By Suzanne Nicholson
August 27, 2021
‘Tis the season for backpacks, pencils, notebooks, and laptops. For college students, the transition from summer jobs and living with parents to class schedules and dorm life can be both exciting and terrifying. There’s nothing like the suspense of meeting your roommate for the first time or trying to decode your course schedule and find your building before class begins. Colleges often have a full slate of activities in the days leading up to the first class so that students can begin to form community and feel more comfortable in their new roles. Nonetheless, students can find themselves feeling disoriented while they try to navigate a challenging new environment.
As both a college professor and mother to two college students, I have a front-row seat to view the many opportunities and challenges facing our college students today. One of the greatest joys as a professor is to watch our students grow from nervous newcomers to fully engaged class participants, soaking in new information and developing critical thinking skills that transform their view of themselves and the world. These students have great potential to impact society, and we need to pray that our students will seek deeper relationship with God so that they can better understand their call to serve the Kingdom. As you pray, consider the learning challenges of today’s college students:
Independence: Many students will live on campus and away from their parents for the first time. These students will decide when to lay their heads on their pillows and when to rise (will it be before that 8 a.m. class?), whether to binge on junk food or to exercise, and which major they will pursue. They will be exposed to new ideas, many of which will challenge the principles they learned from their parents. They now must decide for themselves what they will believe.
Identity and Purpose: This independence helps students to think through their identity. Current culture regularly pressures students to consider their gender identity and political alignment. But some collegiate soul-searching naturally results from the quest for one’s vocation—what are my interests and talents? What matters to me? What career will give me life satisfaction? As students explore new worldviews, they often reconsider their belief in God. This is especially true as they meet others who may have a very different perspective from their own.
New Skill Sets: Students must learn not only the subject matter of their chosen discipline or profession, but also relational skills as they interact with professors, make new friends, date a potential spouse, and develop independence from their parents. Learning to communicate effectively often comes with difficult lessons along the way.
Life Balance: College offers not only career preparation, but a whole host of other activities that pique students’ interests and vie for their time. Whether students play soccer, join the jazz band, perform in a theater production, or participate in the local entrepreneurship club, they must make choices about how much time to devote to homework, relationships, clubs, activities, and work. Students must learn to set priorities and say no to those activities that will prevent them from accomplishing their goals. Simply keeping a calendar straight can be a huge challenge.
Failure and Success: Most students will have times where they earn a grade that is lower than they thought they would receive. Some will hear feedback that encourages them to explore new areas of giftedness. They will need to consider how their study habits lead to failures and successes, as well as which personal habits might need transformation.
The combination of these various challenges can be dizzying for students. The disorientation is only compounded by the current COVID-19 pandemic, which means that campus rules about masks, social distancing, and vaccinations can change from day to day. Uncertainties about employment and financial stability also accompany the pandemic. Students who rely on restaurant jobs to pay their tuition bills may wonder if the next CDC restrictions will prevent them from staying in college. In addition, 18 months of online learning has left many students underprepared for the rigors of college academic requirements. These various stressors have led to increasing rates of anxiety and depression among students.
As you pray for our college students, please lift up the following:
- Peace and encouragement for students as they face the anxieties of a new environment, new relationships, and rigorous academic requirements in the midst of a global pandemic;
- The willingness for students to reach out to others on campus who might be experiencing loneliness or depression; for those so afflicted, that they might seek help and receive comfort;
- Discernment regarding how to adjust schedules and fulfill requirements without becoming overloaded;
- Financial provision so that students can graduate without crippling debt;
- Self-discipline for students to avoid distraction and apply themselves fully to their studies;
- A desire to learn and grow in all of their classes, even the ones that students might find less interesting; and
- Growth in Christian faith and courage to live boldly for Christ in a post-Christian culture.
Please pray also for wisdom for the faculty, staff, and administrators who are navigating how to provide quality education with dwindling resources in a global pandemic.
Finally, pray that we all can keep our focus on the Kingdom, recalling John Wesley’s words that “the one rational end of all our studies is to know, love, and serve the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent.”
The Rev. Dr. Suzanne Nicholson is Professor of New Testament at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky, a deacon in The United Methodist Church, and Assistant Lead Editor for Firebrand magazine, a free online Wesleyan magazine. She is also a member of the Wesleyan Covenant Association Global Council.