Caring for College Students

Winter break starts early at Boyce College. With fall finals week ending on November 16 and spring classes commencing on January 21, our students are blessed with nine weeks of break. Over the next month, college students all over the country will be joining us. At Boyce, most of our students leave the dorms and many leave town, returning to the churches and families and businesses and friends they left behind to come here. As they leave us and return to you, here are some ways you can serve these visiting students.

Have them over or take them to lunch. Whether the student you know is in town for four days or four weeks, spend some time with them. I left home in 2002, but there’s still an old mentor who invites me to breakfast every time I’m home. He always has questions for me — how I’m doing, what I’m learning, how I’m changing, where I’m headed. He also has much to share, making our conversations insightful and invigorating. These engaging breakfasts give me a chance to share what I’ve learned, answer good questions, gain outside perspective, and learn from another’s experience. Over the years, I’ve realized just how humble this man is — he’s forty years my senior, married four times longer, with grown children (and grandchildren older than my children), and retired from a successful career in the marketplace. He has hired, fired, built, trained, and mentored. Yet he picks me up, takes me to his favorite diners, and sits across the table asking questions and listening. Regardless of your age or experience, you can have a similar impact on a college student. It’s refreshing to have a home-cooked meal, to be with a loved family or old friend, to share about classes and relationships and future plans, and to gain wisdom and advice from those outside the academic community. So as college students prepare to return home, prepare to spend some encouraging time with them.

Help them process what they’re learning. College students are in mid-flight. They’ve launched out from the foundations of family and home but have not yet arrived at the destination of settled convictions and responsible adulthood. They’re between where they’ve come from and where they’re going. One important way to be a good friend is to help them process what they’re learning along the way. To do this, you have to be willing to join them mid-flight. Don’t view their tough questions or their passionate new views as a threat but an opportunity. You’re not going to extinguish their newfound passion by rolling your eyes, but you can help refine it by engaging them in conversation. Sometimes their intellectual growth pains become your conversational growth pains as you listen to them shred old ideas and hash out new ones. Instead of fighting or fleeing, be an example of patience, perspective, and engagement. I often hear older college students talk about how they mistreated their families, churches, and friends by going home after their first year and pontificating about all they’d learned. That is to say, students will see later what you see now. So for now, speak into their journey with gracious directness. Don’t dismiss them but engage them, valuing the ongoing relationship more than the passionate exchange. Don’t be afraid to challenge folly and arrogance, but recognize that their intellectual convictions must be given time to develop. The gauntlet of life has a way of evening people out.

Help them value their education. Just like anyone else, college students can grow discouraged or disillusioned in their endeavors. Education is a tough row to hoe, and even the most motivated students can grow weary or lose the vision. Without patronizing them, remind them of why they’re doing what they’re doing — why education matters, how you know their efforts will end up serving the church and the society, and most of all, that you’re proud of them for what they’re accomplishing. These words of encouragement will stick them during the late nights and early mornings, through the disconcerting grade checks and unpaid bills, through reader’s block and writer’s block and all sorts of uncertainties about the future. So this winter break, take the opportunity to encourage at least one college student to value their education.

Help give them perspective. College students face all sorts of challenges and opportunities. They may need encouragement that their major won’t shut out job opportunities, that their recent breakup won’t define the rest of their lives, that their financial hardships aren’t the end of the world. They may need a reality check about the economy or a clearer picture of their chosen profession. They may need a well-meaning kick in the pants about discipline, organization, procrastination, or planning. Consider how you might widen a student’s perspective while he or she is home for the break. The perspective you offer might be shaped in positive or negative terms, or something in between. But as opportunities arise, consider how you might offer perspective that will clarify both the path and the horizon.

Help them find a job. Finding a job is challenging anytime, but finding a short-term job for a winter or summer break can be especially daunting. Many students I talk to near the end of the semester don’t know where they’ll be working, and often they haven’t started looking yet. They’re focused on books, papers, and exams. I encourage them to get a head start looking for jobs, but inevitably many don’t start their job search until the break has already begun. These students can spend their first few weeks (or more) looking for a job they should’ve had in place from day one. Pastors, church members, family, and friends can help here. Don’t do the work for them, but put concrete connections and live opportunities on the table if you have them. Virtually all college students are strained financially, and many are taking on debt. Helping them find employment is one way you can help them maximize their school break.

Over the next month, college students around the country will be coming home. Others will be staying around school because of work, finances, winter classes, significant others, or because families live too far away. The challenges and opportunities they face are unique and diverse. You can help by providing friendship, conversation, perspective, motivation, and employment.


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