As part of an article written for Our Sunday Visitor (to post soon), I interviewed current college students and recent college grads, as well as college-bound high school grads about faith in college. Some of their thoughts and reflections are included with the article, but there were too many to get everything in. Here are the full responses from each of the teens and young adults:
Part 1: Current College Students & Recent College Grads (3 Questions)
- What do you wish you would have done in the summer before going away to college?
- What was most important for nourishing a life of faith in college?
- What advice would you give to incoming college students?
Jean Marie (Catholic University of America, Class of 2019)
- The best thing I did in my summer before starting college (2016) was attend World Youth Day. Obviously, that doesn’t happen every summer, but the 2 key things that happened there are possible anywhere & have benefitted me endlessly in college: (i) Make a really good confession. (ii) Think through what “freedom” means. WYD was the most fun experience of my life and it had nothing to do with alcohol. Being in a place full of strangers who are eager to love made it so easy to strike up genuine conversation and form authentic friendships. After understanding that social freedom means cutting loose of all the weird customs and hierarchies that dictate male-female relationships to simply try to love people as they are, it became very easy to see that the college party scene is often more oppressive than liberating.
- Mostly, trying to form my mind around this question: “How will I serve the people I am going to meet and the campus I am moving to? What will I give?” It’s the quickest path to setting up a fulfilling, happy college life.
- Too often, incoming college students get caught up in the unanswerable anxiety of the question: “What am I going to get out of this?” Just, don’t. You’ll get far more out of it if you know you’re there to give.
Lauren (University of Notre Dame, Class of 2017)
- Spent more time with my grandmother instead of shopping for dorm room supplies... wish I would have gone to daily Mass each day
- Having friends who challenged your faith but who would also sit with you at Mass each week!
- Don’t settle for the first people you meet when choosing your best friends in college. Find relationships that are loving and healthy.
Maclaine (Indiana University, Class of 2019)
- I wish I would’ve talked with other students at my high school going to IU that were Catholic. I went to a Catholic high school so they really were all catholic, but I kinda went to the newman center all by myself instead of inviting them along.
- The most important part for me was including myself in the community. It becomes a home when you go to the Newman center a lot. Frequenting the sacraments also helped to form my heart and my faith in God. Without confession, daily mass, and adoration, I wouldn’t have had such a fruitful year. Showing up for Jesus is important. I had to schedule Him in a lot in my planner, not as a requirement, but as an appointment. He’s important enough for me to purposefully give Him time every day.
- Be social!! Don’t be afraid to turn to the person next to you on the bus or at mass and talk with them! Be sure to go to Catholic events with friends - that’s how the community grows and blossoms. And be ready for a challenge. Most universities consider Catholicism countercultural, and that’s good. We strive for virtue and truth above what a lot of colleges promote. Do not be afraid to find a home in the church, you already have one.
Kelsey (University of Dallas, Class of 2018)
- The summer before would be a great time to get into a routine of daily prayer and set some goals for your prayer routine for the upcoming semester whether it’s going to adoration, praying a rosary, spiritual reading, etc. My senior year was the first year I did this, but before the semester started I looked at my class schedule and found 20-30 minutes a day I could spend in prayer.
- Sticking to a prayer routine! I’d also suggest seeking out a spiritual director.
- Seek out friendships with people who also want to grow in their faith! It may take some time and it may not be people who are “popular” but true friendship is worth it.
Mady (Purdue University, Class of 2017)
- Worked to make some spending money and spent time with family.
- Surrounding yourself with friends who have similar beliefs and can support your faith.
- Don’t join something just because you feel like everyone is doing it.
