I began my freshman year of college in the Jurassic era, 48 years ago this month. What if I could start all over, knowing what I know now about life and relationships?
1. I’d write my parents a letter soon after arriving on campus. No matter how imperfect or dysfunctional you perceive your home life, chances are you have at least one parent who cherishes you, worries about you, and prays for you. Your mom and dad wonder if they’ve prepared you adequately for adulthood. Niggling thoughts create doubts about their effectiveness. This new phase of your life probably causes them to feel more insecure than you feel.
Ponder these questions: How are they sacrificing so you can attend college? What’s one thing your parents did right in raising you? What’s one trait you admire in your mom and dad? How would you finish this sentence in relation to your parents: “I thank God for you because…”?
Let your replies to those questions inform your letter to them. If you write it out by hand and mail it, your words will carry a greater emotional impact than using an email or a text.
I wrote my dad a similar letter when I took my first full-time church position at age 25, identifying what I admired about him and thanking him for all his prayers on my behalf. A year later, illness took his life at age 59. Hanging in a frame on the wall above his bed was the letter of appreciation I had written. He wanted it near him in his final days.
No one can smell the flowers on his coffin. So give your verbal bouquets now while they can enjoy taking a whiff. They’re taking you to your college campus. Just don’t take them for granted.
2. I’d learn more from my profs outside of class, not just when they’re lecturing. Ask for lunch appointments. Inquire about their family, hobbies, pets, and what spawned interest in their field of expertise. Then pick their brains. Allow these questions to serve as a catalyst for your interview:
What advice would you give about succeeding in college?
If you could give a student just one trait, what would it be? Why?
What threats to my spiritual life am I likely to face as a student?
What have you learned about cultivating resiliency as a follower of Christ? About enduring in ministry after graduation?
What makes a marriage succeed?
If you ever had doubts about your faith, how did you handle them?
Then write a thank-you note for the prof’s time, citing one insight that left the biggest impression on you.
The research on faculty impact on students is in, and the verdict is: those who exert the most life-changing influence on students do it outside of class! So take the initiative. Don’t equate your college education with just the classroom.
3. I’d cultivate a more teachable spirit, especially toward required courses that don’t naturally pique my interest and toward instructors who communicate with less-than-spectacular charisma.
For today’s teens, emotion-stirring concerts with visual overload and youth speakers who sizzle with excitement are commonplace. But it isn’t realistic to salivate with anticipation over every course on your schedule, or to swoon over every college instructor’s public presence. Those “keeps-you-on-the-edge-of-your-seat” teachers are the exception, not the rule. Here’s my plea:
- Assume that administrators and faculty who develop your school’s curriculum have a sound reason for every required course. I once heard a student whom God called to preach gripe about taking two semesters of English. He failed to see that a better grasp of vocabulary, grammar, and sentence structure would enhance his effectiveness as a speaker.
- Assume that a prof who speaks with less fervor and oratorical flair still has a lot to teach you. Learn to appreciate substance over style. Besides, I’ve heard lots of people who speak eloquently without saying anything.
This is your only crack at starting college. Make the most of it.
If college is in your rear-view mirror, what’s something you’d do differently?