Each fall a new year of classes begins at universities around the world. However, a great deal of preparation should lead up to those first moments on campus. Taking time to plan out a route that will adequately prepare you for adulthood and career need not overwhelm your spiritual foundation!
It is crucial to remember that college is a tool, and a fantastic one, but it is not a destination. How can we successfully balance academics, education, fellowship, health and finances for a beneficial university experience without losing our faith? Here are some steps that can help.
Step 1: Make a plan
Bridging the gap between secondary school and college is the first big step. Make a detailed plan and keep important documents, applications, pamphlets and e-mail printouts in a box or file folder in one place. Collecting information from a variety of colleges during the final two years of high school—or earlier—helps in the decision-making process. Have options and think creatively about which college to attend, degree to pursue and financial and housing arrangements to make.
Seek out the advice of an academic counselor at high school in order to make informed decisions. Often these individuals have access to scholarship and grant information, college entrance requirements and other essential details as well as connections to local colleges.
Use the final years of secondary school to prepare for the higher academic standards of college. Taking the SAT or other standardized test is required for entrance to universities, and these can often be retaken if scores aren't as high as desired. Although it sometimes seems as though testing is only offered on Saturdays, a little more searching or prodding of officials often reveals that tests can be administered on other days.
Advanced placement classes, another great option, are available during high school. These classes conclude with a standardized test that can award, depending on the score, college credits. Some high schools also allow students to take classes at a local university. Credit for these adds up to a savings of expenses and time at college.
Step 2: Know what you are up against
Perhaps the biggest change from secondary school to college is the increased exposure to and influence of godless philosophies, ideologies and lifestyles. The challenge is to remain grounded in the truth God provides in the Bible in the face of these pressures.
The modern academic world is not, in general, hospitable to biblical truth. It is secular and based on the theory of evolution and humanist philosophy—at best agnostic (unsure of the existence of God) and at worst atheistic (completely rejecting God). Alternatively, some universities are strongly religious in nature and have an equally obvious slant toward the beliefs of whichever denomination they represent.
Be aware of these challenges before you even choose a college. First determine what it is that you really want to learn. Is it a career skill? If so, what are your best options—in order to avoid as much anti-Bible indoctrination as possible? Many young people are now getting their training at trade or technical schools instead of colleges.
If you decide to go to a college or university, keep in mind that college is a busy life! You'll need to set your mind on the truth of God by regularly reading the Bible in order to avoid being sucked into worldly values and thinking. Ask for guidance from God and pray daily for the strength to defend your mind. Realize that back when Adam and Eve took fruit from the wrong tree in the Garden of Eden, they took it from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. As a result the academic institutions of this world teach a mixture of good and evil.
Develop a knack for sifting information; retain the teaching that converges with the Bible. Acknowledge the other information that is counter to God's instruction and actively put it in the "false" category in your mind. Just because it appears in a textbook or someone (such as a professor) believes it and professes it doesn't make it factual. Get to the truth of a matter.
Other moral challenges arise in college, including the prevalence of experimental and "alternative" lifestyles. Young adults in college must develop the fortitude to sidestep the pressures of campus life that often include alcohol, drugs, partying, sexual immorality, cheating, malnutrition and lack of sleep. Maturity takes self-discipline, which means knowing the difference between having a good time within moderation and breaking the law of God.
Strong connections to parents, solid church friends, wise older friends and other good counselors are the best means to defend against false philosophies. Continuous communication with these individuals keeps you grounded. The Sabbath and annual Holy Days will take on more meaning and give you added strength as you learn to keep them, sometimes on your own, far from home.
When choosing a college, remember to consider your need to attend Sabbath services every week. How can you become truly educated if you are unable to be part of the most important educational session of the week—the Sabbath convocation, which God Himself tells us to attend every week?
Step 3: Count the cost
A college education is expensive and often the only option seems to be a loan. Indeed, the National Center for Education Statistics reports that in a recent study about 50 percent of students in the United States have taken out loans to pay for their education (www.studentdoc.com/student-loan-debt.html). However, there are other possibilities. Reaching for a loan should be a last resort.
One of the best ways to save money at university is to get good grades in high school. A high grade point average (GPA) will make available academic achievement scholarships offered by your university of choice or other institutions. Government agencies also provide educational grants; a quick search engine investigation will reveal many opportunities.
To save money and maintain spiritually strengthening ties with family, consider living at home and attending a local university or community college for your first two years. In the collegiate academic system, the first two years of school are filled with general education requirements and these are largely the same at prestigious universities, state-run higher education institutions and community colleges. When those two years are done, students can transfer to a different school to focus on degree-specific classes. (Of course, make sure in advance the classes you take will meet the requirements of the college you plan to transfer to.)
It generally isn't necessary to enter college with a declared major. For students with any doubts (usually a large percentage) about what they really want to study, it is better to fulfill general education requirements while working with an academic counselor to determine the major that best fits their interests and talents.
Make your way
Keep a positive attitude about the college experience. This is a time to cement yourself in God's way of life by active Bible study and communication with God through prayer. Develop the self-discipline of maturity, learn to obey God while on your own, but still retain strong communication with family.
Going to university is preparation that makes way for achievement later in life. It is a significant investment of time and money that can be a wise decision for those who properly plan for their college years. VT