Where a person attends college affects the friends, spouse, career, habits, lifestyle choices, and values most of us carry throughout our lives. This is one of the most far-reaching decisions most young adults will make, and it will have broad implications for their families.
There is no shortage of guidebooks and websites offering advice to these students and families. But, how can you minister to them in the midst of this momentous and complicated decision?
Ministering to the Student: Know Who You Are
1. Talk with the student about her vocational goals. What does she love to do? What needs in the world does she care most about? What special gifts does she 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 she has clarity on who she is, the more she can wisely use available resources (guidebooks, admission counselors, career services offices, etc.) to begin to chart a faithful and fulfilling career path. Use GBHEM's Find Your UM School database to help her explore the majors offered at each UM school she is considering.
2. Talk with the student about his faith journey. College is a critical time in young adults' faith formation, and his choices about where to attend and how to be involved can affect his faith journey. Encourage him to seek a campus where he 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. Use GBHEM's Find Your Place database to provide contact information for each school's campus minister, and direct him to the United Methodist Student Movement website so he can get connected to other United Methodist college students. If possible, arrange for him to have a prayer partner from your congregation throughout his college journey.
3. Talk with the student about how she will finance this all-important investment. Encourage her to get an estimate of her anticipated monthly payment and to share this information with her family before making any final decisions. While a responsible loan can be a necessary and important investment in her future, most students will benefit from discussing with their families how much to borrow and for what purposes. Be sure she knows about the special scholarships available to United Methodist college students as well as GBHEM's new Borrow Smart program.
Ministering to the Student and Family – Know What You Expect of Each Other
4. Encourage students and families to discuss why they do or don't like certain colleges. To be most helpful, move beyond answers like "because it's where I went to college" or "I just like it here," and instead tell each other why that matters to you.
5. Encourage students and families to discuss their financial assumptions with each other. How much money will the family contribute toward tuition and living expenses? How much will the student contribute? If the student will be attending college away from home, who will pay to bring the student home for holidays?
6. Encourage students and families 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. This takes a little more time, but it results in a better decision.