After a tearful goodbye (the tears being my mother’s), my parents’ car left campus and I returned to my dorm room.  Boxes and tubs of clothes belonging to my yet-unknown roommates crowded every inch of space in our tiny room.  I waded over to my desk, turned on my laptop, and immediately emailed my family to say “hey.”  After three crazy days of buying books, touring campus, and attending meetings, the first class day arrived.  Thankfully I can say that I did not get lost or sit down in the wrong classroom.  However, one thought continually passed through my mind: “What in the world am I doing?”  Welcome to college!

Going to college is a wonderful phase in a young person’s life.  I was able to spread my wings and learn how to be a good steward of my independence.  My freshman year was rough as most first years are, but the time passes.  Now, as I prepare for my senior year, I am ready to be done.  I wish to pass on the things I have learned in college to you in hopes that it will encourage you about school.  I will begin by explaining common college life and end with some suggestions and tips.

Five issues must be addressed by every college student:  devotions, roommates, friends, church/ministry, and culture.  Beginning the day with God is the most important thing a college student can do.  Yet sadly, many do not.  College is so busy that it is easy to become lazy spiritually, even at a Christian college.  Even if you are the only one, take the time to have your devotions.  If your room is noisy, go to the study lounge or the prayer room.  I personally get up early, turn my light on, and have devotions in my bunk while my blanket keeps the light from waking my roommates.  Joshua 1:8 promises that if we read the Bible and meditate on it, we will have good success.

Roommates are popular horror stories.  I have had some wonderful roommates who will be my friends for life.  I have also had some troubling roommates, including one that was possibly unsaved.  The best advice I can give follows the principle of the second great commandment:  love your roommates.  Romans 12:18 says, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.”  One roommate would leave her stuff all over the place and would borrow without permission, but I still had to love her.  One roommate would get angry at inconveniences and would stomp out of the room, but I still had to love her.  Christians are sinners saved by grace.  We all have the capability of being selfish, nasty people.  In small rooms, tensions can rise easily.  Be unselfish and be a peacemaker.

You cannot choose your roommates, but you do choose your friends.  Be careful.  My freshman year, I made a fast friendship with a girl who I thought shared my beliefs.  We had wonderful times and were best friends.  When we returned our sophomore year, I started to notice changes in her.  That semester was a rollercoaster of heartache and sorrow.  My friend chose a path that I could not follow.  I learned the hard way that I must choose my friends carefully.  I recommend having several close friends instead of one best friend; that way you meet more people and are involved in different social circles.

Finding a good church is even more important than relationships.  If your college is in a large town there could be a multitude of options. This is not a bad thing, but it can make the choice difficult.  Before choosing a church, check the church’s statement of faith.  Also, find out if there is a ministry you can become involved in.  I was heavily involved in my church in high school, and I missed being involved when I went to college.  The Lord provided a place for me, and by Christmas of my freshman year I was teaching a four-year-old Children’s Church.  I have loved every moment of the ministry.  It is easy for a pastor’s kid or a missionary’s kid to let others minister while in college, but I encourage you to be active so you will be ready to jump back into ministry when you return home.

Regardless of where you go, one of the hardest adjustments can be adapting to culture.  Learning to greet people by kissing cheeks in Peru and eating with both hands on the table in France seems very strange to a girl who was raised according to Southern traditions.  Several missionaries have told me their stories about cultural differences they experienced.  The key though is not to compare the two societies.  One missionary rightly said, “I had to realize that the French do everything right in France, and the Americans do everything right in the United States.”  College has its own subculture even beyond the American culture.  The sooner you adapt to it, the easier your studies will be.

Let me close my textbook of advice to open my brochure of tips.  These are just suggestions and may vary based on schools:

  • Some schools have banned webcams in the dorm room.  Special permission may be obtained to use webcams for Skype so you can communicate with home.
  • Check online for a college checklist.  Most colleges provide one.  If not, I recommend Bed, Bath, & Beyond’s list.
  • Check the college dress code before buying your clothes for school.  Several colleges are in the process of updating their rules.
  • If your college allows you to register prior to arriving for each semester, try to obtain the list of textbooks you will need and purchase them online.  You will save a lot of money.  I recommend Amazon.com or Half.com.  The average textbook costs $120.  Online the average cost is $40.  My best buy has been $0.97.
  • Save quarters for laundry!
  • For the ladies:  do not forget that you will need a few formal dresses for special events.
  • If you work for your college and the job you are assigned to was not your first pick, ask around for other opportunities.  You will probably be able to change jobs your sophomore year.
  • Purchase a good day planner or design one on your computer.  Keep track of when papers and projects are due as well as social events.
  • Most college students own laptops which are easily carried to class for note-taking or to the library for studying.
  • Going to breakfast is not always an option.  I recommend stocking up on granola bars.  If a roommate has a fridge, ask if you can store some yogurt and milk.
  • Do not buy snack food on campus, because it can be very expensive.  You save a lot by going to the grocery store instead.
  • Every roommate has a room job.  Dusting, trash removal, vacuuming, and cleaning the sink are the basic ones.  Penalties for forgetting your job can add up quickly so don’t forget!

Enjoy the four years of college.  It can be a very fun experience.  I have grown a lot during my three years and have loved it.  I hope my advice and tips have been encouraging and helpful.  I wish you a wonderful time as you start this new phase which turns a teenager into an adult.

– Hannah S. Bowers

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