15 Tips for Going away to College

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going away to college - graduation at sunset

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.

21 comments Add comment

Cindy August 18, 2009 at 11:11 am

As a mother of five, one at a Jesuit college, I can attest to the need to stay connected to friends who share the same values. I thanked God every day during my daughter’s freshman year for her new friends who were not only bright, energetic students but who were practicing their faith while at school. We can’t encourage these behaviors enough. Attending Mass weekly–or more–and taking a Service Break rather than a Spring Break are keys to successful transition to moral adulthood.
God Bless all the students as they embark on this phase of their lives and God especially bless their parents.

frank August 25, 2012 at 8:32 am

Hopefully not Georgetown U where Sandra Fluff (a student) has been honored with a “day on campus” by the administration–for I guess poking a finger in the eye of the Catholic Bishops and Catholic Orthodoxy.

Jeff Geerling August 18, 2009 at 5:47 pm

Wonderful overview! Another one to add (which will get a lot of groans, I’m sure):

Act like your Mom is watching everything you do, and don’t do things she wouldn’t let you do. That can save a multitude of shortcomings ;-)

Artie August 18, 2009 at 7:43 pm

Why wasn’t this post here when I was in college?! ha

Lisa @ Sound Mind & Spirit August 19, 2009 at 5:56 am

I love this list. If I had followed your suggestions, my first year at college and away from home would have been so much smoother. I’m going to forward it and link it on facebook for all my much younger college age friends to read and memorize it as they start school next week.

Adam Wilson August 19, 2009 at 8:07 am

Wow, there are some great tips here. The Cardinal Newman Society publishes The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College to help students and parents navigate the murky waters of making the right decision about college. It is free online at http://TheNewmanGuide.com. We recommend the best Catholic colleges and give advice in the from of essays by Fr. Groeschel, Fr. McCloskey, Peter Kreeft, and Patrick Reilly.

Shelly@ Of Sound Mind & Spirit August 19, 2009 at 9:33 am

Thanks for posting this. It took me years to learn some of these, and I wish I’d consciously started out with this list. I wish I’d lived according to this list in college.

This list should be passed out to every 12th grader in CCE this year so they can walk through it one point per week in a social setting with discussion that can be led/guided by an adult. This will allow these young adults to consciously make those decisions and feel like they are in control of their path.

Craig G. June 3, 2010 at 3:47 pm

This is excellent…you should have more readers. My youngest son, Patrick, is going away to UW-Seattle in August (we live Honolulu), and I’ll pack this handy, yet profound, list with him. Thanks.

Angelica June 17, 2010 at 3:33 pm

Excellent post. #1 and #14 were things that helped me in college. I would say the most important is to always be yourself and to make prayer a center of your life. People that you meet in college will try to change you to do things that are not you or not right or aren’t in line with one’s beliefs or values. Being who you are at all times helps you not lose yourself, keep your values and goals in tact, and help you meet people who will appreciate the real you. Prayer helped me get through my four years of college. I was lucky enough to go to a Catholic University where the opportunity to pray, go to adoration, go to mass, and fellowship with fellow Catholics was always available. During my first year, a family member passed away and it felt as if my whole world was shattering to bits all around me. My grades slipped and my faith dwindled, but what kept me going and what breathed new life into me was prayer. My faith may have been dwindling but I kept praying and praying with the knowledge that God was there. I know prayer saved me from becoming someone else when everything seemed to be going astray. And, I know prayer kept me sane and sound through the stress and through occasional college drama. One thing every Catholic/Christian teen should always remember (and be told before they go off to college) is that GOD IS THERE–God is with you in the dorms, in the classroom, with you at activities, with you at mass and adoration and He’s always ready and waiting to be talked to and to show you His love. I couldn’t have gotten through college without knowing that…or through grad school.

MK June 18, 2010 at 12:38 am

This list should be very helpful to me, I leave for school in the fall and while it is a good catholic school(Franciscan University of Steubenville) I know that all there aren’t at the same place in their spiritual journey, So I could use these to be a good role model for other students.

