How can I help seniors navigate the college choice dilemma?

Fuller Youth Institute Image Fuller Youth Institute | Mar 16, 2016

Photo by dejah greene

This guest post is from Dr. Dave Zovak. A Fuller grad, Dave is a Christian leadership coach and educator in Asia, helping leaders and educators bring their best to their missions. He’s also the father of a college student and a high school student.

“Where are you going to college?” is one of the most frequent and emotionally-loaded questions faced by high school seniors during second semester. For Christian students, it may be their first big “discerning God’s will” decision. So many expectations (from parents, teachers, friends, themselves) are attached to the answer of that question that it can be completely overwhelming. Especially for those who are fortunate enough to have options among which to choose.

It’s no wonder many students just shrug and try to change the subject.

At a time in life when these young people are just beginning to discover who they are, they are presented with the challenge to make a decision that seems to carry the weight of the rest of their lives. While adults know that college choice does not determine a young person’s fate, our questions and expectations can sure add to that feeling. So as parents, youth leaders, and adult friends, we have the opportunity to encourage students to approach this challenge with grace, faith, and wisdom. Here are some suggestions that may help you point them toward God as they wrestle with this big decision.

Frame it as a stewardship decision

Stewardship isn’t just about money; it’s about seeing our whole lives as resources to be directed toward God’s purposes and priorities. Students need to ask themselves, “What has God specifically entrusted to me?” The answer will include their strengths, passions, bodies, minds, family backgrounds, weaknesses, and limitations. The better they know themselves, the better they will be able to be effective stewards of their lives. Similarly, they might ask, “What values does God want me to live by?”

Once young people begin to discern this big-picture stewardship, we can encourage them to ask God how he wants them to invest their time, energy, and resources in the next season of life. This includes where they go to college and what major they choose.

It also includes financial stewardship, which is a major consideration for most college students today. Hopefully, students and parents have already talked and developed a plan for paying for college. However, the details of financial aid and scholarships are frequently not known until the last stages of the application process, so families need to revisit this critical dimension in college selection. Student debt impacts graduates in significant ways, creating financial stress and limiting life choice options as “paying off school debt” becomes an ever-present reality.[1] For most students, financing college without incurring crippling debt will require making some difficult and uncomfortable choices. However, wrestling through these challenges offer students (and parents) real-life opportunities to seek God’s guidance, provision, and wisdom.

The good news is that God is generous with his stewardship and we’re all invited to share in what’s been entrusted to us.

Help young people learn to exercise wisdom

Wisdom is knowledge applied rightly. In this era of abundant information, wisdom remains of great value, because too much information can be just as limiting as having too little information. So what wisdom is most critical to college-bound seniors and their families?

  1. Make “learning to learn” the goal. It’s been estimated that more than half of the jobs and knowledge required for employment in four years hasn’t even been discovered or invented yet.[2] Gone are the days of learning a single trade and staying in that role for decades. Becoming an effective learner is the best preparation for present and future success. This includes identifying one’s preferred learning styles and leveraging them well.
  2. Develop self-control. Research has shown that those who learn to delay gratification (i.e., deny a momentary pleasure for a long-term gain) are significantly more successful, happy, and healthy.[3] This is developed by exercising one’s body, mind, and spirit. Saying “yes” to health and “no” to excess is a skill nearly everyone needs strengthening.
  3. Explore new realms. For most, the college experience is about expanding horizons and discovering potential. Students grow by taking risks, stretching themselves, and learning from the struggle of integrating new information with established beliefs. Therefore, making friends with people who are different serves to both expand their worldviews as well as solidify their own convictions. Additionally, finding “safe people” with whom to process is critical for healthy identity development. God created each person to grow and mature, so when choosing a college, students should look for one that will help them explore diversity in a supportive environment.

Remember to Rest in God

Lastly, encourage students to remember that as they seek to honor God with their decision about college (and all the other decisions that follow), they have a Father in heaven who loves them and wants good for them. Their identity as a beloved child of God is secure, and God is eager to lead them forward into the odyssey of adulthood.

[1] Student Loan Debt: The Best and Worst Debt to Have, Robert Farrington, Forbes, April 21, 2014. Life Delayed: The Impact of Student Debt on the Daily Lives of Young Americans,

[2] “By one estimate, 65% of children entering grade school this year will end up working in careers that haven’t even been invented yet.” Cathy N. Davidson, Now You See It: How Technology and the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn, p. 18.

[3] Jonah Lehrer, “Don’t! The secret of self-control,” The New Yorker, Dept. of Science, May 18, 2009.

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