Countdown to College Blog
This blog is designed to help upper school families stay focused on approaching each step of the college selection process with a God-centered perspective. It is written by Jodi Foxx, the Director of College Counseling at Charlotte Christian School.
Summer’s almost here! I’m sure you’re looking forward to a slower pace just like I am. The longer days, the opportunity to leave town on an adventure, the mornings of sleeping in or hanging out by the pool or taking an entire day to get lost in a good book…summer is a welcome season, for sure.
But is that really what summer is like though? I tend to see long stretches of time that can be anything I want and fill it all up with tasks and projects. Before I know it, there was no long summer day when I got lost in a book because I filled my days with all of the things on my should-do list that seemed more urgent. Can you relate?
For parents of teenagers approaching a time of transition, that should-do list might seem long and important. Parents of rising seniors are looking at the college application process and trying to get a leg up on all that must be done. And parents of recent high school graduates are planning trips to college orientation and buying supplies for dorm rooms. These are all good things to do in your summer, yes. But if you allow them to dominate your summer, you won’t experience the rest you need.
So, can I offer an additional list of things that are important to do this summer? Because really, looking at the big picture, you can make a case for these things to be more important than your college to-do list.
- Be still. Spend time with God and let the sound of his voice wash over you. Soak up His wisdom, His strength, His power, His knowledge, His perspective on the world. You’ll need all of this once you take further steps into the transition that’s coming in your family. There are lots of ways to connect with God, but I’ll point you to one recommended resource: www.unhurriedliving.com. There you’ll find pastors whose purpose is to “resource busy people so they can rediscover the genius of Jesus’ unhurried way of life and leadership,” which they accomplish through books, a podcast and an online community.
- Focus on things non-college related. Yes, I know you have a college to-do list but you’ll have a stressful summer if every activity and conversation is focused on college. Make sure you’re taking time to enjoy activities that have absolutely nothing to do with college whatsoever, and that your teenager is doing the same. I once worked with a family that designed a Goodbye Tour of sorts for their teenager’s senior year. They made a list of their collective favorite things in Charlotte – restaurants, museums, parks, etc. – and intentionally revisited them all to make the most of their last span of time with their teenager living full-time in Charlotte. Whatever you choose to do, get the focus off college for a while and enjoy being together as a family.
- Speak words of encouragement into your teenager. All teenagers need to know that their parents believe in them, love them, and are proud of them. You can’t over-communicate those things. Teenagers approaching a big transition need to hear this even more. Whether you say it in writing or in person (or both!), say it often and say it clearly.
- Take a break from social media…or anything else that fuels our human tendency to compare ourselves to others. Much of the stress in the college process comes from worrying that your family’s plan won’t be as good as someone else’s plan, but really the only thing that matters is that your plan is right for your teenager. As much as possible, give yourself a break from the mindset of comparison.
Our hope is that your summer will genuinely be a time of recharging, that you will become more like the “tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.” (Psalm 1:3). Taking that a step further, give some thought to how you can continue those habits of recharging into the busy school year that lies ahead. God desires to refresh us in every season, busy or not-so-busy.
One of our goals at Charlotte Christian is to graduate students who find their identity in Christ and are prepared academically, spiritually, physically and emotionally for success in college. This is accomplished in many ways, both inside and outside the classroom, and involves developing a variety of skills in our students.
In my 20 years at Charlotte Christian, I have observed one particular factor that seems to be a game-changer for many students. Those who embrace this are often more prepared for the adjustment to college life than those who don’t, although that’s not a hard-and-fast rule. What factor is this?
The willingness to try new things.
This looks different for each student, of course. But the students who are willing to try something new – perhaps participate in the school musical or go out for a sport they’ve never tried before or join the robotics team or take on a summer job or join a Bible study at church or shadow someone who works in a career of interest or do a summer program at a college – these are the students who develop skills that will serve them well throughout their adjustment to college and beyond.
When a student tries something new, the following things happen:
- the student develops the ability to take on a challenge and overcome fear
- the student grows in self-confidence
- the student learns more about their unique design and sometimes discovers new talents
- the student meets new people and expands their friend group, learning to relate to a variety of people and personalities
Knowing that students benefit so much from trying new things, we’ve developed our program to require this in a few key ways. Our graduation requirements include fine arts, speech and P.E. classes that sometimes stretch our students to try something new. J-Term offers a host of ways in which students can try new things. And our senior trip, taken as they are on the cusp of leaving for college, introduces many to adventures they’ve never done before like skiing in the Rocky Mountains, snowmobiling or simply preparing dinner in your condo for friends. We see students work through their nerves about whatever new thing is before them, offer instruction and encouragement as needed, and sit back to watch them learn and grow.
How is the teenager in your life doing with trying new things? Some naturally love the adventure of trying something new but others need a nudge…or a strong push…or a requirement.
