Parenting Help

Checklist for College


Essential Prep for Life Away from Home
David R Smith

Laptop. Pots and pans. Clothes. The ugly couch from the basement. And of course, a brand new coffee maker. Now your college freshman has everything he/she needs for their dorm room.

But do they have what they need for a new, independent life?

I’ve been in ministry for almost 25 years. I’m now a church planter, but without a doubt, one of my favorite seasons of Christian leadership was when my wife and I ran a collegiate ministry on one of the largest campuses in America. During that time we developed relationships that are still a blessing to us today…but it also gave us a front row seat to some truly heartbreaking moments in the lives of young people we deeply cared about.

College is an interesting time of transition. Some kids are ready. . .and some aren’t. And in a world where less kids are actually going to college, some are still doing the math to see if it’s worth it (and it is). But if your kids have decided to go after their undergrad degree. . .it’s good to have some meaningful conversations before they go.

So if you’re a parent who’s packing up a high school graduate for his or her first year away from home, you know there’s so much that goes into making sure your child is ready for the world awaiting them. If you’re seizing these last few weeks to pour into your kids all they’ll need to know to step into this new chapter, I’d encourage you to spend some time on the following topics. This abbreviated list represents the bare minimum that college freshmen need to know before setting foot on campus.

“Jesus is Lord. Period.”
Unless your kid is headed off to a private Christian college, their faith will be in the crosshairs of secular professors who fill the lecterns at every institution of higher education in the land. There is nothing in your kid’s life that’s more important than his or her faith.

Let me repeat that: There is nothing in your kid’s life that’s more important than his or her faith.

Do they know the truth about God and the relationship He desires with them? Sometimes that foundational truth gets drowned out in a world saturated in lies. If there’s any doubt, spend some quality time discussing this biblical reality:

Jesus Christ is God and He came into the world to save sinners. He lived a perfect life so that He could sacrificially die on a cross to offer everyone forgiveness of their sins. He was raised to life just as He promised and currently sits at the right hand of God the Father, Almighty. One day, He will personally return to judge the entire world.

Now that the “theological” bases are covered, let’s talk about some “practical” ones.

“You are responsible for every decision you make.”
These days, it’s popular to blame others for our shortcomings, setbacks, and decisions. According to Genesis 3:12, it’s been that way since the Garden of Eden! But just because it’s an ancient strategy doesn’t mean it’s an effective one.

The truth is, we are responsible for everything we say, do, think. . .and post on Instagram. That means we get the credit for our triumphs, but the flipside is that we must carry the blame for our failures.

Reflecting on our years in campus ministry, I remember celebrating the hard-earned awards of some students, officiating weddings for others, and seeing young people venture to every corner of the globe in service to God and His Gospel. But I also recall counseling the 18-year-old girl who came to our free pregnancy testing lab the very first week of classes. I wince as I think about the young man who forfeited an athletic scholarship to a DUI. I remember comforting the family of a student who chose to end his life.

Help your kids understand what’s on the line by reminding them that they’re responsible for every decision they make.

“Get a job!”
The knee-jerk reaction by most incoming college students (and their parents) is that the demands of college won’t allow for work. While that’s probably true for students attending med school, it’s not true for students enrolled in almost every undergraduate degree. I refer you to the counsel that world class theologian George Thorogood (of Bad to the Bone renown) offered in his 1993 hit Get a Haircut:

Get a haircut and get a real job
Clean your act up and don’t be a slob
Get it together like your big brother Bob
Why don’t you get a haircut and get a real job

Seriously, there are so many reasons to get a part-time job while in college. Here are just a few that come to mind:

  1. The entire purpose of college is to get a job…so this is a great trial run!
  2. It’ll offer you crucial experience you can’t learn in any classroom!
  3. It’ll give you a deeper appreciation of money. And speaking of money….
  4. It’ll provide much needed funds to reduce (or maybe even eliminate) college-related debt.
  5. It’ll keep you busy enough to severely limit the distractions that run rampant in college towns.
  6. It’ll make that full-time job after graduation feel like a permanent vacation by comparison.

Help your kid learn to appreciate money by earning some. Maybe even give them a little bit of experience managing it before they leave.

And finally. . .

Adding Your Own
There is much more insight that could be offered to college freshmen. For example:

  • Choose your relationships wisely.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol like the plague.
  • And yes, take the 8 a.m. time-slot for as many classes as possible.

Make the list your own by adding to it in the ways you deem best. Your kid will survive if he forgets the toaster…but he’s toast if he forgets his faith. In short, do everything you can to prepare the mind and heart of your kids as they head off to college.

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David R. Smith

David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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