Blog | Topic: Students

An Open Letter to First-Year College Students

lanyards-non-breakaway-5-81Dear first-year student,

What I remember most about my first week of college was lanyards; the string that students wore around their necks to hold their student ID and room key. They were useful for at least two reasons: (1) they kept important items close and (relatively) safe and (2) they identified all of the other nervous, confused and anxious first-year students. We ran in packs and swung our IDs around our necks like a tetherball. I also remember how different things seemed to be. Everything was new: schedules with a bit too much free time, classes that didn’t meet every day, and something called a syllabus.

I’m sure you’ve received a lot of advice over the past few weeks from family and friends about how to make the most of the college years. I hesitate to offer more. I know how easy it can be for it to go in one ear and out the other. But the truth is we all want you to succeed and do well. It is, after all, a privilege to go to college and we don’t want you to waste the great gift that you have been given.

Here are three quotes for you to consider as you begin your first year of college. I hope you can find some time to reflect during the busy first week. May these quotes guide your next four years:

“Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son.” – Dean Vernon Wormer

Now that’s some good, straight forward advice right there! The quote comes from the movie Animal House and here’s the main reason I offer it to you: It’s a reminder that this stage of life is formative. You will make decisions every day that will shape your character. But don’t just take my word for it. Spider-Man’s uncle, Ben Parker, knew a thing or two about the college years as well. He offered this advice to his nephew Peter:

“These are the years when a man changes into the man he’s going to become for the rest of his life; just be careful who you change into.” – Uncle Ben Parker

Just be careful who you change into… This is not to say that college shouldn’t be fun. And, of course, you will make mistakes and bad decisions. But remember, that’s all part of the “character forming” process as well. Being attentive to the kind of person you are becoming, admitting mistakes and learning from failure may not be bullet points that build a resume, but it is the foundation that builds a life.

Speaking of how to build a life…

“The best thing that anybody ever said to me is that you’re only as good as the people you associate with. Look at the five friends that you spend the most time with—that’s who you are.” – Will Smith

There you have it… advice from a fictitious Dean, a superhero’s uncle and now the Fresh Prince. Not only do you need to pay attention to your own character, but you need to be sure to surround yourself with a good cast of characters as well. Choose wisely.

College is a gift and a remarkable opportunity. It will be a formative, transformational time in your life. May you make the most of the time you’ve been given.

All the best –


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NEW Seminar on College Planning: October 12, 2013

College Choice - CTI HomepageFeeling unprepared for college? 

Learn how to plan for college with confidence!

Announcing a NEW seminar from CPYU’s College Transition Initiative…

What: The College Choice: Faith, Family & Finances

When: October 12, 2013 – 8:30am-12:00pm

Where: East Earl, PA (Shady Maple Banquet Center)

Why: Put faith first in college planning…

Higher education has faced sharp criticism recently. Many pundits and families are starting to question the value of a college degree. And for good reason. Did you know…

Nearly 50% of first-year students do not graduate within six years?

Student loan debt has exceeded $1 trillion?

Only one in seven high school seniors report feeling prepared to face the challenges of college life?

Now it’s more important than ever that families make wise decisions about college, particularly concerning where to go, what to study, and how to pay. Participants will gain…

A biblical vision for making the most of these formative years
A clearer understanding of the true cost and value of college
A wise approach to the college admission’s process

This seminar is for students, parents, youth workers, and educators looking for resources to make wise decisions about life after high school.


Derek Melleby, director of CPYU’s College Transition Initiative and author of Make College Count: A Faithful Guide to Life and Learning.

Terry Evearitt, certified college planner, College Funding Advisors, Inc.

Matt Reitnour, director of college counseling, Wesleyan Christian Academy, High Point, NC.

Cost: $15/individual $25/family

Mark your calendars. Seating is limited.

Click here to register!

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Help Students Transition to College by Hosting a Panel Discussion

chairsThis past weekend I presented the College Transition Seminar for the Black Rock Church in Fairfield, CT. Over lunch, the seminar also featured a panel discussion with current college students. Parents and students had the opportunity to ask “real live” college students about the struggles and successes they had transitioning to the next chapter of their life story. The conversation was rich. Not only did the parents and high school students gain much wisdom from what they heard, but the college students greatly benefitted from telling their stories as well.

It got me thinking… a college student panel is a simple thing to do and it can make a big difference in the lives of soon-to-be college students! It doesn’t even require much prep work. Ask college students you know if they would be interested in sitting on a panel. If they say “yes” they probably have something they would like to share! And then ask simple questions to get the conversation started, like:

How did you decide on the college you chose?

Was it difficult to find Christian community on campus?

What surprised you the most when transitioning to college?

If you could do the transition over again, what would you do differently?

What advice would offer to high school students who are nervous about the transition?

In between each question, open it up to the parents and students to ask follow-up questions. It’s also a good idea to pass around 3×5 cards beforehand, in case people are more comfortable writing their question instead of asking it in front of others.

