Many college freshmen experience homesickness at some point during their first year. It is a natural experience during this time of transition. It might help to talk regularly with your family. In addition, maintaining a strong faith can be helpful. The Catholic Church is universal, and Jesus is the same no matter where you are. The Mass is the same Mass throughout time and space. When you go to Mass at college, you can hear the same readings and participate in the same Eucharist that you would at home. If you experience homesickness during your first year at college, you may find comfort in the familiar presence of Christ in the Mass and Eucharist. Amid all the changes in you life, Christ is one thing that will always be constant, and this can be very reassuring in challenging times.
Stress and Time Management - When you are stressed out, your faith will help you remember what is really important and help you to keep things in perspective. Likewise, when you run into difficulties juggling a dozen different activities, your faith will help you prioritize. If you keep Christ first in your life, everything else will fall into place. This will be a huge help as you learn how to manage your time in college.
Picking a major – You may think all the tough decision-making ends as soon as you pick a college, but you’re wrong. Almost as soon as you step through the doors, chances are you will start hearing about picking a major. Colleges differ about how much time they allow before students are required to initially declare a major, but it can be a huge source of stress for incoming freshmen. And understandably so, since it is a decision that can really shape your future. Before you make any big decisions that can affect your life, make sure you consult God! Don’t make decisions without Him. Pray regularly to be open to His plan for you, and seek His guidance as you move forward.
Temptation – In addition to all the wonderful new things that accompany the transition to college, there will also be new temptations. Sex, alcohol, and drugs abound on most college campuses, and for incoming Catholics, it can be overwhelming. Keeping a strong faith can be a huge aid in avoiding these temptations, and it is important to remember that you can turn to Christ for strength in tough situations.
God Bless, and have a wonderful school year!!