Dear Incoming Freshman at a Christian College: Avoiding the Pitfalls & Redeeming the Time

group of people inside the library

The following letter was written by an upperclassman at a Christian college to his friend who was an incoming freshman.

Dear friend,

I am so excited for you to be at this Christian university! This is an amazing place, and the Lord has used it in my life to teach me so much about His Word and following Him. Never in the rest of your life will you have access to so many amazing resources to learn about Christ. This place is incredible, and the Lord can use it to prepare you for a lifetime of service to Him and to His church. 

However, just attending here doesn’t guarantee that you will grow in godliness or in maturity as a Christian man. You must make wise decisions throughout your four years here, and as always, the Lord will honor those who honor Him (1 Sam 2:30). I hope this brief letter of encouragement can be useful to you as you navigate many of the choices and challenges that come with this new stage of life. 

Here are the lessons I have learned through my time here that I would like to pass on to you:

  1. Love God. Leaving home can be painful. I know. I cried a few times during orientation week and was glad to have some relatives nearby.  But homesickness can also be a great tool to draw you closer to Christ. The Lord used my homesickness to save me in my freshman year, even though I thought I was already saved. As you start on this adventure, your goal must be clear. The purpose of education is “to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him” (Milton). 

    If you leave college knowing God better, loving Him more, and imitating Him more faithfully, your time here will have been a success. Use the resources here to that end! Enjoy your Bible classes, learn from chapel, do the semester in Israel, and study God’s Word on your own. Never let your personal holiness or your relationship with the Lord take second place. 
  2. Make the local church a priority. A Christian university exists to prepare you for faithful service to Christ’s church, but campus life can all-too-easily become a distraction from church life. Before you are a student or a dorm resident, you are a member of Christ’s body. You have been given gifts to serve the church (1 Cor 12:12). Not only does the church need you; you need the fellowship and accountability that only the church can provide through multi-generational worship (Titus 2), communion, and church discipline. Pick a church where God’s Word is taught, become a member, start serving, and learn to say ‘yes’ to the most important things before you get caught up in all the secondary things. 
  3. Study hard. Education is a difficult process. If you want to be excellent in your field—and in knowing the Word of God—you must put in the hours (Prov 22:29). Contrary to popular opinion, college is not primarily about “the experience.” You didn’t come all the way here to hang out. You came to sit under wise Christian leaders in various fields, from Bible to Business to Biology, and be molded by them for the glory of the Master. 

    Resist the urge to be “wiser” than your professors. The Lord rewards humility, and a good rule-of-thumb is to trust your professors above your peers (Jas 4:6, 1 Kgs 12:8). Trust that their assignments have been designed for your good, and that even when school is difficult, God uses trials to make you more like Christ (Jas 1). That college has plenty of resources to help students succeed. Make use of the tutoring center, study with the best students, and let me know when I can help.  
  4. Choose friends wisely. For the first time in your life, you will be living around hundreds of people your age. This presents a wonderful opportunity to make lifelong friends! This also poses a massive danger to your spiritual growth, church involvement, and studies. Proverbs 13:20 says, “He who walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” Even at a conservative Christian college, mature young people who are zealous in service and devotion to the Lord are rare.

    Make it your goal to have a few godly friends rather than being popular with everybody (Prov 18:24; 1 Cor 15:33). If you are naïve, Christian colleges are full of nominal Christians who will lead you into folly in the name of “fellowship.” If you are a sensible young man, you see lots of young people who need to be led into godliness and holiness. You will find the best friends in the other students who swim against the current in “speech, conduct, love, faith and purity” (1 Tim 4:12).
  5. Choose a wife carefully. As a single young man, you are about to enter one of the best places in the world for finding a godly bride. But you’re also about to step onto the minefield that is the “Christian dating scene,” and it’s certainly the kind of place you can lose a leg if you’re not careful. My advice: wait at least one year before pursuing a relationship (two if you can). You need some time to get your feet underneath you; and it’s better to learn from everybody else’s mistakes than from your own.

    Even at an evangelical university, the kind of woman you’re looking for is hard to find. She’s more godly than she is charming (Prov 31:30). She’s one who wants to love her husband, love her children, be sensible and pure, work at home, and submit to her husband (Titus 2). She’s a needle in a haystack. If you think you’ve found one, give it a few months. Let others who are more objective back up your instincts. We’re here to help you find the right one, and perhaps even more importantly, to stay away from the wrong ones!
  6. Resist grumbling. College students are notorious for complaining. While you are surrounded by so many blessings, the human heart is naturally ungrateful (see the book of Numbers for how many times the Israelites grumbled against God). Make it your goal to be the most thankful student on campus, whether you’re talking about cafeteria food, classes, or dorm living (1 Thess 5:18). Thankfulness shows a heart that trusts in God’s sovereignty, and it attracts the right kind of friends. 
  7. And along with all this, Enjoy college! Make the most of the unique opportunities here. Go sit in your professor’s office for hours asking questions; build a bonfire with the guys; join the choir; go to Israel; savor chapel; play an intramural sport (spikeball, volleyball, basketball, frisbee, etc!), and win! Go watch the sports teams play; join the jazz band or the orchestra; the options are endless! Keep the first things first and you’ll be able to enjoy the rest. 

We’re pumped for you to begin this journey. That school is an incredible place to learn how to follow God as you transition into a new phase of life. My encouragement to you is to start acting like a man now! Don’t let college be an extension of boyhood years; let it be the beginning of godly, mature, sensible manhood. 

The world needs strong leaders, well-trained in godliness and in the Word, committed to the church, willing to work hard, surrounded by wise friends, and married to godly women. My wife and I are praying that God will make you that kind of man.

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