Becca (University of Notre Dame, Class of 2017)
One piece of advice I would offer to students preparing for college is to make small, manageable goals that can carry them from the summer into their college career. For example, for a lot of people, deciding to spend an hour in prayer every day may feel a little overwhelming. A couple of days may go by without that goal being met, and then it will end up falling by the wayside. One goal that I set for my freshman year was to go to adoration, just for fifteen minutes every Friday. That was something that I knew that I could do--it's only fifteen minutes! This eventually turned into a lot more time spent in the adoration chapel on various days and for various lengths of time, because the chapel ended up being a place I could go to to find peace. But this grew out of starting from a small goal, not vowing to be there for an hour a day, time I wouldn't and probably couldn't have spared early in my transition into college. The summer before college is a really good time to set goals for growing in faith and begin practicing them. If you want to go to one daily Mass a week, for example, the summer can be a great time to start getting in the habit of doing that. By the time you get to college, it will be really helpful to have that as part of a routine, because finding places and things that feel familiar is key in the early months of college, when your surroundings tend to seem kind of overwhelming and different. Another tip would be to find a community that will help you grow in faith and help keep you accountable for going to Mass, praying, etc. It's much easier to develop your relationship with God if you have other relationships in your life that are encouraging and supporting you in that. For students that attend non-Catholic colleges, this can come from a local parish community or a Newman center. Becoming involved in a Catholic community is a great way to nourish your faith because it helps to have people around you that are actively trying to grow in faith as well.
Matthew (University of Dallas, Class of 2018)
- I wish I would have learned more about my Confirmation Saint. By going to the small Catholic College that I did, (University of Dallas), I saw that many people had strong devotions to saints, and I saw how that strengthened their prayer life. I think that the summer before gives ample time to be able to set things aside to dedicate research to the life of a saint and to further develop a prayer life while at the same time as getting to learn about someone whose faith was so strong while they were here.
- For me it was the people that I surrounded myself around through my time in college. For a while I was with a group of friends that you could say were Catholic because that's the faith they were born into, and it did not deepen from there. By finding those people who are serious about their faith and wanting to grow themselves, it because very comforting to see other people your age going through the same struggles as you in wanting to have a good faith life. But, if it seems like you are the only one wanting to nourish your faith life, then I would say the summer before is a great "boot camp" for you to prepare yourself spiritually, but also mentally. College is a melting pot for many different ideas and opinions, and just because everyone is Catholic around you, does not mean they want to have a faith that is on fire. To nourish a life of faith in college, you need to see who you are in relationship with others, and you will learn that through the years, but all the while knowing that you are called to constantly grow in faith, and this looks different for everyone.
- As cliché as it is, it is as true as it gets; it goes by fast, so enjoy it. The class you were late for because you set your alarm wrong, the paper with a typo that you didn't catch after the 5th draft, the party that you avoided because you were uncomfortable but feel bad for not 'socializing', and all other obstacles that you will face, they may come to you, but that does not tarnish the joy you will find. You will grow incredibly, mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and you will develop in ways you did not think of as a high school student. Enjoy it, the degree is there for you at the end, you will study hard, and you will get through it. It will feel like a marathon until you walk across the stage, and then you realize you just won a sprint and wish, even a little bit, that there was more to the track. The obstacles you will face are not there to hurt you, they are there to help you grow, and in college, there are a lot of growing pains, and you will see that though you have grown a lot, there is still more to come, and that is one of the most exciting things.
Christina (Notre Dame, Class of 2017)
- No regrets. One thing that helped a lot that summer though was reading Rediscover Catholicism by Matthew Kelly on the weekends and writing down quotes from it that were especially convicting. I've heard Catholics disdain Dynamic Catholic for approaching the faith in a "dumbed down" way but that was an excellent read for me at that point in life. It re-framed Catholicism to me as I entered Notre Dame with some lingering skepticism about the Catholic faith.
- Claiming the maturity to establish a hopefully life long daily habit of prayer and spiritual reading right as college began. I knew if I one day wanted to be a wise, holier-than-I-am-now wife, mother, physician, and citizen, I was not going to get any closer to the goal by wasting my time in college. Also, having the luck (plus good judgment) to make friends with normal, fun people that showed the signs of having a faith life by the way they treated others was key.
- Give yourself a lot of grace the entirety of freshman year to adjust to this new lifestyle. Be gentle on yourself . When you wonder why you were so good at things last year and you can't seem to do anything correctly right now, persevere. It's a paradox, but I've heard from many people and experienced that you might not feel totally at home at college until senior year, right when you have to leave. (Also, break up with your high school boyfriend/girlfriend in the summer – it frees you to grow without having such a big shift in your life in the middle of the school year)
Part 2: High School Grads, Class of 2018 (4 Questions)
- Is it important to you to nourish a life of faith in college?
