Helps for College Students to Finish Strong

© Dr. John Jackson

President, William Jessup University (www.jessup.edu)

            When life is seemingly in chaos, how do we maintain our equilibrium and navigate towards a healthy future?  As the President of William Jessup University, I think about that a lot, particularly for our traditional age (18-25) students.  When I meet young first year women and men, I imagine them at commencement walking across the stage to complete their college journey.  Over the years, I’ve come to think about what it means to “start well, stay strong, and be healthy”.  Let’s use those 3 phrases to get our bearings on the journey itself…

            What helps can you get as a college student, or what can you give your college student to help them start well?  Two things I think will serve them particularly well are a clear set of convictions (core values, core beliefs) and a strong sense of hope (positive expectation for the future).  While it is important to have the “long view” of college education and completion, I find it is often helpful, especially in turbulent times, to think about, “What do I know for sure?”.  Clear convictions and values help to cultivate a strong foundation for having hope in the future.  Talk yourself through what you know and are certain about and make sure you keep that list handy.  You WILL face challenges in college (new place, new people, new ideas, new dynamics), but you also WILL find out that some very worthwhile things will remain the same.  Hope in the future is built as you clarity and build confidence in the present.

            Once you have started well, how do you stay strong.  Again, let me suggest some baseline tools for staying strong on the journey of a college education.  Believe it or not, simple things like having a “fairly” regular pattern of sleeping, eating, and exercising (and YES you should stay out until 3 or 4 am a few times in college; just do NOT make it a regular habit) are a great way to insure strength.  Developing a close group of friends (3-5) instead of trying to be friends with 50 strangers is also key.  Some college students find that joining a club, a team, a choir, or some natural affinity group can help develop deeper friendships.  Finally, another way to stay strong in addition to physical and social care, it to insure that you are spiritually grounded in a church or faith community so that your relationship with God is life giving will help insure your ongoing resource of strength.

            So what does it look like to be healthy over time?  One of my daughters likes to describe the process of learning and mastery as “tension over time”.  The good news there is that nothing happens overnight.  The bad news is that tension over time means we get stretched.  Being healthy does not mean the absence of stress, conflict, fear, or tiredness.  Being healthy means having a strong spiritual belief foundation, a thriving spiritual and emotional and physical life, great relational network of family and friends, and a strong sense of purpose and meaning in life.  So, what do you do if you feel like you have NONE of those things?  To be simple, you START somewhere.  My suggestion is that you start with your belief and values system; work with a pastor or find a trusted spiritual leader through a friend or other reference and start with cultivating your own personal belief system.  Once you clear on what you believe and begin to mine the depths of your identity over time, then you can discover the physical, emotional, and social activities that are life-giving to you.  Now, please do not despair!  None of these things happen overnight.  It may take you your entire college journey to discover the basic framework of your beliefs and values along with the activities and environments that are life giving to you.  If it takes all of college to discover those things for you, that is ok!  Leaving college with established foundations, practices, and understandings of what is healthiest for you is a glorious graduation present.

You can start well, stay strong, and be healthy.  You’ll need to be intentional, consistent, and you will NOT do this alone.  When you walk across the stage with your degree, having a healthy life plan may end up actually being your biggest accomplishment!

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