What’s the point of college? It’s a question on the minds of many these days, but it’s an especially important question for current and prospective college students and those who love them.
Post-secondary education has long been seen as a stepping stone to career success and financial stability. In the United States, that usually meant at least a bachelor’s degree earned at a four-year college.
In recent years, as health care and construction-related trades have emerged as some of the fastest growing — and well-paying — job markets, certificate programs and two-year degrees have become more respected career paths.
Growing up, I saw both options represented in my family. My mother was a teacher and school counselor, my dad a journeyman fire sprinkler fitter. I always knew I would go to college, but I appreciated that others might choose differently.
Later, I spent two decades teaching first-year writing to college freshmen. They often wrote of their hopes and dreams, and building wealth was usually the main reason they gave for seeking a college degree.
Economic security and professional outcomes are certainly good reasons to pursue higher education.
But I have learned a few things as a teacher and parent that I didn’t know as a high school student.
First, post-secondary education or training, whether at a four-year college or a technical school, is an opportunity to learn not only job skills but also team work, communication and time management — professional skills employers want and need in their employees.
Second, college students enjoy a unique opportunity to engage with professors and peers inside and outside the classroom and develop valuable critical thinking skills.
A basic understanding of history, science, math and literature makes for better conversations in the long term, but in the short term, class discussions and writing projects help students learn to evaluate information, make assertions and support their positions with evidence.
That leads to a third and perhaps most important element of college — faith-building.
In a world that’s skeptical or outright dismissive of our faith in the risen Christ, believers of all ages must be prepared to share the “reason for [our] hope (1 Pet. 3:15), to “stand firm and hold to the traditions [we] were taught” (2 Thess. 2:15).
The college years offer ample opportunities to get involved in student-focused ministries, discipleship under experienced leaders with peers who are in the same stage of life and missions at the local level and beyond.
Even with all their temptations and difficulties, the college years are truly unique, a vital period for young people to grow and mature in their faith as they spend time together in Christian community on campus.
Ways to help college students find local faith community
If you have influence in the life of a young person headed to college or back to college this fall, here are four suggestions for how you can help them get a great start in the local faith community:
- Tell them about Baptist Campus Ministries. Better yet, connect your student to the BCM campus minister on his or her campus using this form: bcmlink.org/ministries/transitioning. Campus ministers love to have a head start on contacting new students.
- Help your student find a church. Attending a new church for the first time can be intimidating, but there are ways to make it easier.
My son found his local church through a progressive dinner organized by the BCM early in the semester that took students to several churches in the city.
My daughter is already listening to sermons at churches she’s thinking about visiting. If move-in is scheduled for a weekend, visit a church together.
- Encourage them to take advantage of at least one ministry and missions opportunity on campus during their first semester.
- Pray. Some college students may feel comfortable sharing specific prayer requests; others may not. Pray regardless.
Pray that college students, both those in your family or circle and those across the state, will be faithful, bold witnesses on their campuses. (Tip: Download a printable prayer guide produced by South Carolina BCM at tabonline.org/prayer-guide.)
Each student and situation is different, but intentional efforts to get a good start can make all the difference.