Students need a vision for what it looks like to have a successful transition to college. Hearing from current college students can help them gain a vision for what their transition could and should look like.

Related Resources:

Article: “Finding Community in College: 5 Ways to Help Students Connect” (.pdf)

Article: “Conversations for the College Bound: 10 Talks to Have Before Arriving on Campus” (.pdf)

Book: Make College Count: A Faithful Guide to Life and Learning

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Combating Senioritis: 3 Activities for College Bound Students

senioritis2It’s that time of year. Senioritis at school and church is kicking in. Students are ready to coast to the finish-line and make their way to the next chapter of their life story. For many graduating seniors (but not all), the “next step” will be college in the fall. According to recent research by the Fuller Youth Institute only 1 in 7 high school seniors report feeling prepared to face the challenges of college life. How can we engage seniors during the last few months of high school so that they are better prepared for the challenges ahead? What follows are three suggested activities to invite students to think more deeply about this crucial transition (each activity takes about an hour and could work well as three consecutive youth group meetings):

First, create space for better conversations about life after high school. Host a panel discussion with college students and have soon-to-be graduates ask them questions about how they can be better prepared. Consider including older members of the community as well. Have them reflect on their own decisions and transitions when they were about to graduate from high school. Ask people 20+ years removed from college this question: If you could do it all over again, what would you have done differently? Conclude the meeting by giving students the article “Conversations for the College Bound: 10 Talks to Have Before Arriving on Campus.” Have the students discuss the article with the group.

Suggested questions:

What conversation(s) stuck out to you as you read?

Were there any conversation partners listed that you hadn’t considered?

What conversations would you like to pursue over the next few weeks?

Second, have an open and honest conversation about faith after high school. To generate good discussion, watch a Veritas Forum video with college bound students. Veritas Forums are university events that engage students and faculty in discussions about life’s hardest questions and the relevance of Jesus Christ to all of life. I highly recommend The Veritas Forum featuring Tim Keller at the University of California, Berkeley.

Suggested questions:

What stuck out to you as you listened to Dr. Keller presentation?

What do you think were his strongest points?

Did you have any disagreements with Dr. Keller arguments for belief in God and the Christian faith?

How do you think Dr. Keller handled the questions from the audience? What can you learn from him about how to have discussions with people who disagree with your worldview?

If you were given the task of explaining or defending the Christian faith at an event like The Veritas Forum, how would you do it? What would the outline of your talk be? Would you be nervous? Why or why not?

Third, help students connect with Christian community before they arrive on campus. Remind students of the value and necessity of community to Christian faith. As you learn where students will be going to college, take a proactive approach by contacting campus ministries and churches in those areas. Start by asking others in your congregation who might be familiar with the community in which the college is located. Next, browse the college’s Web site to see what is offered on campus. Send e-mails and make phone calls. Get in touch with campus ministers and pastors in the area. Consider using a night at youth group to help college bound students make these important connections months before they arrive on campus. Check out this article for more ideas: “Finding Community in College: 5 Ways to Help Students Connect.”

Suggestion questions:

Do you think it will be easy or difficult to make new friends in college?

Why do you think community is important to Christian faith?

Do you think college relationships will be the same as high school relationships? Why or why not?

Do you think you will attend church while in college? Why or why not?

Related Resources:



Expert Interview: “Understanding Teens After High School

Expert Interview: “The Fabric of Lasting Faith

Expert Interview: “Sex on Campus

Book: Make College Count: A Faithful Guide to Life and Learning

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The Jubilee Conference Transforms Everything

DoYouHearThe annual Jubilee Conference was held this past weekend in Pittsburgh, PA. The conference brings together college students (2,000+) to explore the implications of the Gospel for all of life. And by all of life, I mean, well, all of life. There were breakout sessions on just about everything: education, business, history, art, dance, social sciences, athletics, weather forecasting… And that’s just looking at one page of the program (p. 25)! But that’s not all. The main sessions of the conference challenged students to consider the biblical story as the True story of the world. Each gathering took a closer look at the key chapters of the Story (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration) and then invited students to find their place in the biblical story. “Inviting students to find their place in the biblical story” is currently in vogue, but the Jubilee Conference and the college ministry (CCO) that sponsors the event has been doing it for many years. This was my 12th Jubilee overall, and for the second straight year, I had privilege of being co-emcee with my good friend Dave Bindewald.

H&M1The conference never ceases to amaze me. Words can’t express how much of an honor it is to be a part of it. The students are always eager to learn and energized to serve. The speakers are remarkably gifted at taking complicated concepts and making them accessible to young adults. Stories of redemption are told that encourages and equips students to want to make a difference in the world, but not without first talking honestly and openly about the reality of sin. In fact, an entire main session is devoted to discussing the Fall. The worship music is as good as I’ve ever heard. Not only is the quality excellent but the depth and diversity is profound. And, of course, Byron and Beth Borger of Hearts & Minds provide the biggest and best bookstore I have ever seen, reminding students that the “Jubilee vision” is not just a weekend experience.

