College Prep For Parents of High Schoolers and Middle Schoolers, Part 1

By Tom Gilson Published on September 25, 2021

I couldn’t believe the parents’ reaction. I thought what I told them was common knowledge. Instead, it caught them off guard.

It was graduate recognition day at church that day, a few years ago. All the graduating seniors had come up front, and they all spoke their plans for next year. Afterward in the fellowship hall, with my coffee and some doughnuts in hand, I sat down to congratulate the couple whose son was planning to go to Ohio State. At the time I was on the national leadership team with a campus ministry called Ratio Christi (more on RC in a moment).

“I’m very much involved in Christian campus ministry,” I said, “so I was wondering if I might offer you one quick suggestion for you and your son. As you know, the university is pretty hostile to Christianity, and –– “

And I’ll never forget that moment. It’s burned into my memory: the look on their faces. Surprise. Fear. Maybe even, “What have we done?!”

What Are We Doing to Our Kids?

The university is indeed hostile to Christian faith. Check out the way “Adam Something” thinks conservatives are too stupid for college. See how a defector from North Korea thinks college craziness is making our future as bleak as North Korea’s. See why John Zmirak has reason to wonder if Yale — or its graduates — can be saved.

I can almost guarantee this mom and dad did all kinds of research into Ohio State’s academics, its costs, its financial aid options. I’ll bet they knew a lot about student life, too: housing, fraternities, intramurals, and the like. Spiritual life, though? I saw the look on their face. I don’t know whether it was, “What have we done?” or, “Oh, no. It’s too late, isn’t it?”

With the right friends and under the right leadership, they’ve got a good chance of coming out strong. Your part in that as parent starts now. You’ve still got time. Use it well.

I can’t tell you how many parents have told me their kids went to college and gave up their faith there. I’m not saying it’s too late for those kids. It’s never too late for God. How much better could it have been, though, if those parents had known what to do before they sent their kids off to school!

Maybe you’ve got kids in high school. You know they need an education. You’re certainly going to reach the limits of home-schooling them! You know, because you read The Stream, that college won’t be friendly to your kids’ faith. So what do you do? Here’s some practical advice for you. Some of it’s challenging. It’ll take some time, possibly some money. Your children are worth it.

Prepare Your Child Spiritually

First and most important, make sure your child knows the Christian faith is true. Really true. Knowably true. Stands-up-to-investigation true; even stands-up-to-professors’-disbelief-and-mockery true.

How can you do that? Let’s start with the best. If you can possibly get them to a summer with Summit Ministries or Impact 360, spare no expense. It’s a better, more important investment for them than college itself

If you can’t do that (or even if you can), get them to a Reality Student Apologetics Conference. Have them read J. Warner Wallace on the truth of the faith. Get them listening to Frank Turek. And make sure their youth pastor is with you in this. If not — I’m serious now, because it’s that important — find a better youth fellowship!

Check Out the Spiritual Life on Campus, Too

You’ll undoubtedly be checking out colleges during your teen’s junior and senior years. Don’t forget to look into spiritual life. Churches and student ministries are your best help for that. Visit churches of your denomination near campus, and ask them what ministry they have with students.

Contact the major student ministries and arrange to talk with a staff member at the prospective school. Your church may be able to suggest some. I’ll mention Cru and Ratio Christi for purely personal reasons: I served on staff with both. Ratio Christi is the newer and smaller ministry, but I know of none other that stands so solidly for the life and truth of Jesus Christ.

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When you talk to these churches or campus ministries, ask about the spiritual atmosphere on campus. Ask how they help their students stay strong in the faith. Probe them for it: Don’t let them get away with easy, fluff answers. Show a little skepticism until they give you good reason to think otherwise.

That’s not just for secular schools, by the way. Fully reliable, biblically-thinking Christian higher education is in decline. Don’t assume if it says it’s Christian that it’s committed to the same things you are. Check it out before you send your child there.

Have Hope!

I’ll have one more bit of powerful, practical, and even simple advice to give you next time in part 2. It’s the same advice I ended up giving those parents that day. I want you to have hope, though, too. College can still be good for your child, even spiritually.

I’ve seen evidence suggesting that kids who take an active part in good student ministries tend to stay stronger as Christians than young people who don’t go to college at all. I believe it’s because they experience faith under fire, but they experience it the right way. They’re tested but they have support in it, from friends and adults who stand by them in it, with prayer, with encouragement, and with words of truth.

Very few Christian students will make it through college spiritually on their own. With the right friends, though, and under the right leadership, they’ve got a good chance of coming out strong. Your part in that as parent starts now. You’ve still got time. Use it well.


Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream, a 34-year veteran of ministry with Cru, and former vice president with Ratio Christi. He’s the author or editor of six books, including the recently released Too Good To Be False: How Jesus’ Incomparable Character Reveals His Reality.

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