If your teenager is one who relishes the opportunity to try new things, be intentional about helping them process the lessons learned from those experiences. Help them connect the dots of what they’ve learned about themselves and reflect back to them how they’ve grown as a result.
If your teenager is one who needs that nudge, push or requirement, have a conversation to brainstorm what new things might be a good next step. A word of advice – while you may require your child to take on something new, this will yield more benefits if you provide options and allow your child to choose. Having buy-in from your teenager will always make the experience more beneficial.
Of course, the reason why people sometimes resist trying new things is that it might result in a failure. But honestly, there’s lots of benefit in that too. We all experience failures at each stage of our lives and knowing how to rebound from a failure is a key skill that everyone needs to have. Reflect back on your own adolescence – if you’re anything like me, you’ll recall that some of the best lessons you learned came on the heels of a swing-and-a-miss.
“The hallmark of successful people is that they are always stretching themselves to learn new things.” Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
There are several factors that make a student ready for the adjustment to college, not the least of which is their academic preparation, but the soft skills gained from trying new things are also at the top of the list. Amid all the college visits and the SAT/ACT prep, be sure to pay attention to the benefits of trying new things.
Because trying new things really is a game-changer.
I recently took my nephews and niece (ages 10, 11 and 13) to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh. If you’ve been there, you know this is a quality museum with lots of hands on activities for kids of all ages. Their affiliation with the Smithsonian shows. When reporting on their visit to their parents, one of them rattled on about how much he LOVED it, one gave it a solid ranking of “it was good” and the other said the only positive thing in the museum was the cheeseburger he ate in the café. C’est la vie. They each have their own likes and dislikes. At least the cheeseburger was good, right? I’m pretty sure that all parents with more than one child can relate to this story.
We see the same thing play out in our offices as teenagers (and parents) share their opinions about colleges. One person thinks a particular college is an amazing place to live and learn while another person wonders aloud why people choose that same college. We take special care to understand each student’s preferences in recommending colleges, trying to match them with what they consider to be an amazing place to live and learn.
(As an aside, can I remind you that personal preference plays a big role in the college choice? Just because one person loves a college doesn’t mean that you will. And, vice versa, don’t let one person’s negative story about a college convince you that it’s a place without value. Do your own research.)
It’s all a matter of perspective.
But as I caution you to be careful about adopting another person’s opinion carte blanche without doing your own investigation, let’s take this even bigger. Be careful not to view the college choice only from a human perspective.
As is true in all major decisions (and minor decisions), God’s perspective should be our starting point. We need to view everything…all the things…through God-colored glasses. But if you’re anything like me, it’s so much more natural to start with my own human perspective. Which is flawed and self-centered and considers only a fraction of the whole picture, but strangely seems right! Going beyond that to consider God’s perspective, clearly the better perspective, takes special effort on my part.
So can I offer some suggestions on God’s perspective in your college choice? Here’s what I think he wants for students to find in their college years:
1.Connection to Christian community. We are clearly instructed to meet together in Christian community (Hebrews 10:25). This is where we find our greatest encouragement and support, which is especially important for a young person leaving home for the first time.
That Christian community might come from a campus ministry or a local church. Or you might want to go even bigger and choose a Christian college where the entire campus is a Christian community. Whatever this looks like for you, consider carefully the presence of Christian community at a given college.
2.Academic challenge. Our instruction to “love the Lord our God with all our mind” (Luke 10:27) absolutely applies to the college years. God gave us intellect and he wants us to use that gift to honor him. That includes studying theology but it also includes studying all of God’s creation (including people), the arts and any way to act on our individual gifts.
Students should choose a college that will help them reach the next level academically and will allow them to go deeper with their unique, God-given talents and interests.
3.It’s not just about getting a job. A quick scan through Proverbs shows us that God is in support of us being productive members of society, able to provide for ourselves and do work of value in the community. But he also makes it clear that gaining in wisdom is more important than gaining wealth. (Proverbs 16:16) Choosing a college (or a college major) based only on the income potential of the job that may follow, might be misguided if it doesn’t also offer opportunities to gain in wisdom.
There are so many ways to gain wisdom in the college years! An honors program. A study abroad experience. A deep discussion with a roommate, classmate or professor. Meeting people from a different walk of life. A Bible study, an insightful sermon, a class on theology taught from a Christian perspective or a mission trip. Yes, everyone wants to be employed after college and that’s a good thing. But don’t make the pursuit of that job more important than the pursuit of wisdom.
It’s all a matter of perspective. Reading the words of Jesus reminds us that God’s perspective usually sounds strange to someone thinking from a human perspective.
Our God-colored glasses sometimes change everything. Whether you’re at the beginning, middle or end of the college search, grab your God-colored glasses to help you think and choose wisely.