D&D4Every year, amidst the splendid chaos of it all, I find a few minutes to reflect. This year my reflections took me to my work directing the College Transition Initiative, particularly to the students (and parents) I meet right before they head off to college. During the closing worship of the Saturday evening session, I was praying for high school seniors heading to college this fall. My prayer is that they catch a vision like the one provided by Jubilee early on in their college experience; that they know that it is possible to live-out their Christian faith on campus; and that they find a community of friends and mentors that will bring them along in the faith. I found myself, once again, reciting one of my favorite prayers from the Book of Common Prayer (For Young Persons):

God our Father, you see your children growing up in an unsteady and confusing world: Show them that your ways give more life than the ways of the world, and that following you is better than chasing after selfish goals. Help them to take failure, not as a measure of their worth, but as a chance for a new start. Give them strength to hold their faith in you, and to keep alive their joy in your creation; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen. And, Amen!           

*Photos courtesy of Andrew Rush.

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How To Choose a College: Pray, Prepare, Pursue

HowtoChooseCollegeI (Matt Reitnour) entered the field of college admission at a small, private, Christian institution in Western New York during the fall of 2001. I didn’t grow up dreaming of becoming an admission counselor (who does?) but shortly after starting my new job, I realized that the work suited my interests and abilities. Roughly a decade later I made the transition to college counseling at a private, college preparatory school, where I regularly draw upon my experiences in college admission. Though there are differences between my past and current positions, one commonality is that they both provide opportunities to serve and guide students and parents in a process that can be agonizing, exciting, overwhelming and critically important all at the same time. That process is, of course, the college search.

Navigating the college search can be challenging. For starters, there are a lot of schools out there! If you lump all the post-secondary institutions in the United States together you wind up with a figure in excess of 4,000. Granted, this number can be broken down into more manageable chunks based on institution type (universities, liberal arts colleges, trade schools, Bible colleges, etc.), but the bottom line is that you’re still left with a veritable cacophony of choices. How are high school students and their parents to decide among all of these options?

Download the rest of the article (.pdf) by Matt J. Reitnour here.

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How Should Christians Count the Cost of a College Education?

College_CostHigher education has taken a lot of heat in the past few years. Many pundits and families are starting to question the value of a college degree. Time Magazine listed “questioning the value of higher education” as one of the top-ten consumer trends of 2012. Last fall, Newsweek ran a cover story asking the question “Is College A Lousy Investment?” (related video). Last week, the newest research from Pew’s Economic Mobility Project, revealed that a four-year college degree helped shield the latest graduates from a range of poor employment outcomes during the recession. There is now plenty of “research” to support both sides of the argument. It’s enough to make your head spin.

Not too long ago, a study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce revealed the earning potential of different college majors. It turns out, not surprisingly, that people who major in engineering, physical sciences and business make more money than students with degrees in the arts, education or psychology. This quote from one of the researches really stuck out to me: “This is going to be the real course catalog for parents and students.” Meaning, families will look to this research when making decisions on colleges to attend and courses to take. Should that be the case? Here’s a question we might miss: What is higher education for?

For Christians I think there can be some real tension here. On the one hand, we want to make wise decisions about college, not over spending and accumulating debt for something that isn’t worth the money. I’ve watched too many students and parents go into crippling debt to obtain a degree that may take a lifetime to pay off. On the other hand, followers of Christ are motivated by different factors when it comes to work and career and live life based on a very different definition of success. In losing life, we find it. A life well-lived is in service to God and neighbor. There’s more to college (and life) than the “earning” potential of a college degree.

My advice would be this: keep both of these factors in tension. Make wise financial decisions about college, avoiding debt as much as possible. And, be attentive to God’s lead, asking good questions about the motivations of your heart as you decide on a college and a major. As followers of Jesus, as with all decisions, we must always be willing to count the cost of discipleship.

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Conversations for the College Bound: 10 Talks to Have Before Arriving on Campus

ConversationsI remember calling my future roommate the summer before my freshman year of college. As you can imagine, I was excited, but nervous. It’s hard to meet anyone over the phone, let alone the person you’ll be living with for the next year. We covered the basics: our names, high schools, majors, interests, yada, yada, and then we got down to business: Who has the bigger TV? Who has the most recent video game system? Who has the better stereo? Who has nicer furniture? The average dorm room size is 12’x19’ so this was an important conversation to have. Of course, there were many other important questions to ask (Do you tend to stay up late? Do you have early morning classes?), but they could wait until we met on campus.

Talking to your future roommate before heading off to college is an essential step to transitioning smoothly to college life. And you might even be able to come up with better questions to ask! Reminiscing about this phone call with my first college roommate (and now one of my closest friends) got me thinking about other important conversations that students should have before entering their freshman year of college. Here are 10 other conversation partners college-bound students should consider…

Download the full article (.pdf) here.

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