- If so, what do you think will be important for practicing your faith?
- What are you worried about going in to college?
- How do you think you most need to grow in college?
- Yes. Nourishing my faith in college gives me the chance to find people with similar values, to build community in a new environment, and to be able to have a support system with me at all times. It’s no small reason why I’m choosing to attend a catholic university.
- I think finding people who are also trying to practice their faith will be very important. Having friends who will remind you to go to mass and who will go with you to mass keeps you accountable. I want to find clubs/groups/ministries that allow me to grow and help others to grow as well. I know that I try maybe a little too hard to please those around me so finding people who understand and respect my decision to take my faith seriously in college will be important. I probably will need a spiritual advisor in some capacity to be able to talk to as well; especially this year I’ve realized having that person can be very beneficial. I’ve spent the last year journaling daily and using that as prayer and I think that will continue to be an important part of practicing my faith; I need to continue to allow God to see every part of my life, easy and difficult.
- I’m worried about the college culture; I worry about the pressures of the party scene and finding people willing to do something other than drink or hook up. I’m worried about the academic environment; comparison is something I struggle with and I worry I’ll allow myself to get too caught up in grades and competition. I’m worried about finding finding those people who support me and help me grow and challenge me to be more authentically who I’m called to be. I’ve grown a lot in faith the last year and I’m going into college determined to maintain and grow that but I’m worried it’ll get lost in everything else and I’ll let go of that personal relationship I’ve been growing and nurturing with God.
- I need to grow in my confidence in myself. I doubt my own capability way too much and seek too much affirmation. I need to learn to better see myself as created and loved by God. I need to be willing to disagree and stick to my own beliefs, even (and especially) when that is difficult in the coming years. I need to get better at letting go of control and trying to control, and I need to continue to get better at dealing with challenges, anxieties, and failures.
- Yes, it is important to nourish a life of faith in college. After years of attending Catholic school, I’ve grown strong in my faith and I don’t want to hinder my relationship with Christ through poor choices in college. Rather, continuing to grow in my faith is important to build off of the foundation that I have already created.
- I believe that being disciplined in going to mass and reading scripture will be important for practicing my faith.
- Going into college, I am worried about being in the presence of those who make the choice to drink, vape and/or do drugs. Knowing those are things I do not wish to partake in, and that they are illegal, I am concerned that those around me will take part in such things.
- In college, in need to grow most in patience and understanding. I need to see past my desire to control most situations and my quick-temperedness but rather enjoy each moment and be grateful for the opportunities that God has given me.
- Yes. I've been raised Catholic, however it has only been recently that I have taken more of a personal ownership of my faith, so it is important to me that I continue this progress.
- Quite honestly, the motivation to go out of my way to make time for quiet prayer and reflection, let alone get to mass.
- Like the question above, I am worried that I might subconsciously prioritize things like my studies or social life above time for prayer.
- Personally, I need to better my practice of prayer itself and transition it into more of an adult prayer life.
Yes, it is very important for me to nourish my faith life in the coming years. My faith was an integral part of my life during high school and it is the most important facet of who I am. I am eager to see how my faith will develop and I feel as though I will need it to ground me as I further my education.
I am going to have to be very intentional about devoting time for daily prayer. It is also going to be crucial that I find a community of people with whom I can grow in my faith. My "faith family" in high school, comprised of my youth ministers and peers, was very important to my development. I find that I do well when I have friends and mentors that share my beliefs and care deeply about my well-being.
I am worried about the stakes, pressure, and self-comparison that come with attending competitive universities. The fact that Notre Dame is known for being more of a friendly environment alleviates some of that fear, but the pressure to constantly do well weighs heavily on me and will be a challenge for me to work with.
I need to work on taking full ownership for my faith life and for my personal development. I also need to develop better time management skills, which were not at all strong during high school, and which I have seen limit my potential and growth.
- As a practicing Catholic, the most important part of living out my faith is through the sacraments. In addition to Mass and confession, adoration and daily prayer are a priority for my spiritual life in college. I am also considering searching for a spiritual mentor/director to help guide my journey. I plan on surrounding myself with other holy women who share my same values.
