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Advice for College Freshmen (and for Anyone, Really)

Each fall brings a few million new students to campus in the U.S., and the transition to college is one of the great hallmarks of life in our culture.

Or, to put it more colloquially, it’s freakin’ crazy.

In fact, here's an ode written especially for that experience we all know as Freshman Move-In Day:

Furrowed brows. Beads of sweat. Busted knuckles. You can’t have pets.

Piles of boxes. Nice throw rug. Who’s the RA? Where’s my mug?

Class schedule. List of books. Mom and dad hugs. Pitying looks.

Student orgs. I want to, can I? Turn over new leaves. Who am I?

I (Adam) remember building my own loft on the front yard of my parents’ house to prepare for that special day and painting the various pieces of it all kinds of crazy colors—stripes, barber pole, polka dots. I asked everyone I ran into who had gone to college what I might be forgetting. During my summer orientation, I sussed out ways to get free meals from campus groups almost every day of the week.

I was uber-prepared.

But I was also under-prepared.

So, to save some new students this year the trouble of learning for themselves some of my most hard-won lessons, I serve them up here for you. And whether you’ve just stepped on campus for the first time, you will next year, or that moment is just a fading memory beneath your receding hairline, you might find some helpful lessons here for living a good, full life.

Be the one who makes friends

Chatting up strangers with kindness and communicating your interest in them is how you love people (and get love back).

Everybody wants friends, and everybody’s open to making new friends at the beginning of a school year. It doesn’t matter if you’re still a student or not, chatting up strangers with kindness and communicating your interest in them is how you love people (and get love back). Go to events that you see posted, and take somebody along with you (like the epic Weezer concert I went to with my friend Eric). Grab a Frisbee and go door to door until you find enough people to play Ultimate (trust me—it doesn’t take long). These are skills that will serve you well in life. Just put yourself out there—people will appreciate it.

Have a plan

Grab a favorite beverage and an hour or two alone to consider what you want from this year. “Failing to plan is planning to fail” and all that. If you don’t have at least a hazy picture of the destination, how can you draw the map? My plans at various times included changing my major so I wouldn’t get bogged down in school; visiting my friend Shane in Uppsala, Sweden; and leading a Bible study with some guys from my floor. Now my plans are more along the lines of “Buy life insurance,” but there’s still some energy in there that is important.

Go see tigers

My first semester in college, I had a class with Tim Allen (no, not that Tim Allen). This amazing thinker and biologist let you brew beer for credit at the University of Wisconsin. But he also imparted life lessons like the best teachers often do. He told us to forget about backpacking in Europe. You can do that when you’re retired. “Go see tigers in the wilds of India before they’re extinct!” he told us. Sweden was nice, but within a couple years, my young bride and I were living on a volcanic mountaintop in Nicaragua with no running water, electricity, or transportation (more on that here). Later, we lived in China and then South Africa. No regrets.

Get redefined

Pray for God Almighty to help you remember how you should be defined (by His love and grace).

I work for InterVarsity, and this fall, we’re asking new students, “Who will you be?” It's our way of reminding people that we get to decide who we are (or at the very least, we get to decide who we let define us). You can try to be less selfish, boring, deceptive or whatever. You can try to be more authentic, courageous, happy and so on. But try as you might, you’ll likely fail. So pray for God Almighty to help you remember how you should be defined (by His love and grace) and to transform you to be more like Jesus.

Be the funnest

Now by “funnest,” I don’t mean, “drunkest.” Christians are often seen as goody-goodies, and rightfully so, I suppose. But we have injunctions to celebrate and rejoice in the Bible. For me, that’s enough justification to have fun (pun intended). Have parties. Be silly. Stay up too late. Skip class once in a while. Roll in the fall leaves on a sunny afternoon. I’ve never regretted those moments. Every good and perfect gift is from the Father, we read in the book of James in the Bible. So rip open the gifts with reckless abandon.

Talk About It

What important insights for newbies on campus have we missed?

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