Three Keys to Thriving at College

By Alex Chediak Published on May 16, 2018

How does a college-bound student make the most of the experience? Three keys.

Take Responsibility for Your Faith

A lot of ink has been spilled on the “rise of the nones.” The “nones” are people with no religious affiliation. And a ton of young adults today are in that category. So it’s no surprise that the demographic least likely to attend church regularly is 18-29 year olds.

What’s less discussed is that a lot of these folk grew up with a faith tradition. Their families made church a priority. But then they grew up and got out on their own. They detached from a faith that wasn’t intrinsic to their identity. Usually, it’s a gradual process. A Christianity not practiced today becomes a Christianity that’s absent tomorrow.

What should students do to avoid this drift? Prioritize spiritual disciplines, both private and public. Build your life around your faith. Start the day with prayer and the Bible. If you’re moving away to school, plan ahead on a few churches you’d like to visit. Even better, try to connect with a few people at those churches ahead of time. It’s a lot easier to set your alarm for church if you know at least one specific person is expecting to see you there.

Christianity is a faith that’s rooted in actual events that occurred in history. It can withstand even intense scrutiny.

Before going to college, take stock of any intellectual roadblocks to the faith you may be struggling with. It could be materialistic evolution, the problem of evil (how a good God can allow it), or the Bible’s reliability. Thankfully, there are good answers to the common objections to Christianity you’ll encounter from your biology or philosophy professor, or the skeptic down the hall. Either study these issues in advance, or have a pastor friend or parent you can call upon. Christianity is a faith that’s rooted in actual events that occurred in history. It can withstand even intense scrutiny.

Take Responsibility for Your Academics

High school is more about attending class than about doing homework. In college, it’s the opposite. Not that class isn’t important. But what you do between classes is even more important.

Carve out about 25-30 study hours per week. Yes, that’s more hours than you’ll actually be in class. Block them off on your schedule. Then keep them as if you were meeting your best friend. If that sounds like a lot, you’re right. It’s probably a lot more than you studied in high school. But college is supposed to be harder. So don’t be surprised. And those studies saying that college students aren’t learning much? The good news is they’re only talking about the students who don’t study much. The ones who really apply themselves learn a lot and are well prepared for life after college.

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The brain is a muscle. Work it and it gets stronger. Neglect it and it gets flabby. As with physical exercise, it’s not always comfortable. Don’t expect it to be. No pain, no gain.

Know how to get help if you need it. Assume you sometimes will. Know where and when you can find your professors, and how to best approach them for help. Ditto regarding your teaching assistants, the tutoring center, and any other such resources your school may have. Don’t expect other people to do your work for you. But do ask them to help you more intelligently do your part. Learning is not a something that merely happens to you. It’s something that requires your active participation.

Take Responsibility for Your Friendships

You will become like your friends. “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Proverbs 13:20). Therefore, choose wisely. As with your spiritual and academic life, there’s a big difference between passivity and intentionality.

Passivity is hanging out with whoever is most convenient. Going with the flow because it’s easy. Intentionality means seeking connections with people who share your values and your worldview. People who are pursuing the character qualities that you’re pursuing.

Roadblocks are inevitable, but the person with the biggest influence on where you end up? That’s you!

I previously mentioned the possibility of intellectual challenge to the Christian faith. Another common line of attack is morality. Put simply, the party scene is a common theme at many colleges and universities. While one in five college students never drinks, two in five regularly binge drink. Meaning they drink to get drunk and to do so quickly. Inhibitions become so low that people end up doing things for which they’re later ashamed. Stay clear of the scene. You’re far better off finding ways to enjoy yourself that you’ll remember and not regret.

Did you notice the common theme? Take responsibility. Roadblocks are inevitable, but the person with the biggest influence on where you end up? That’s you! Blaming others or making excuses feels better in the moment. But it doesn’t help you get better in the long run. So pick yourself up when you fall. Learn from it and move forward. Resiliency is a huge asset in the long run.


Dr. Alex Chediak (Ph.D., U.C. Berkeley) is a professor and the author of Thriving at College (Tyndale House, 2011), a roadmap for how students can best navigate the challenges of their college years. He’s also the author of Preparing Your Teens for College. Learn more about him at or follow him on Twitter (@chediak).

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  • Grasshopper

    Summit Ministries is a fantastic organization that hosts two week seminars all summer long in several parts of the U.S. to equip young Christians to stand and defend their faith. Dr. Dobson has recommended them since the 80’s. His son is now one of their speakers.

    If you have a son or daughter going to college they seriously need this experience. Two of my children went and both have said they used things that they learned at Summit everyday in college. Both stood up to anti-Christ professors repeatedly and came away victorious. Just like the movie “God’s Not Dead”.

    • Lisa

      I love Summit! When my daughter didn’t appreciate the soft porn movie her Art Appreciation professor subjected her class to, her learned Summit skills equipped her to brain to tell her legs to walk out of there. She called me after, shaking, and I told her she did the right thing. The next day when she saw the questions on a quiz about the movie that she couldn’t answer, she spoke to the professor about a compromise. The professor told her that she should write an essay on why she walked out of the movie and what her thinking was. The professor said that maybe there were things that she could learn for future classes, which was understanding and open-minded of her, considering.

      We must live among the lost and broken, but we can stand by our principles as well as demonstrate leadership.

  • Bojaws Dubois

    College campuses are big missions fields. Thousands of young people many of whom may have never heard the gospel all prepared to make major life decisions. But make no never mind of them. What’s important is yourself. Look out for number one. I mean, who really cares if ignorant liberal kids spend eternity in hell?

  • Trilemma

    The college trilemma:

    1) Good grades.
    2) Social life.
    3: Sleep.

    Pick two.

  • Ken Abbott

    Involvement with a campus ministry was key in my experience. One still has to exercise discernment–a lot has changed in 40 years–but there are few things more valuable than regular fellowship with like-minded believers living in the same cultural milieu. And reading high-quality Christian literature helped tremendously.

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