- I am most worried about falling into temptation and becoming too focused on worldly and secular things that prevent me from moving forward on my path to heaven.
- I need to grow my faith, of course, my trust in the Lord, and my breadth of knowledge. Being an experiential learner, I am planning on learning from a variety of failings and triumphs.
- It is absolutely important to nourish a life of faith in college. Christ must be at the center of our life. One of the greatest sins of the modern world is in fact not laziness, but busyness. We live in a distracted society, and it's incredibly tempting to consider ourselves good Catholics just because we attend Mass every Sunday. Our Lord told us: "you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength." It's easy to let faith become secondary to the new experiences college brings, but we must not let it occur. If God does not come first in all things, then the Devil wins.
- Full practice of the faith begins with the Eucharist, the most blessed sacrament. It also means regular confession, and a commitment to follow the teachings of the Church wherever I find myself. Finding like-minded peers, brothers and sisters in Christ, will be important for finding my role in a Catholic community. The fifth precept of the Church is to provide for Her needs, and I must do this through a commitment to service in Christ's name. Perhaps the most important however is regular prayer. Nothing can replace a personal relationship with God.
- I think I'm most worried about being on my own. I'm heading from Redmond, Washington to South Bend, Indiana. I'm not going to see my parents or my younger until winter break. The longest I've ever gone away from home is two weeks, so it'll be quite a big change. I'm going to have to hold myself accountable, not just in my faith life but in my academic, musical and athletic pursuits. In a similar manner I'm worried about temptation. The temptation to conform to the world as St. Paul mentions in Romans 12:2. But through Christ, all things are possible.
- I need to become more of a leader in college. In my faith life that means not just being another Catholic, but being someone who actively spreads the gospel of sets an example of what a Catholic man should be. In my academic pursuits that means doing more than just going to class. It means working on personal projects and working with teams to make myself a more marketable employee. I also want to become more cultured, to hear from a variety of new perspectives and new people. Development of one's identity is one of the central goals of the college experience, and I can't wait to get started.
- Nourishing a life of faith in college is extremely important to me, and a major reason why I chose to go to a Catholic college is because I want to immerse myself in a loving, Catholic community.
- In college, it’s going to be important to strengthen my relationships. To strengthen my relationship with God, I plan on journaling, reading scripture, and going to mass as often as possible. Being at Notre Dame, I’ll also take a lot of trips to the grotto, and I hope to get involved in campus ministry, liturgical choir, and service. Above all, I want to follow Pope Francis’ advice to always rejoice and be glad and to try to live a life of holiness, or charity to the fullest. This will not take away any of my energy or humor. Instead, it will fill me with joy and allow me to be what God has planned for me.
- This summer before freshman year, I plan on reflecting about what really matters to me and what I want to do with my life. My fears about college probably include that I do not love the major or coursework that I select or always saw myself pursuing. Another fear stems from the fact that many of my friendships from high school will change as I go into college. I hope I can find a group of friends that is genuine, passionate, and faithful and that I do not become less of these qualities because of a tendency to act “normal” or “cool” when meeting new people or trying to fit in.
- In college, I think I need to grow most in my dedication to service. For me in high school, service felt like filling an obligation. But in college, I hope to get more involved in the community and really make the time to go out and serve. I think it’s easy to sometimes focus too much on your personal prayer life that you can forget that Jesus tells us that “whatever you do to the least of them, you do to me.” After all, we are told faith without works means nothing. So even though I am excited to strengthen my prayer life and take theology courses, I think it’s most important to step up the time I dedicate to service.
- Yes, I know that if I am not growing in my faith, I am growing away from it.
- I plan to find a spiritual director when I get to campus, and I expect that I will become involved in campus ministry. Connecting myself with other devoted Catholics will be very important for me to continue and improve upon my spiritual habits.
- The college social scene is a slippery slope, and even those with the best intentions end up in the worst situations. I will have to be firm in my resolve when it comes to how I will and will not spend my time.
- In college, I need to grow in patience—with my roommates, peers, responsibilities, and whatever else the day-to-day throws at me!