Any conversation about college leads to a host of questions.
Incoming freshmen wonder: Will I be able to avoid 8 a.m. classes? Tack on the freshman 15? Find an available shower? Is my roommate going to clean up after themselves? Make new friends? Have a social life? Graduate at all? Keep my faith? Become homesick?
Parents wonder: Will my kid sleep through class? Eat something for breakfast? Will they even shower? Make the right friends? Have study habits? Graduate on time? Do drugs, alcohol and go to parties? Visit home during breaks?
“The college years can be a wonderful time,” said author Alex Chediak. “College is a great season in your life to grow in your faith. It can be a dangerous season, but it’s also a season of opportunity. Survival is too low of a goal as Christians. We can thrive at college if we live every area of our life for the glory of God in our academics, social life and professional life. We’ll study and work hard because we’ve developed a God-oriented vision for seven days a week.”
Chediak has written a trio of books to equip young adults and parents around the country. They are “Thriving at College,” “Preparing Your Teens for College” and “Beating the College Debt Trap.” Chediak is a professor of engineering and physics at California Baptist University.
Minoring in the majors
The beautiful thing about college in the 21st century is there are many options, which also can be a bad thing.
One college website lists 1,800 majors to choose from.
Chediak shared three questions to help students select a major.
1. What are you good at?
2. What do you enjoy?
3. What could be useful to others in the world?
“If you have kids that are still in high school, this is the time to have those conversations with them,” Chediak said. “Those three things combine into a major and into a job. You have to figure out the sweet spot, but think broadly.”
On average, college students change their major three times.
Thus, Chediak encourages students to think broadly within a subject, such as mathematics, English, science or history.
Then, you can switch within that specific school, such as changing from chemistry to physics or English to communications without many issues.
“Making huge moves can be costlier in terms of time and money,” Chediak added.
Choosing a college
Once you’ve ended your search and selected your major, then choosing a college can be even more daunting. There are more than 4,000 degree-granting postsecondary institutions in the United States.
The “common application” is free of charge and a long list of colleges use this general guide to accept or reject students, but Chediak said students should limit their applications to between five and 10 schools.
“For every college out there, see what the typical ACT or SAT score is of the people going there,” he said. “If your scores are high above the average, you’ll get into those schools very easily. If your scores are way below, you probably won’t get into those schools.”
During the application process, Chediak recommends students consider three categories:
> Safety: A couple of schools you’re positive you’ll be accepted into.
> Reach: A couple of schools that are a long shot, but would be amazing to get into.
> Middle-zone: A couple of schools that are around your test scores and you know you’d get a great education and have a great experience.
While landing at your No. 1 college choice is the hope for all high school seniors, studies show that’s not the determining factor in a successful career after college.
“The data shows what determines your success in life is not what college you go to, but what you do as an individual at that college,” Chediak added. “So, if you apply to that top school, don’t get in and go to a second-choice school and work hard, you’ll stand out and it’ll turn out just fine for you. It’s helpful to realize not as much is at stake, especially for parents.”
It’s also important to include some distinctions between religious and non-religious schools.
While Chediak doesn’t take a side, he puts them side by side for students and parents to decide for themselves.
> Caring faculty who invest in your life as a whole.
> Higher tuition.
> Typically fewer academic programs with your specific niche.
> Usually smaller, so not as many extracurricular activities and sports.
> Surrounded by other believers.
> Faculty focuses on your academic achievements.
> Typically lower tuition.
> Wide array of academic opportunities that allow you to be flexible in switching majors.
> More options to get involved on campus in extracurricular activities and sports.
> A Christian can be “salt and light.”
Distance should also be a determining factor.
“Roughly 85% of students go to college within 100 or 150 miles of their home,” Chediak said. “It’s relatively rare to go far away, and I think it takes a certain amount of emotional maturity to do that. You learn independence and doing things for yourself, but a lot of students can find it lonely, which can lead to making poor choices.”
Chediak said parents who help pay for tuition should have more input on school choice.
“They have every right to say, ‘These are the kinds of schools we’re going to pay for, we’re not going to pay any more than this and we won’t pay for that kind of school because it’s not in your best interest.’ Parents can set these parameters when it’s their money at stake.”
After receiving the long-anticipated acceptance letter, move-in day comes quickly for freshmen.
Parents and children must learn to cope with these new changes. About 25% of students return home after finishing their first year.
This is for a variety of reasons, such as academic workload, financial struggles, homesickness or wanting to go to a different school.
Chediak said it’s necessary to start strong from the beginning.
“It takes about six weeks to get acclimated,” he said. “What I’ve heard is the habits you form over those first six weeks end up being true for you over the course of that first year.”
It can be overwhelming to completely adapt to a new college atmosphere.
From new roommates, classmates and professors to a class schedule, course load and extracurricular activities, college is nothing like high school.
Chediak suggests two study strategies:
> Phone off in class and while studying: Research shows you can’t retain nearly as much new information while multitasking.
> Don’t procrastinate on projects, essays or tests
While the course load increases in college, there still isn’t a shortage of social opportunities.
For those unsure if they’ll be able to make friends, Chediak said don’t be stressed by the endless sea of faces.
“You don’t need to have that many friends,” he said. “If you can just find two, three or four friends that are going to give you strength, then you’ll be able to handle having a lot of acquaintances. If you have those few you can go deep with, it’ll strengthen you in that first year especially.”
Chediak also encourages students to find like-minded friends.
“I’m all for evangelism, but in terms of your closest friends, you want to choose those with intentionality,” he added. “Those who strengthen your worldview, values, convictions and habits to make the right choices. If your closest friends aren’t honoring God, you probably won’t be honoring God six months from now.”
When students arrive on campus, they should have an idea of which college ministries or local churches to check out.
“Be intentional about looking for groups where you can find like-minded believers,” Chediak said.