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It finally came, that stark white envelope with the tacky-colored vintage lettering that represents the school you’ve dreamed of attending for 18 years. You tear the envelope open until it resembles pillow stuffing on the table, your heart pounding with anticipation. You read…yada yada…ACCEPTED!!!

Congratulations, you did it. Now what? As a person of faith, college can be tough, and I certainly made my fair share of mistakes. As someone who survived the journey (Go Heels! ’12), here are a few tips I learned along the way.

1.  The first months can be lonely and overwhelming.

Especially if you attend a large university, you quickly realize you’re a small entity in a vast universe, a scholastic ecosystem that seems impossible to assimilate. This one is easy, actually. There are usually more campus Christian organizations than you can count. Most schools have a freshman fair of sorts, where every campus group under the sun congregates, and this is a great place to find a group that interests you. Go to those early club meetings. Everyone else feels out of place just like you, and there is no better time to make friends. Sports or theater your thing? Don’t restrict yourself to just Christian groups. Get as involved as you can, it will go along way in helping you feel more connected.

2.  Wait…I have to study everyday?

University work is demanding. Very demanding. I learned this tip too late, but it was invaluable in my last few years at school. Treat class and homework like a day job. Seriously, wake up and get to that 8 am class, tackle homework during the day or between other classes. Wrap it up by 5 or 6 and give yourself nights to relax, have fun and socialize. With parents and overbearing teachers a distant memory, staying motivated and organized can be a real challenge. And whatever you do, DON’T get in the habit of skipping class; once you get behind it can become very hard to play catch up.

Lastly, take your academic work seriously. Gone are the days when slacking is cool and attractive.  Not only will you set yourself up for success after graduation, but it’s a great way to meet people. Join study groups.  Also, you’ll find developing a passion for a subject is highly attractive, and talking about your love for literature is going to go a lot further on a date than bragging about how good you are at Call of Duty.

3. Drinking, It’s everywhere!

Drinking is a pervasive reality on college campuses. I’m offering advice to help college believers make healthy decisions that don’t compromise their values. I won’t give any mandates, but the risks of drinking (underage or not) are real. Many freshman/sophomore dorms prohibit alcohol and getting caught is a serious infraction. (And yes, they will call your parents.) Sexual assault happens more often than you think, and alcohol poisoning is not something to toy with.

Advice – develop a core group of friends who share your values (this is where tip #1 comes in). You’ll find a large part of social life at your school revolves around alcohol, but there are plenty of groups which offer a rich social scene that doesn’t involve throwing back beers (I wish I’d figured this one out earlier myself) Looking back, some of my best memories from college were camping trips with my Christian small group. And when you turn 21, don’t be afraid to enjoy a beer or glass of wine; God created alcohol, and it’s something to be enjoyed, just not in the excesses of newly-found freedom.

 4. Dating Tips.

Depending on your upbringing, your dating life at this point may be reality-TV material, or simply nonexistent. Either way, it’s hard to avoid ‘falling in love’ as a college student, and who knows, that special someone may one day be your husband or wife. The only thing is now, you no longer live with your family and you have the freedom to do what you’ve been told you shouldn’t (sex), with no pesky inquires from the parents. The best advice I can give is to find a close friend (or pastor) who is willing to act as accountability, and make sure you and your significant other are on the same page. Saving sex for marriage is not an easy endeavor (but it’s a worthwhile one), and the freedom that comes with life at University makes it especially difficult. Community is key.

Also, don’t be afraid to go on dates and enjoy the process of finding that special someone. It can be tempting to settle into something serious early, but this is the time to go on embarrassingly-bad first dates and learn what you desire (or don’t) in a spouse.

5. Enlightenment.

Apparently there is a religious studies professor at the very school I graduated from who prides themselves in asking which students are Christians on the first day of class. Then, before the final exam he asks which students are still believers, reveling in the reduced number of raised hands, confident in the notion that Christianity is merely a bedtime story for brainwashed Bible-belt foundlings and he has shown them the futility of their faith.

My advice – don’t be afraid of information. Though the University system is largely secular, liberal education doesn’t change the fact that Jesus came, died and rose for our sins. In fact, you’d be surprised how the in-depth study that accompanies academia can contribute to your faith. After taking an Old Testament class, which treated the whole book as one long tribal fairytale, I gained invaluable insight into the intricacies of the New Testament, and garnered a newfound appreciation for the Old [testament]. University science elevated my appreciation for God’s creativity through the mechanics of His awe-inducing creation. Learn everything you can – it doesn’t change the reality of the Gospel!

So there you have it, a College Survival Guide to campus life. You’ll probably look back and not even recognize the young, scrappy freshman walking around lost on orientation day. But you will grow immeasurably during your time at University, and your relationship w/God will deepen, as will your resolve in the face of adversity.

Most of all, have fun and stay rooted in community, your lifeline during some of the best 4 years of your life.