A few years ago, I met with a senior girl and her dad as they were trying to make a final college decision. The senior had narrowed her choices down to two colleges but couldn’t find a reason to select one over the other. She told me all about the virtues of both campuses and looked ever-so-stuck in making a case to choose one as her favorite.
The whole conversation changed when her dad pointed out to her that he had observed her feeling more at peace on one campus versus the other. That simple observation was the turning point that ended up swaying her decision. She stopped looking at the pros and cons that were so equal as to be unhelpful and instead considered her gut feeling, realizing that one felt more like home than the other.
Here’s an important point not to miss: That moment was made possible by a dad who had carefully studied his daughter when they were on college visits. I would encourage you to do the same.
While you’re visiting a college and listening to the tour guide tell you all about the dorms and the library and the food, take the time to observe your teenager. If it’s the first campus visit, you might see a nervous and uncertain teenager, to be fair. But as you complete all of your visits, watch for your teenager to settle in and look at ease. Watch for them to find a place that will feel like home. Comfort matters.
That said, the college years are an important time of growth toward adulthood. We all know that the most impactful growth comes from times of challenge. Considering that, I would argue that there is such a thing as a college that is too comfortable. While comfort is necessary for a college to feel like home, challenge is necessary for your teenager to become an independent adult.
So every time you drive away from a college visit, ask yourself the following questions:
1.Could my teenager be comfortable here?
Consider that comfort comes from relationships, with being able to find their “people.” For many of our students, comfort comes from plugging in with a thriving Christian community.
2.Could my teenager be challenged here?
That challenge might come from things like distance from home; the diversity of thought present on campus; the depth of the academic experience; the opportunity to study abroad and/or being able to engage in transformative Christian service, either locally or abroad. What constitutes a challenge will vary for each teenager, too, even among siblings.
In fact, one could make a strong case that finding this balance between comfort and challenge is at the crux of their entire college search – maybe even more important than anything else, especially rankings or prestige or name recognition of the college your teenager attends - because the comfort level will allow them to feel safe enough to take risks, and those risks will lead to necessary growth. Let’s be honest, growth is what we’re after, not a fancy name on the diploma.
Study your teenager when you visit college campuses. When the moment of decision arrives in your home, you can be that parent who points out to his daughter what he observed about her on each campus she visited. You’ll win the day when you add this valuable insight to the college decision.
In the most recent parent survey, a large majority of parents indicated that a “Christ-Centered Education” was the top reason why they chose to enroll their children at Charlotte Christian. 72.6% of you, to be precise. Clearly, we are a community that values Christian education.
Your children have experienced several aspects of a Christian education here: they’ve taken Bible classes and had biblical truth integrated into their instruction in every subject. Our spiritual life program has provided weekly chapels and special programs such as Windy Gap and the Spiritual Life Conference. When they’ve faced the challenges of adolescence, they’ve had Christian teachers praying with them and surrounding them with biblically sound advice to offer. They’ve been part of a Christian community.
I bet you can think of several times that you were grateful to have your children in a Christian school.
I’m sure you also find yourself praying for your child to have similar experiences in their college years. Praying for a Christian roommate, for a Christian adult to serve as a mentor, for ministries that will foster your child’s spiritual growth, for a strong Christian community.
There’s a way to increase the odds of these things coming to pass. We have many wonderful Christian colleges all around our country who provide the next level of Christian education. They come in all varieties: large and small, urban and rural, close to home and far away, denominational and non-denominational. They work diligently to prepare students for careers and adulthood. They have robust honors programs and a commitment to academic excellence. There might just be one that suits your child perfectly.
Charlotte Christian is committed to helping you understand your options for Christian education at the collegiate level. We partner with an organization of Christian colleges called NACCAP to host a Christian College Fair each September.
This year’s fair will be on Monday, Sept. 24 from 6-8 p.m. in the Lamb/Johnson Gym and we would love to see you there! Bring a friend. Bring your questions. Bring your curiosity. You’ll have an opportunity to hear from more than 40 colleges located around the country who offer distinctively Christian programs.
Take a look at www.christiancollegefairs.com for more information. At this website, you’ll find lots of valuable tools: a list of colleges that will be in attendance at the fair, a free download of 10 Questions to Ask at a College Fair, and a search tool of Christian colleges that will allow you to generate a list of schools that offer the academic and/or extracurricular programs that are important to your child.
If you decide to join us at this fair, click on the “Fair Barcode” link at the top of the page to register for the fair. Bring that barcode with you to the fair and then admission officers from colleges that interest your family can easily scan the barcode to add your child to their mailing lists.
One of my mantras with seniors in their fall semester is to CREATE OPTIONS as they finalize their college list. They should apply to every possible type of college that appeals to them. How about creating the option of Christian education at the college level?
See you at the fair!
Director of College Counseling
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