College is a weird season of life. You’re tasked with choosing a field of study (that you’re theoretically expected to pursue for the better part of your adult life) at the age of 18, and then you’re thrust into an environment that poses many social and recreational temptations to draw you away from that field of study. Meanwhile, you’re paying a hefty sum to be in college to do just that — study.
How are we supposed to balance the obligations of school, work, family, friends, and faith — especially as a freshman when everything is so new? It starts with focusing intently on the reality of what it means to be a college student, and what that reality demands of you.
College is a gift, and an opportunity
A college education is not only a gift, but a major opportunity to create a firm foundation for your future. The first step is to recognize what a privilege you have before you to earn a college education and form yourself in mind, body, and soul.
But what does that mean? It means staying focused every single day on the reason that you’re in college: to get an education. It means taking care of yourself, physically and spiritually, so you can use your gifts and opportunities well. And most importantly, it means prioritizing your interior life and making time for silence in a culture that increasingly fragments your attentiveness.
The reason you’re in college
First and foremost, remember why you’re embarking on this college journey to begin with: to get an education. Social activities and extracurriculars are fun and can help you grow in many ways, but ultimately, you’re getting a college education to form your mind and prepare you to shape the world in new ways.
Honestly speaking, a social life is great, but you can’t pay off student loans or support yourself and your future family with it. Social activities offer a healthy way to balance stress, but should come second to academic obligations. After all, you can get a social life for free without paying tuition, room, and board.
A college education is an investment in your future. If you make the most of it by applying yourself, studying hard, and pursuing opportunities that will benefit you after graduation, you’ll reap a high return on your investment.
Take care of yourself
As a college freshman, you’re considered an adult and you won’t have a parent or older sibling looking over your shoulder to make sure you eat your vegetables and go to bed at a decent hour. The freedom and independence of college life may seem inviting (no bedtimes! unlimited Chick-fil-A in the food court! sleeping late!) but it’s actually an invitation for you to take yourself seriously — and take responsibility for caring for yourself in all areas of your life.
So enjoy your newfound independence, but do so in a way that helps you build discipline, keeps you healthy, and in a way that enables you to fulfill your obligations well. Don’t be a stranger to the (free) gym that is now at your disposal on your college campus, prioritize getting enough sleep, and don’t let “being a college student” be an excuse to eat junk food all the time. And if your mental health begins to suffer, reach out and ask for help (the professionals on your campus want to assist you — that’s why they’re there!).
Remember to feed your soul, too
As a college freshman, there’s so much to take in, but connecting to a community of faith will keep your soul centered and your priorities in order. It’s like having a built-in community of support and accountability for the values you hold deepest. Joining a community at your school’s campus ministry, Newman Center, or FOCUS chapter is a smart way to find friends who will help you become a better person, and support you as you pursue your college goals.
No matter where you’re attending school or what you’re majoring in, prayer can ground your day, whether it’s with other students or silent, spontaneous prayer by yourself on your way to class. And if your family had a practice of worshiping on Sundays, don’t underestimate the value of keeping that rhythm. Sunday Mass surrounded by and led by your peers can nourish you in more ways than one.
Make time for silence
There is so much noise for the college student — and I’m not just talking about your roommate’s stereo. I’m saying there are so many opportunities on college campuses for you to be thrown off track, distracted from the end goal, and pulled away from your deepest values.
The best way to combat this is to make time for silence — quiet the distractions of life through prayer or a silent walk around campus every evening (without headphones or music!). You’ll come to relish the peace that you find when you step off the study-eat-sleep treadmill to catch your breath and remember your place in the world that extends beyond the campus boundaries. Giving regular time to moments for quiet reflection will also focus your energy and attention for the rest of your day, and give you room to listen for God’s voice and what He might be asking of you in this season of life.