21 – You can’t be successful all by yourself, so find and live in community with other Catholics/Christians! Many of my best friends, still to this day, were those I made when I finally started to understand what a real “community” is all about. It means we love each other intentionally, we support each other, we serve each other, we laugh together, we cry together, we have fun together, and we hold each other accountable. These things are necessary for every Catholic/Christian to be successful, but esp. true of those who leave home for college.
20 – Take off your masks. The real you is worthy of the love of God/others and is made to love as well. Don’t hide the truth about your faith, personality, nerdiness, insecurities, etc. If someone doesn’t appreciate the real you, then they can’t truly be a friend to you anyway! So, take off the masks that hide who you truly are and let your true self be seen by all. Decide what the “ideal you” looks like in 10, 20, or 30 years and aim for being that person today!
19 – Go to sleep at a (somewhat) regular time. This is one of the hardest decisions of all. Before and after college, your schedule for most days is set for you. But, during college, you set your own schedule. This means many people stay up too late and don’t get enough sleep. This affects emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental health. For a better you, get a good night of sleep, which starts by going to bed at a somewhat regular time.
18 – Don’t let social media be your main source of interaction with others. Online relationships are not the same as in-person ones and should always be secondary to the people you are around on a day-to-day basis. Still, keeping up with old friends, getting to know new ones, and staying connected aren’t bad things. But, too much social media may mean less interaction with the living people right next door and you can make sure this doesn’t happen by being intentional about making new friends and setting personal boundaries on social media.
17 – Make a plan, set your goals, and stick to it. If you don’t write down your goals, they aren’t real, they are just ideas. So, come up with a solid plan, with real goals and then follow through on it. I have never met someone who set a goal they really wanted to achieve, then achieved that goal, then regretted it (as long as it wasn’t something immoral). So, go for it – make the Dean’s list, find a great community of like-minded Catholics, get involved, or just make it to 99% of your classes. You won’t regret it!
16 – You won’t regret it if you take the initiative in making friends. Seriously. Put yourself out there. Doing so doesn’t mean you need to be in other people’s business or annoying. Rather, it is about taking the initiative to visit your neighbors dorm room, to say “hi” to the student at the mailbox next to your own, to sit next to someone who is alone on the first day of class, and to introduce yourself to others. Not all of these encounters will lead to your next best friend, but some may lead to lasting friendships. You never know until you take a risk!
15 – Take advantage of the opportunities you will never have again. So, get the part-time job to help with bills and teach you responsibility. Study abroad if you can. Take the internship. Ask questions. Have really deep conversations long into the night (but not too long – see #19). Go pond-hopping. Find someone to join you on a road trip. Use Spring Break to go on a mission trip. Go hang out in the adoration chapel, just because. You won’t regret it and you may never have the opportunity or time for most of these (and other) college experiences.
14 – Homesickness is real. Almost everybody has it to some degree, even those that come from unhealthy environments back home. For new students, it is an unfamiliar and difficult transition and you will have to learn a new town (unless you don’t leave home), new friends (because you don’t just want to hang out with your old ones), and new challenges. It is good to acknowledge homesickness, so you can work on it.
13 – Many myths about college still exist, but common sense never goes out of style. These myths include thinking all-nighters/cramming will lead to good grades (they don’t). They also include lifestyle issues such as thinking partying all the time, getting drunk, hooking-up, etc. will lead to a great life (they don’t). So, have some wisdom, make good decisions, and work on being a better you.
12 – College is not just about getting a job. I am not saying that getting a job is not important. I am not saying you don’t want to work hard and get good grades either. I AM saying that college is about learning about the big questions – Who am I? What is life about? What plan does God have for me? How does the world operate and what part do I play in it? etc. If you figure these out, college will be a success and the rest is icing on the cake.
11 – Ask for help before you are in real trouble. This goes for all situations. If you are struggling in class, talk to a professor. If you are struggling spiritually, talk to a priest or campus minister. If you are struggling in another way, find someone to talk to. In fact, it is best to start a relationship with these folks BEFORE the problems arise. So, go to your profs’ office hours and introduce yourself (even if you are intimidated). Get to know the campus ministry folks and others. Remember that the folks that work in and around colleges are there to help you.
10 – You are NOT poor. You may not have as much money as your friends and you almost certainly don’t have as much as your parents. This does not make you poor, so don’t say you are. You are rich – you get to go to college, you eat as much as you need, you have a place to sleep, etc. Enjoy not having a lot of extra money and be creative. Also, manage the money you do have and make it a goal to donate a certain percentage of it, even if very small.
9 – Sit up front. I am assuming that you are going to every class (which costs about $100+ (some schools are $400+) per class if you skip or not). If you sit up front in class you are bound to pay more attention to the prof and get better grades. You are also a more familiar face to the prof when you go ask for help (see #1). Sit up front in church as well. Easier to focus.
8 – Meet new people and try new things. College is a great time to work on being a better you. A great way to do this is to meet different kinds of people from different backgrounds and with different ideas. You need to stay grounded in your faith, morality, and family. But, you should also learn about the world through relationships with others.
7 – Good friends don’t always make good roommates. Sometimes your best friend may not be a friend at all after living with them for a year. Choose your roommates wisely. If you want to study, don’t room with a friend who has bad study habits. If you want to be responsible, don’t room with a friend who is irresponsible. Also, be a good and respectful roommate yourself!
6 – Don’t go into credit card debt. Credit card companies are like vultures on college campuses. They are just waiting for you to say “yes” to the free t-shirt so they can have you ring up tons of debt and be locked into a crazy percentage rate that you carry for years and don’t pay off until you are retired. Don’t fall for it. Keep a budget and be smart about spending money. You don’t need all the toys and latest gadgets.
5 – Get involved in things that interest you – but don’t over-commit. While you want to try new things, put the majority of your time into things you are passionate about. If that list doesn’t include God, then you also need to reassess your priority list and things you are passionate about. At the same time, you can’t do it all, so start slow. You don’t want to be the student who over-commits and ends up being flaky about all of it.
4 – Your vocation is as a single student, so don’t act like it isn’t. In other words don’t make 2 big mistakes. The first is putting too much time and energy into a dating relationship to the detriment of the other parts of your life that matter (e.g. family, friends, school, work, leisure, etc). The second mistake is thinking you don’t really have to put the time into to study, but that just getting by is good enough. Wrong. The habits you start today will help determine the kind of person you are tomorrow. So study and live a balanced life in relationships.
3 – You don’t have to have it all figured out while in college. So, you change your major if you need to, understand that you will lose some friends and make new ones, you will be a different person than the one that started college by graduation – all of these are ok. Don’t put an arbitrary deadline on decisions either. For instance, don’t think you have to be engaged (or know your vocation or career path) before you graduate or you have failed. God’s timetable is different for everyone.
2 – Have fun! Balance your academics with a good (and healthy) social life. This means you have to do the following – manage your time, find friends who will make good decisions, and be smart about it all. But, have the kind of fun you won’t feel sorry about later on too!
1 – Following Jesus is worth it all. Of the Catholics who stop identifying as Catholic, 80% will do so by the age 24. This is because many decide they want what the world has to offer. The sad part is many don’t really know what Jesus has to offer. Following Him is the only way to real happiness, peace, and fulfillment. The rest is all fluff. Try Jesus on, for yourself – not for your parents or anyone else. Campus ministry is here to help you do just that, so why not try St. Mary’s or another campus ministry?
Marcel is a husband and father of five, serves on the pastoral council at St. Mary’s and is the founder and Executive Director of Catholic Missionary Disciples.