I was reminded in a recent blog post by my son (read it here) that for students, college is about friendships. Professors want students to think high-minded thoughts, to probe the depths of intellectual inquiry, to increase in knowledge. Campus ministers want students to deepen their faith and their commitments to Christ and the Church. Parents want students to make good grades, gain a marketable set of skills, and get a job after they graduate. All good things, but students mostly want friends, at least at first. After they find good friends, then maybe they’ll want some of that other stuff too, especially if their friends want it. This means that for most students, friends can make or break the college experience. With this in mind, here are a few thoughts on college friendships for each of the players involved:
Parents – Talk to your students about finding the right friends. Consider Greek Life carefully and prayerfully, knowing that the choice to pledge could be the most significant decision your son or daughter makes. Think not just about the academic programs and job prospects that a university provides, but think about its campus culture as well. Get to know your student’s friends. Have them over, feed them, help do their laundry. You can learn volumes about your student’s college experience from his/her friends.
Professors – Your students care more about their friends than they do you or your class. They’re probably taking your class because a friend told them it was good. They’ll skip your class to spend time with a friend in a crisis, and they’ll be confused to learn this isn’t an excused absence. They will skip studying for a late night pizza, coffee, or Sonic run. Nothing you say in class will change this. Students who don’t find good friends tend to transfer to another school. And you were probably the same way when you were a student.
Campus Minister – Your events, programs, and activities should capitalize on students’ perceived need for friends. This isn’t pandering, it’s understanding and adapting to a culture, as you would in a missions setting with an unreached people group. Students will follow their friends to a party or to church, to a summer camp job or a summer missions experience, to a campus lecture or a campus ministry. To call this a “herd mentality” is to degrade this stage in a student’s life.
Students – If you leave home for school, and even if you commute to a campus near your home, your life is uprooted, upended, and upheaval is the result. You need friends, good friends, and quickly. Go out and find them, don’t wait for them to come to you. This will sometimes be uncomfortable and occasionally awkward, especially if you tend toward the shy side. Embrace the awkward – all new students feel it, and most older students too. Friend groups morph from semester to semester, so everyone is always making new friends. And most importantly, find the RIGHT friends who share your faith and your values, who want truly good things for you, who will challenge you, confront you, disagree with you, sharpen you, hold you accountable, and keep you from thinking that college is all about you.