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by Katie Hill

A futuristic novel? No…your freshman year in college. Perhaps you’re just about ready to launch this fall, or maybe you’re looking to finish your senior year in high school with this transition in your sights. Be of good cheer. There are ways you can successfully navigate through the adventurous waters of that first year of college.

If you decide to scour websites for advice, you will encounter all kinds of interesting suggestions. I encourage you to be discerning. For example, I came across this little nugget of wisdom on a random “college help” website:

“Remember that college life is not really that difficult. All you need is to be an optimist. The correct attitude would make a lot of difference. You will definitely succeed if you have a good plan and the will and determination to achieve your goals!”

Suuuure. If it were only that simple!
So here is some basic heartfelt advice, as one who successfully made it through her freshman year out of state many years ago and now as one who has just experienced her firstborn’s freshman year and lived to tell the tale.

As you read through this column, remember one unchanging truth: You are Christ’s and no matter what highs or lows you experience this next year, He is always there for you, in Word and Sacrament. Whatever your struggle is, He has taken care of your biggest challenge ever—having conquered sin, death and the devil on your behalf.

Realistic expectations and goals
Regularly seek out the counsel of those whom you trust. This includes peers/friends who’ve been there, done that, your high school guidance counselor, your pastor, but especially your parents. Take to heart what they say because trust me, they know (Proverbs 15:22).

You may go into your first year thinking you know what you want to do with your life, and you may complete it having changed your major…perhaps even more than once. It is okay to start the journey without having your life perfectly mapped out.

Whether you plan to live at home during college or relocate halfway across the country, that first year will be an adjustment. If you choose to live at home you will have the pressure of a new schedule, budgeting your time, etc.

However, if you live on campus, whether in your hometown or out of town, one of the things that you will contend with is homesickness to some degree. This is absolutely normal. It will fade in time and before you know it, you’ll have adapted to your new surroundings. This will happen more smoothly if you take some proactive steps with the help of those who know and love you.

And of course through it all, remember who you are in Christ.

Finding Your Niche and Building Support
The French word niche (pronounced nitch or neesh) describes that “perfect fit” you can find for yourself, whether it’s your studies, your job or other activities. No matter how large or small your college is, seek to find a niche as quickly as possible. Get to know your professors personally. Even in a large lecture class you can introduce yourself to the professor after class and sit near the front. Join a campus club of some sort. Make it a point to get involved in dorm activities. Some of the friendships you forge in college will be lifelong ones.

Above all, and I cannot stress this enough: Find an LCMS church or campus group to become a part of (Christ on Campus, LCMS U or some other LCMS-affiliated group is ideal). In my daughter’s particular situation, the previously existing LCMS campus group no longer existed and so we compensated by picking her up whenever possible to get her to our home church. She also, on her own initiative, purchased a Lutheran Book of Prayer to help sustain her, as well as had time in the Scriptures. There may be an LCMS church near your campus that would be thrilled to help you get to Divine Service on Sundays. Feel free to contact the church and find out what your options are. The more you can have mapped out before you move onto campus, the better. If there isn’t an LCMS church in the nearby area, you will want to talk to your home pastor and parents about how to handle this. College, like any part of life, is still a daily struggle with sin and the Old Adam. Having a faithful pastor to care for you while in college means being strengthened in the forgivness of sins as you study and grow into your chosen vocation.

And while you it’s important to establish a good support network on campus, keep lines of communication open to your folks and other important people in your life. We have so many ways of keeping in touch nowadays. Use all of those ways and use them often.

Time management
How you budget your time will make all the difference. There is not enough space here to include every helpful tip that would make this first year less stressful but here are some general ideas.

Make a list. Yes, a list. Perhaps you hate lists. I recommend you learn to love them. I don’t care if you handwrite the list on a post-it note or in type it into your iPad or smart phone. Just keep a list. Regularly look at this list and reevaluate and reprioritize. A weekly schedule is essential. I had one semester with 18 credit hours, two part-time jobs and active involvement in a Christian ministry. To keep everything straight I had things scheduled down to the hour. That ended up being one of my most satisfying semesters ever.

As the more demanding times come upon you, you might take to heart one of my favorite quotes, which comes from author and humorist Mark Twain: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” I applied it way back in college and I still try to today.

Don’t allow yourself to procrastinate, as tempting as that is. Look at the syllabus for each course you take and map out your study plans for the semester to the best of your ability. You will get better and better at this.

Take advantage of study groups. Not only does this help hold you accountable to get your study time in, you end up having a lot more fun along the way.

There will be those days when your schedule seems overwhelming and finals week is creeping up and you want to panic. Using time management tips is a great practice, but more importantly know that God will make perfect what concerns you today (Psalm 138:8).

Now what happens when you have all this great advice and fail to follow it? When you’re overwhelmed, have put things off, and are not prepared? Well even that was carried to the cross by Jesus. Yes, He died even for stressed-out college freshmen!

Hang in there as you head down this exciting and life-changing road, lean on good counsel, but most of all, remember who you are in Christ: beloved, cherished and forgiven, all for His sake.

Katie Hill (formerly Micilcavage), is the very recently and happily remarried editor of Higher Things Magazine and is mom to two active teens in Gilbert, Arizona and stepmom to three energetic kiddos in Holbrook, Arizona. She is an elementary teacher in her spare time. And yes, she relies heavily on lists.

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