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Navigating the College Maze



Editor’s Note: John Bryson and Robert Lewis are co-creators of College Ready™, an innovative video-guided experience for high school juniors and seniors. John and Robert were interviewed on FamilyLife Today by radio host Dennis Rainey, and his co-host, Bob Lepine. The following was adapted from this interview:

Robert: College is one of life’s most defining moments. It contains a host of new discoveries, eye-opening experiences, and personal challenges that will, in one way or another, forever change a life.

The genesis of College Ready started when my son, Mason, left me a note saying, “Dad, I’m scared about going to college. I don’t know anything about it. And I don’t even know what I want to do when I get there.” 

So, Mason and I got in a conversation. That led to us getting with some other dads and their sons, just talking about the college experience. We tried to break going to college down into some bite-sized bits to take some of the mystery out of it. Doing this actually empowered those sons in a way that even surprised us as dads.

That’s why John and I decided to assemble College Ready, a video series that can empower parents, but particularly their sons and daughters, to navigate the college maze with vision.

Students know that they have to pick a major, sign up for classes, and move into a dorm. But isn’t it true that many haven’t really thought about what the next four years are going to look like?

Robert: When we were doing our research for College Ready, one of the stunning things we discovered is that about thirty percent of college students drop out their first year. Part of the reason is they’re totally unprepared for the college experience.

In the first session John mentions that he saw college students plagued with what he calls mindless passivity. They come to college with the idea that, “I’m going to get a degree.” But if you were to ask them, “What degree?” they’re not clear. So, they get on this ocean called college in this little raft, and just drift around.

I have thought back many times to classes I took in college and thought, I wish I could take that class again knowing what I know now. I would have been paying attention to learn, not just to pass the test. My whole orientation in college was I’m going to get the degree to get the job, so all I have to do is pass the test. It wasn’t about learning.

John: We use that theme of drifting. We talk about passivity being one of the currents that can take you places you never intended on going. Bad choices of friends is a part of that.

We tell the high school students that they are going to want some close friends in college. We tell them that they ought to have what we call character-shaping relationships that they can continue the rest of their lives.

We give some real clear principles like: “To have friends, you need to be a friend;” “Look to give, not to get;” and, “Put yourself in strategic friendship environments.” We encourage the students to take some initiative and go places where they can become friends with the type of people they want to hang out with.

What do you say about dating?

Robert: One session has everything you would want your son or daughter to know about dating right. I can guarantee that. I’ve seen that series over and over again and every time I think, There are a lot of kids I’d like to send this particular session to.

John: We go to physical purity pretty quickly. But even bigger than that, we really challenge what I call the “traditional dating game.” This usually involves an external attraction factor and then a rush to exclusiveness and a crossing of boundaries God never intended us to cross this side of marriage. Then there are break-ups that feel like divorces because there was the crossing of physical boundaries, emotionally, spiritually, and all the rest.  

Robert: I think the big picture John’s helping these high school students develop is electrifying. He helps them look at what guy/girl relationships ultimately lead to. And just connecting those dots is an “aha!” for a student. Because all of a sudden they see, “No, there’s a bigger game in town. This is not just about recreation. This is about my life!”

Statistics say that 75 percent of the kids who grow up in the youth group today are going to head to college and drop out of church … You have both worked hard overseeing a church where there's a youth department that is really working with students—building a spiritual foundation under their lives, getting them ready for that launch after high school. To hear that a bunch of those kids are washing out spiritually, what does that cause you to do and think as a pastor? What can we be doing to try to turn that around?

Robert: I think that is a great question. And I think it is one that every pastor needs to take a hard look at. It makes me question whether the parents are living out what they profess, and so the kids are getting a mixed message there.  I think it also signals that in a number of churches we may not be really equipping our kids for real spiritual life. We may be keeping them busy but we need to take a much harder look at really grounding them in an authentic faith in their high school years.

The classes I recall as a college student were philosophy classes—going in and hearing about all of these worldviews. And I am glad that I took that course as a junior, not as a freshman. As I listened to these professors wax eloquently about a worldview that left God out, I could easily see how a young person who didn't have a defense for the faith could be caught up in the whitewater as you described it, and be washed away.

John: Even your example of the philosophy class … take the opportunity to equip your kid and tell them, “You are going to be sitting in a philosophy class and you will have a professor, probably, articulate this godless plan for life and it might resonate and you might be scared to think … that might be the right path.

You are equipping them for life, not trying to subculture them for as long as you are alive.

College is an opportunity for people to really own their faith and to grow in that faith and really ask the question, “Am I going to seek first the kingdom of God or am I not? Is the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross sufficient for my salvation or isn’t it? Am I trusting in that or not? Does God have a plan for my life or not?”

Click here to learn more about College Ready.

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