Pat Gohn August 19, 2010 at 8:22 am

Awesome post Matthew! I would add setting your computer alarm or phone alarm to text you with little prompts to pray, or to call home.

vas.la.fey December 1, 2010 at 10:38 am

I go to a small private engineering school. For me, finding friends who also want to be good Catholics has been a blessing, and we’ve brought some life back to our Newman Club and CCM. One other thing I would suggest is to never stop learning about your faith. If you mostly know doctrine, then start reading the Bible cover to cover (starting with the Gospels… it’s the basis of the faith and it’s easiest to keep reading them). If you are still shaky on doctrine, read the Catechism and books on apologetics. It’s very easy to begin to agree with a well-meaning new friend who thinks all religions are the same or one who tries to convince you that evangelical Christianity makes more sense. Also, going to Mass isn’t enough. Get involved at Mass as an usher, a lector, playing an instrument or (like me) as a sacristan. Listen to or watch EWTN. And lastly, I would suggest that you not be discouraged if you have non-practicing Catholic friends or professors. Everyone is in need of the grace of God. Even if no one in the world believed in Catholocism, it would still be the Truth. God Bless!

Brian G. December 17, 2010 at 12:33 am

I can’t begin to describe how accurate this list is. I am a second-year college student, and every point you made really hit home with me. I didn’t find a group of friends with my values for my entire first semester on campus, and I really wish I had this list. It was a struggle, and since diving back into my faith, I can’t imagine my life without regular Mass, adoration or confession. If you’re a college student, or are looking at prospective colleges, definitely look into the type of programs that are available to Catholics on campus – such as Newman Centers or Fellowship Of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). I can’t imagine where I would be without these valuable resources. I was too afraid to get involved during my first semester, and I’m surprised I got through it! Don’t be afraid to send out a few emails or attend some Catholic events, even if you don’t know anyone. You will quickly find yourself in good company.

Dan A. February 8, 2011 at 11:42 pm

I have to echo what Brian said about Newman Centers and FOCUS – They help, so much. I would also say arm yourself with knowledge of apologetics – you WILL get approached by “non-denominational” groups asking if you’ve been saved and they will tell you everything you’ve believed for 18 years is a lie.

frank August 25, 2012 at 9:42 am

Many Catholic Colleges are Catholic–see the CNS list. The question is are there ANY Jesuit colleges still Catholic? The Jesuits seem to be in revolt against the Bishops and Catholic orthodoxy–see the daily reports by CNS about whats happening on Catholic campuses. They appear to be developing a modified form of Catholicism whichs goes through the cafeteria selecting only from the left wing menu. I graduated from a Jesuit college in 1956 which as a member of the AJCU (Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities) can be assumed to agree with Sandra Fluff and GU. They will get no more donations from me.

Greg September 19, 2012 at 8:55 pm

Outstanding! Just saw this linked on Fr. Mike Schmitz’s webpage (UMDCatholic.org) and knew it had to be good. Of course, it was/is! I’m going to pass this on to a former student and a cousin who just started college this fall. Awesome awesome awesome. Thank you!!!

Anne October 20, 2012 at 5:10 pm

I currently attend a Private Christian University and it has been really hard. Since i am catholic, most of the students look at me differently. They talk bad about my religion and friends who know i am catholic have tried converting me. I don’t meet their standards and i always feel judged. I am not enjoying my time here, i am miserable.

Samantha December 30, 2012 at 2:03 am

This is all ridiculous. I’m sorry, but college is about finding independence. Not keeping the harsh weight of religion on your back. Hey religion, why don’t you go kill a fourteen year old girl in the middle east again because she wants to go to school. Let science step up so humanity can get something done. P.s. We actually made it to the moon you guys. No joke. Walked on it and everything. P.p.s this isn’t the 1600s. You would’ve thought a couple thousand years would have been enough time for you guys to realize how dumb your fairy tales sound. P.p.p.s. Tell your priests to stop touching little kids.
Lovely day to all of you! ?

Greg January 1, 2013 at 2:46 pm

Samantha, I’m sorry, but your post is way off-base. Did the Catholic Church hire a 14 year-old girl in the middle east to kill someone? Is the Catholic Church against science? (the originator of the Big Bang Theory was a Catholic priest just so you know…) Does the Catholic Church somewhere teach that we didn’t go to the moon? Does Catholic teaching suggest any kind of child abuse is okay?

Your comments seem spiteful and aimed more at fundamentalist cult religions than at the teachings of the Catholic Church. If you have serious issues with something Catholic, fine, but I would suggest at least getting your facts straight before airing your issues out on the Internet.

Carolyn Taylor June 25, 2013 at 10:23 am

These tips are very encouraging. I plan on attending one of the lovely Catholic colleges in PA next year and this advice is extremely reassuring that I’m making the right decision. Thank you!

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