College is one of the more exciting, scary and formative times of a youth’s transition into adulthood. We enter into it, often, on our own for the first time thus becoming are own authority. It is also one of the more self-centered times in our lives, when everything around us caters to our interests and desires. And, it is a time when we often experiment and “try things on”, whether it be various personalities/self-images, religious expressions, academic pursuits, recreational interests, relationships or drinking and drugs. While many of these experiments are healthy and normal, others can be harmful and leave us feeling lost and alone or on a path into adulthood that could be destructive and even life-threatening. Consider this statistic: Each year, drinking by college students, ages 18-24, contributes to an estimated 1,700 student deaths, almost 600,000 injuries, almost 700,000 assaults, more than 90,000 sexual assaults, and 474,000 engaging in unprotected sex. In 2001, 2.8 million college students drove a car while under the influence of alcohol. (Hingson et al, 2005)
However, as we think back on our own college experiences or walk alongside our children or others’ children during college, in general, college youth are hungry to become healthy, autonomous individuals and to uncover the callings and passions that will guide them into adulthood. College students and those who work with college students may want to consider several principles to keep the college experience grounded and focused:
1) Foundations – While it’s tempting to want to become a tabula rosa or “clean slate” upon which to create a new persona in college, college students, especially Christian ones, need to remember where their foundation comes from in making up who they are. Keep in mind that all the activities on campus that seek to “remake you” whether academic, extracurricular or social, cannot ultimately fulfill you or help you become who you were created to be. Moreover, while college can be a very self-centered time, it’s essential to leave room for going outside onself through serving others. According to one encouraging statistic, this is happening: Volunteering among youths 18-24 years old has increased 8%, from 38% to 46%. (Volunteens, a program of the Volunteer Center of Rhode Island)
2) Relationships – These will form the core of your experience in college and, like foundations, you need to remember not to neglect the relationships you enter college with (i.e. family, old friends). Also, take this opportunity to befriend those different from you – other races, religions, political leanings or whatever – to learn from them and widen your perspective.
3) Academics – At the end of the day, the reason you’re at college is for this purpose so it’s vital to keep these a priority. Whether you’re majoring in pre-med or theater, give it your all as you’ll likely not have the luxury of studying, reflecting and engaging in dialogue with those in the field like you’re having now. How much you soak up and engage in your chosen major is more important than what major you choose.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
What was your college experience like? What do you regret most? What are you most grateful for?
If you haven’t been to college yet, what are you expectations? What are your biggest fears and hopes?
What can youth workers do to support students during this transformative time in their lives?
Youth workers need to be especially sensitive to all the opportunities and challenges that face college students these days.
College is an exciting and vulnerable time – one that can take students in many directions. Youth workers need to be at the front-lines.