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College Bound Need Church Family’s Support

Melanie Overton
March 22, 2013

by Melanie Overton

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, and their choices 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 college advice, but these resources are unlikely to address faith development. This is why students need the support of their church families in the midst of 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. Consider the following practical strategies for intentional ministry to a college-bound student:

1.      Talk with the student about their faith journey. College is a critical time in young adults’ faith formation, and choices about where to attend college and how to be involved can affect their faith journey. Encourage students to seek a campus 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 visiting at least one United Methodist-related campus, where they can find this type of environment. If possible, arrange for each student to have a prayer partner from your congregation throughout their college journey.

2.      Talk with students about their career goals. What do they love to do? What needs in the world do they care most about? What special gifts does each student have? Mark 8:36 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 they can wisely use available resources (guidebooks, admission counselors, career services offices, etc.) to begin to chart a faithful and fulfilling career path.

3.      Be sure each student knows about the special scholarships and loans available to United Methodist college students Recognize that they may be anxious about the investment they are making in their future. Encourage students to discuss financial aid awards, anticipated monthly loan payments, and budgets with their families. While a responsible loan is an important investment in the future, students will probably benefit from discussing with family how much to borrow and for what purposes.

4.      Encourage them to keep the lines of communication open with their family. To be most helpful, they should tell their family why they do or do not like certain colleges. Move beyond statements like “I just like it here,” and instead ask them why that matters to them.

5.      Encourage students to apply to schools that they love and then compare actual financial aid offers from these schools rather than assuming one school is necessarily less expensive than another. In other words, compare financial aid offers rather than “sticker prices.” This takes a little more time, but it results in a better decision.

Your support can not only help students make the best possible decision but also realize how much they need a faith community in this new phase of life! Commit to pray for students throughout these important years. And you might pray for their families, too.

Overton is GBHEM’s Assistant General Secretary for Schools, Colleges, and Universities.