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The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “There is nothing permanent except change.” College will mark a period of significant change in your life. You will likely live in a new location, engage with a different social circle, and revamp your schedule and routines. In order to thrive in this new season of life, you must prepare.

Here are five important things you can do before heading off to college:

  1. Invest in relationships.
  2. Find out your why.
  3. Go on an adventure.
  4. Prepare for academia. 
  5. Cultivate consistent time with God.

1. Invest in Relationships

There are likely few things more meaningful than your relationships with people. We all have people who have invested in us, worked with us, extended friendship to us, etc. And we have done the same. The important question as you head to college is, “How am I going to keep these relationships alive?” Here are a few ways you can be intentional about investing in relationships from home:

    • Invest wisely. Choose to invest in a few people whom you care deeply about rather than maintaining shallow investments with a lot of people. 
    • Be present. Make your last moments with friends and family count. Give them hugs while you still can. Have fun together. Put your busyness aside and spend time in meaningful conversations.
    • Make a schedule. Plan time into your schedule for phone calls or video chats with family and friends from home during the semester. It may be meaningful to schedule in an occasional letter as well. 
    • Restore wrongs. If you have wronged someone in some way (especially a family member), apologize. Do everything you can to restore those relationships before heading off to school. 
    • Say thank you. Write down a list of all the people who have influenced or helped you in some way. Then reach out to those people and let them know how much you appreciate them. 
    • Talk to your church. Communicate with your leaders at church and come to a clear understanding of what you expect from each other as you head off to college. This will help you reintegrate smoothly during breaks from college. 

2. Find Out Your Why

Why do you plan to attend college? Before you embark on such a large change, it is useful to think about who you are as a person and what your purpose in life is. I suggest that you schedule a period of solitude to journal, reflect, and plan. Ask yourself questions like:

  • What is my end goal in pursuing higher education?
  • Is that goal worth the cost and risk associated with it?
  • What do I believe? (about God, people, the world, etc.)
  • What do I value most?
  • What is my role in community? 

A friend recounted the value of scheduling solitude before college: “I took time alone and journaled all about who I was at that time, what I believed… literally everything. It’s already been super cool to look back at and compare and see the changes.” I similarly did some journaling before coming to Sattler. I included values I wanted to retain, theological convictions, health and financial goals, why I was drawn to Sattler more than other universities, etc. Whenever I lose my sense of direction, revisiting those notes is helpful for recentering myself and remembering why I’m at Sattler. 

3. Go On an Adventure

You will likely be tied down for a few years once you begin college. While students do have long winter and summer breaks, they must often spend that time working or pursuing internships to pay for tuition. It is thus worthwhile to go on some form of an adventure before college. You could volunteer with a ministry, go on a road trip, travel overseas, or do any number of memorable things. Before my first semester at Sattler, I spent my summer in Kenya. I was able to invest in rescued street children by teaching them English and doing life together with them. It was a transformative experience I’ll never forget. Many of my classmates can tell incredible stories of pre-college adventures where they gained new perspectives and were able to serve Christ. Some examples include medical work in Haiti, ESL teaching in Bangladesh, and youth ministry in the inner city. Go and make some memories. You won’t regret it. 

4. Prepare for Academia

The academic workload at Sattler is intense. You will have a much better academic experience if you do two things ahead of time: find out how much sleep you need and form good study habits. 

Sleep

The amount of sleep you get will directly affect your academic performance. Research shows that “students getting adequate amounts of sleep performed better on memory and motor tasks than did students deprived of sleep.” However, not everyone needs the same amount of sleep. You can experiment to see how many hours you need to sleep on a regular basis in order to function well. My freshman year I tried to function on 5-6 hours of sleep per night for several months. Although I got by, I was often tired and absent minded. That year could have been better if I prioritized the 7-8 hours of sleep per night that I now know I need. Once you figure out how much sleep you need, prioritize getting that amount consistently once you begin classes. 

Study Habits

To keep up with an intense workload, learn to find your concentration zone, the place where you can remain deeply focused and efficient with your study hours. Some people find it helpful to study in groups, while others need privacy. Some study best to music, while others need quiet. You will likely find you can stay more focused if you break several minutes every hour, getting up to walk around your desk or get a drink. However, during a period of concentrated study, several hours may slip away before you notice it. Rather than forcing yourself to study in a certain way just because you’ve heard it’s good, discover what comes naturally to you and learn to accentuate your natural strengths. Do invest time in developing an effective note-taking strategy, whether that’s scribbling in a tabbed notebook, organizing typed notes with images in Evernote, or recording important points on audio. 

To prepare your brain for study once you reach college, start spending a period of time each day in concentrated brain work, reading or studying, just to get the wheels spinning. During your practice study sessions, figure out what you need to do to get yourself into a deep work mode. Do you need to turn off your phone? Set timers? A friend told me she wasted a lot of time her first semester because she took people’s advice to study in groups on campus. She later found out she is more productive studying alone. To avoid this pitfall, figure out your study habits now.

For further insights, check out these three books: Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, Getting Things Done by David Allen, and Deep Work by Cal Newport.

5. Cultivate Consistent Time with God

As humans, we are made for communion with God. We should therefore make our time with him our top priority. Once your first semester begins, your schedule will max out almost immediately, and you will find it difficult to add time for God to your daily routine. I suggest that in the months before college you make a practice of giving a scheduled amount of time to God each day. Give him your firstfruits, the time of day (or night) when you are most alert and present. It is easy to be distracted by your environment, so approach communion with God even more seriously than your studies. This could mean turning off your phone and using a journal to collect your thoughts. I’m inspired by a brother who has had the practice for years of getting up at 5:30 a.m. and going on a one hour prayer walk. Another friend spends time praying through the Psalms. Experiment and find what deepens your relationship with God the most. Once you have this practice of daily, uninterrupted communion with God in place, schedule your life at college around that. Daily time with God will prove to be the anchor which holds you fast—through stress, through trials, through damaged relationships. He will become your truest friend, your sturdy foundation, and your source of comfort. The strong relationship you develop with God will also empower you to pour into others’ lives in a meaningful way. 

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