Top questions to ask college students before they head to school

Kara Powell Image Kara Powell | Jul 21, 2017

When our oldest started high school, multiple older parents told me that high school would fly by. I didn’t believe them, but now that Nathan is diving into eleventh grade, I’ve jumped on the “high school goes so fast” bandwagon.

That’s partly why it’s never too early to start thinking about life after high school.

As we at the Fuller Youth Institute interviewed over 500 high school graduates to try to understand what builds faith that lasts, or what we call Sticky Faith, we were struck by how students repeatedly pointed to the importance of their first two weeks in college. During these crucial first fourteen days, students make key decisions about sex, drinking, and other high-risk behaviors as well as about allegiance with a local church or on-campus ministry.

The decisions that graduates make during those two weeks can set them on a trajectory that lasts for the rest of their college experience. (tweet that)

As we have shared that trend with college pastors and college parachurch leaders, they have often responded that it’s not really a two-week window. It’s a four-day window. The decisions students make in the first four days set them on a path they will likely follow for the next four years.

Questions you can ask graduating seniors

Given the data about the first two weeks of college—and even the first four days—wise parents and leaders help soon-to-be-college-students develop a plan for that vital early window by asking some of the following questions ahead of time. Like now.

  • Where will you be living? How will that affect your friendships?
  • What church or on-campus ministry will you join? How will you decide which Christian group is the best fit for you?
  • What type of qualities are you looking for in your new friends?
  • What will your class load be?
  • When will you study and do your homework?
  • What extracurricular activities interest you? How much time will that involve?
  • How much time can you devote to a job?
  • What is your budget for school expenses? For personal expenses?
  • What will you do when someone invites you to a party?
  • If you decide to go to a party, what will you drink?
  • What kind of person will you date? How will you learn about that person’s character?
  • Where will you go for help when your struggle academically, physically, emotionally, practically, or relationally?
  • What can you do those first few days and weeks to connect with God?
  • How much communication do you want to have with your family those first days and weeks?
  • How much communication do you want to have with me those first few days and weeks?

If you’re a parent and the flavor of your relationship with your child means that talking over these questions would feel forced or awkward, don’t discard them. With your child, identify another caring adult conversation partner to help them develop a vision and plan for those first pivotal hours.

From what I’ve heard from parent of young adults, college flies by also. Maybe even quicker than high school. Let’s help the young people we care about most by preparing them now for all they will face in the weeks to come.

This blog post was adapted from The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family. Get the book here.

Kara Powell Image
Kara Powell

Kara Powell, PhD, is the chief of leadership formation and executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) at Fuller Theological Seminary. Named by Christianity Today as one of "50 Women to Watch," Kara serves as a youth and family strategist for Orange and speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara has authored or coauthored numerous books, including Faith Beyond Youth Group, 3 Big Questions That Shape Your Future, 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager, Growing With, Growing Young, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family and the entire Sticky Faith series. Kara and her husband, Dave, are regularly inspired by the learning and laughter that comes from their three teenage and young adult children.

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