She looked at me with tears in her eyes. “I just feel like such a failure,” she told me.
It was the middle of what should have been her second semester, sophomore year and she was no longer at college. For some reasons beyond her control (and some very much within her control) she had been forced to drop out of her dream school and move back home.
It was in that moment, over a large pizza at one of our local pizza joints, that I realized in the four years I spent with my high school small group girls, I hadn’t really prepared them for life after high school. Sure, when they graduated, I sent them off with a good Bible, a tumbler with their collegiate colors and some shower shoes but I hadn’t really impressed on them truths vital to surviving college and the rest of their lives.
High school is a pivotal four years. Most students are still cushioned by the rules and provisions their parents give. They start to think of themselves as adults but aren’t truly living in the adult world. They aren’t truly making their own decisions. They aren’t truly thinking about the future. They aren’t truly choosing their friends. They aren’t truly choosing their faith.
First semester freshman year, things start to get real. Maybe your few are facing that semester in a few months. Maybe they have four years before college is a reality. But don’t miss your opportunity to impress a few key truths before college whiplash sets in and one of your few finds himself or herself lost in a new and confusing world.
- College kids drink. A lot. Oh, your few are all going to Christian universities? This one might be even more important to emphasize. Maybe this is the reason some of your few are looking forward to college. Others of your few may think you are talking about water. You know, gotta stay hydrated for those long walks across campus! But we all know the reality of this situation and the dangers it can pose. Be realistic with your few. Don’t shame them into never laying eyes on alcohol. And don’t dismiss or encourage drinking with awkwardly inappropriate stories from your college days. Simply talk openly and honestly about being safe and smart around alcohol.
- There is no homeroom. Making new friends is hard in kindergarten. It’s much harder in college. And it’s darn near impossible after college. Your few won’t be in the same classroom with the same 16 people eight hours a day, five days a week. For the first time in their lives, they will have to put some effort into making new friends. And with this comes a beautiful new freedom: they will get to choose whom they call friends. It’s hard to shake off a bad friend in high school. But in college it’s easy—and crucial—to choose the kind of people you want to hang out with. Encourage your few to join clubs, intramurals, groups with members who have the same goals and interests as they do… and to not hesitate to take a different route to class if it means avoiding a bad influence.
- Your parents don’t go to church anymore. Well, they won’t go to the same church anymore. Let’s face it. Most of your few currently go to church because their parents go to church. They started going before they could talk and have been riding with their parents every Sunday since. But, just like choosing friends, your few will have the freedom to choose church for the first time in their lives. Not only will they be able to choose to go to church (or not go to church) but they will also be able to choose which church they want to go to. This can be a paralyzing freedom so do some research with them! Find churches close to campus. Spend a couple Sundays making the rounds to go to a new church with your few. Help them discover the different churches and (stay with me) denominations in their new towns.
- It’s not the end of the world. Failing a class. Changing majors. Not getting into the class they need. Missing a test. Taking out loans. Getting arrested. Dropping out. There will come a day when your few face a completely unforeseen circumstance and feel their entire future crumbling before their eyes. They may not graduate when they expected or from the school they expected or at all. Life is 100% guaranteed to not go the way they planned as they signed up for their first college classes. And that’s okay. Part of being an adult is learning to roll with the twists and turns of life with grace and wisdom.
- It is permanent. Okay so it isn’t the end of the world. Life does not completely end when a bad decision is made. But the decisions your few make are permanent. That tattoo. That DUI. Losing that scholarship. It’s all recoverable. People have survived much worse. But decisions after age 18 are a lot harder to live down. So encourage your few to think—really think—about their futures, their goals. Some of your few need to hear #5 more than #4 and others, visa-versa. Hopefully, you have learned who’s who and can effectively communicate these accordingly.
There is no denying that college is fun. It’s also terrifying. So don’t miss the opportunity to help them see the fun and manage the terrifying before the boxes are packed. And, most importantly, stay in touch! There is no magic date when you stop being Small Group Leader to your few. The relationships you have developed never expire and can be critical through the college years. Check in periodically. Visit those within driving distance. Plan reunion parties on Christmas and Summer break. And help them navigate the tumultuous waters of adulthood along the way.
What are some other pieces of advice your few might need before going off to college?