Well, it’s that time of year again. Those “kids” are all grown up and taking that next big step out into the world – college. And many of them will be leaving home for the first time to go away to school and take on the challenge all by themselves. Here are this year’s updated and improved tips to help them adjust:
1. Decide the kind of person you want to be before you go, and stick to it. You have to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything. Of course you need to go with an open mind and be willing to learn and try new things, but do it without compromising your ethics, morals, or your dignity. Remember, if you aren’t shaping the world, it’s shaping you.
2. Make friends that have the same values as you do, even if that means not settling for the first group of friends you meet. In new situations, we often cling to the first group of people that notice us – don’t. Get to know people that are different than you, but make sure the people you build friendships with are people who share your values and will make you a better person – not who tempt you to compromise your morals.
3. Schedule your classes early. Or at least have something in the morning that you need to be awake for most days of the week. Otherwise, it is likely that you will be up late every night wasting time – or finding trouble. Don’t spend these valuable years of your life sleeping in. There’s nothing wrong with staying up late every once in awhile and hanging out with friends, but have a routine that gets you up in the morning to take on the new day!
4. Get regularly involved with at least one, good Catholic organization. It is very beneficial to have an activity during the week – besides mass on Sundays – where we interact with other Catholics. It keeps us grounded in our faith, gives us an automatic support group of people with the same values, and motivates us to learn or think about our faith in a new way during the week.
5. Don’t believe that everyone has pre-marital sex and that it’s no big deal as long as you’re a “good” person. It still is a big deal, contrary to popular opinion. There has been no repeal on this commandment from God – it is a very serious sin. What has happened is that we are a weak culture who has enabled each other to believe that it is “OK.” That’s not an excuse. Trust God. And if you are struggling with this, learn more about your faith, and check out John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body.” It will really open your eyes and give you a better understanding and strength to persevere.
6. Get involved. Join a club and run for an office. If there isn’t a club you are interested in, start one of your own! This is a very unique time in your life to take on new challenges, meet new people, and better yourself. Once you graduate, opportunities like that get more difficult because our focus becomes our work, family and children (depending on your vocation of course). Take advantage of this time. It also helps build character and other skills you’ll use after you graduate.
7. Call your parents and your best friend at least once a week – if not more. It’s easy for the whole “out of sight, out of mind” thing to kick in when you get busy and caught up in your new life in college. Don’t forget about your family. They are an important foundation in every stage of life. Keep them updated with all of the things you are involved with and include them as much as possible – even if you don’t feel like it sometimes.
8. You can’t party ALL the time and get good grades. And you especially can’t do so and keep your spiritual life in good shape. It may seem like there are people that can stay out late every night of the week partying and still get good grades – they can’t. And the evidence will surface after the first semester or two when they go on probation or they get sent back home. Don’t fall for that trap.
9. People around you are looking for a leader – be one, and be a good one. A lot of people around you are looking for somebody to follow, and not necessarily in big ways, but mostly in little ways. When they aren’t sure if they should study or party, they will look to a leader to see what the popular choice will be. When they aren’t sure about whether or not they should pray before a meal or not, they will look at everybody else. When they aren’t sure about whether or not they should get up early on Sunday and go to mass, they will look at what everyone else is doing. Don’t be one of these followers. The “right” thing to do is not determined by “what everyone else is doing.” Be a leader and do the right thing despite what everyone else is doing. You’ll be surprised how many people will follow you – and thank you for it later.
10. Go to adoration at least one hour every week. This is the perfect time to simply “Be still, and know that [he] is God” (Psalms 45:11). In the bustle of the everyday college routine it can be a challenge to find time during the week to stop, be still, and re-orient ourselves. Committing to a regular adoration time is a great way to schedule this into your routine – and of course, to spend some valuable time in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
11. Do at least one volunteer service project and attend one good Catholic retreat each year. Service projects can be found at lots of places including your local Catholic parish and many other student organizations. And hopefully, your Catholic parish puts on a good Catholic student retreat, but if not, find one in a near by city. A retreat is a great place to set aside time for yourself and God – forcing us to leave our studies, clubs, friends, and other obligations behind to reflect on our lives and how God is fitting in.
12. Don’t forget to appreciate the beauty of the world around you every single day. Make sure and “hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of [your] life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.” And don’t forget to close the laptop, put down the iPod, and turn off the TV so you can fully appreciate the real live human beings sitting right next to you.
13. Go to confession regularly. As a college student, going to confession at least once a month is probably a good idea. Even if you are living a very holy life, we are usually surrounded by many temptations and confession is a unique way to flush out our systems and get special graces to deal with a lot of it.
14. Pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Start your day with the sign of the cross and end it the same way. Read scripture and/or some other great Catholic spiritual reading everyday for at least 20 minutes before you go to bed, in between classes, riding a bus, or when you get a few extra minutes. Pray a rosary while walking to class. Pray for the people that walk by you on the sidewalk. Pray for your professors, your classmates, for anything you are struggling with. And then (and this is important) listen. Too often when we pray we do all the talking and none of the listening. This is one reason why meditative prayer like the rosary is so powerful. It gives us a chance to listen to God and what he might be saying to us. And keep in mind that “praying without ceasing” doesn’t mean you are not supposed to laugh, be silly and have fun as you live a prayerful life. The love and joy of Christ should always show through us in all that we do.
15. Go to mass every Sunday, no matter what. First, as Catholics, we are required to go. So, please go. Second, we should want to go! I know it’s hard sometimes when you are tired and you were out late and you just don’t feel like getting up and going. As Christians, there is nothing more important than the mass. It is the highest form of prayer we can do. We actually receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ himself. Nowhere else can we experience this unique, special encounter with Jesus Christ as we do in the Eucharist. There is no better way to “be fed.” You will always be glad you went and it’s the most powerful way to experience and receive God’s grace. And as a bonus, go to daily mass if you are able. Once we get out of college, get a full-time job, begin a family, etc. it becomes harder to go to daily mass. Take advantage while you can!
I hope you’ve found these tips to be helpful. The most important part is that you go out and act on them. It’s a good idea to find somebody to do each of these things with you so that you can hold each other accountable. It doesn’t take long to plan these things into your schedule, and then just stick to them! You will be amazed at the effect it will have on your life. And if you find some of these difficult to take on right now, just try and do what you can and go from there.
These habits we build now are great habits to continue throughout our lives in everything that we do. I know I try to stick to these still today.
If anyone out there thinks of any more additions or changes to this list, I would definitely appreciate the feedback. I hope this can be something that we continue to build on and improve each year.