It’s that time of year again – college admissions season. Every high school senior knows that the months between November and March are full of anxious and eager expectation – your applications are in, and all you can do is wait (and pray, and hope, and try not to think too much about what you can’t control).
April, however, is the time for agonizing decision-making. Now you know your options, and the challenge is to pick the best school. In my years of working with high school students in our Y-ministry I saw over and over again that choosing the right college is one of the most difficult decisions most teenagers have ever made. Every decision involves a sacrifice, like:
- This school may have my major, but will I be happy there? Is it the best fit for me?
- I want to go to this school, but it’s so expensive
- Community college may be best for me, but I feel embarrassed not going to a 4-year school
Parents also agonize over college decisions. What can we afford? Where will my kid be happy and successful? And, yes, how does my kid’s decision make me look to other parents?
In the midst of tuition concerns and school rankings, we often lose sight of what’s really important. Where you go to college is about more than school, it’s about who you are going to become in life. In his new book Where You Go is Not Who You’ll Be, Frank Bruni says:
“The climate of the college admissions process is overheated, in a way that unnecessarily addles kids, can be detrimental to their educations and perverts the true point of learning, which isn’t about the acquisition of badges. It’s about the refinement of a mind, the cultivation of a soul. Let’s focus on that.”
In the process of choosing the right college, I think one big thing many of us forget is to have faith. People will tell you a lot of things to consider as you’re making your choice, but they won’t tell you some of the most important spiritual truths you should keep in mind as you’re making your decision.
1. God can direct your steps – if you let him
The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.
The great thing about choosing to be close to God is that you can trust him to direct you to a great future, even if you stumble along the way. College admissions become a lot less stressful when you know that God has a plan and it’s a good one. God can always redirect you, if you will let him.
Out of high school I decided to go to the college that was giving me a scholarship, had a nice environment and had a good program for what I thought I wanted to study. I didn’t put much thought into what would be best for me emotionally or spiritually. After a year, I realized I didn’t actually like the major I had picked, I didn’t have strong spiritual relationships, and my faith was at an all-time low.
Luckily, God was big enough to redirect me. As soon as I became willing to do whatever was best for my emotional and spiritual life, God opened the door for me to transfer schools to a place that ended up being a much better fit. When you choose to put your relationship with God first, you can know that no matter where you go to school he will always have your back.
2. Who you are matters more than where you go to school
If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 3 If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:2-3
As the old saying goes, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Parents especially need to keep this one in mind – many parents get stuck in the trap of thinking that where their kid goes to college will determine their overall success and happiness in life. While going to a great school certainly helps, many parents underemphasize spiritual qualities when trying to help their kids make choices for their future. Who will you become if you go to this school? What kind of people will you be surrounding yourself with?
One very important spiritual principle is that it is important to become a loving person. Without love, the Bible says, we have nothing in the end. A growing movement in the secular world says the same thing- those who rely on personal interactions to influence people are becoming more successful leaders than those who just rely on their authority.
As you are making your college choice, ask yourself what kind of person you want to become and which school will help you become that person.
3. Your path to success can look different than everyone else’s
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Hebrews 12:1-4 (NIV)
I think one of the most challenging aspects of deciding what to do after high school is how you think your choice will be perceived by people around you. High schools often publish in their school newspapers where all graduates students are going to school, and for a high school senior it can feel like your whole world revolves around staying afloat in the sea of impressiveness.
But the truth is that your plan doesn’t have to look like everyone else’s, and your success in life doesn’t depend the prestige of your school. God actually has a unique race marked out for each of us, and your ups and downs are part of your story. The world is full of successful people who didn’t follow a traditional path; consider Steve Jobs who had trouble with formal schooling and Steven Spielberg who was rejected from his top choice film school twice.
Part of figuring out what race God has marked out for you is surrounding yourself with a community of people who are committed to thinking spiritually about their lives. Consider getting involved with our Y ministry and campus ministry to meet a group of passionate and inspired young people who believe in using their lives and talents to make a difference in the world.