College-bound students and their families stand at a crossroads. Choosing a college is one of the most far-reaching decisions many young adults will make. Their choices can have broad implications for their faith development as well as their careers, families and finances.
Students and families will find plenty of guidebooks and websites offering advice about choosing a college, but most will not address faith development. This is why students need the support of their church families amid this momentous and complicated decision.
Trusted mentors, pastors and family friends can offer guidance and support beginning early in a student's high school career. Here are some practical strategies for intentional ministry with college-bound students.
Talk individually with students you know about their faith journeys. College is a critical time in young adults' faith formation. Choices about where to attend college and how to be involved can affect the paths those journeys take. Encourage students to seek campuses where they can take some courses in religion, where faculty seem open to discussions of faith and purpose, where there is a strong service ethos and where many students regularly attend worship. Recommend that students visit at least one United Methodist-related campus. There they can find this type of environment. If possible, arrange for each student to have a prayer partner from your congregation while selecting and attending college.
Talk with individuals about their career goals. What does each student love to do? About what needs in the world does each care most? What special gifts does each have? Mark 8:36 (The Message) reminds us that career choices are about more than just money: "What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?" The more clarity students have about who they are, the more wisely they can use available resources (guidebooks, admission counselors and career services offices) to chart a faithful, fulfilling career path.
Tell each young person about the special scholarships and loans available to United Methodist college students. Young people may be anxious about the investment they are making. Encourage them to discuss any financial aid awards, anticipated monthly loan payments and budget with their family. While a responsible loan is an important investment in the future, most students will benefit from discussing with their families how much to borrow and for what purposes.
Encourage young people to keep the lines of communication open with their families throughout the selection process. Families can be helpful by asking students why they do or do not like certain colleges. Move beyond statements such as "I just like it here" and instead ask them to tell why that matters.
Encourage students to apply to the schools they love and then compare actual financial aid offers rather than assuming one school is necessarily less expensive than another is. In other words, compare financial aid offers rather than "sticker prices." This takes more time but often results in a better decision.
The support of their church family can help students make the best possible decision. Young people may also realize how much their faith community cares and how much support it can provide as they enter this new phase of life. Commit to pray for the students and their families throughout these important years.
Melanie Overton was assistant general secretary for schools, colleges and universities in the education division of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, Nashville, Tenn.
Check out these helpful sites!
- Search United Methodist-related schools by location, degrees offered, enrollment, athletics and more, www.gbhem.org/myUMfuture.
- Search for scholarships for UM students
- Obtain a low-interest loan through the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry's Borrow Smart program, www.gbhem.org/loanapplication.
- Contact the collegiate minister at more than 500 schools in the United States and abroad, www.gbhem.org/findaschool.