FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Heading to College

with Ben Burns | March 8, 2012
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Packing for college? Don't forget to tuck away some wisdom in that suitcase. Ben Burns, director of Grad Guides, talks to graduates and their parents about making the transition from high school to college. Burns covers the pitfalls of starting over with new people and new places and gives advice for staying grounded in your faith.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Packing for college? Don't forget to tuck away some wisdom in that suitcase. Ben Burns, director of Grad Guides, talks to graduates and their parents about making the transition from high school to college. Burns covers the pitfalls of starting over with new people and new places and gives advice for staying grounded in your faith.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Packing for college? Don’t forget to tuck away some wisdom in that suitcase.

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Heading to College

With Ben Burns
March 08, 2012
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Bob:  Ben Burns helps high school seniors start thinking seriously about getting ready for their college experience, and he reminds them that there is more to college than just the academic environment in which they’ll be studying. 

Ben:  There was a gal that was going through our seminar, and we had this exercise where you go online to find out where you are going to college—what’s the spiritual environment like, in the sense of groups and Christian communities on campus.  She was really excited that she was going off to this small, liberal arts school in New England.  It sounded prestigious and, “I’ll get away from Mom and Dad”—have some distance.  When we did this exercise, she found out there were only two groups on her campus that might line up with her faith. 

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, March 8th.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  If you have a son or a daughter who is headed to college, there is an awful lot that you and your son, or daughter, need to be thinking about.  We’re going to talk about some of those things today.  Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today.  Thanks for joining us. 


Dennis:  Bob, I’ve got a question for you.

Bob:  Yes?

Dennis:  When you left for college—

Bob:  Yes.

Dennis:  —what of direction did you get as you were pulling out of the driveway?  I mean, you went to—

Bob:  —University of Tulsa.

Dennis:  Tulsa. 

Bob:  Yes.

Dennis:  That’s right.

Bob:  So, the direction I got was, “Son, you go down here, and you get on I-44.  You just stay south and get off when it says Tulsa.”  That was about it. 

Dennis:  So, you just headed off to the dorm and began your college life. 

Bob:  Well, actually, I think my mom rode down with me and helped me—

Dennis:  —unpack. 

Bob:  Unpack. 

Dennis:  For a guy, it’s a lot simpler. 

Bob:  It was a lot simpler.

Dennis:  When I took my daughters, you had to take a U-Haul® truck. 

Bob:  It was not a big deal; but yes, I remember saying, “Goodbye,” to her in the parking lot of the dorm.  She headed off, and I was ready for my campus adventure.  What I didn’t have—what I wish I could have had—I wish I could have had an improv comedian, who had just shown up to give me sage wisdom about how to make it through the college years. 

Dennis:  Amazing, Bob!  We have one in our studio today! 

Bob:  You’re serious?!  You’re serious—an improv comedian? 

Dennis:  We have an improv comedian, (Laughter) and his name is Ben Burns.  Ben, welcome to FamilyLife Today

Ben:  (With Scottish accent) It’s great to be here with both of you.  Even though, I’m not Scottish; I’ll pretend to be a Scottish person for a while—

Dennis:  So, as an improv comedian, if you had been Bob’s dad, if you had been Bob’s dad as he’s heading off to college—let’s just have a little 60/90-second improv. 

Bob:  The sagest advice you would have given me. 

Ben:  (With Scottish accent) Well, first of all, Bob, I’d like to say to make sure you stay in your room until you’re really ready to go out and meet people.  (Laughter)  Nobody likes a messy person.  Make sure you’re shaved and that you’re fully tucked-in.  Second thing, Bob, is to make sure you stay away from the dorm food; okay?  They take the taste all the way out of it, and just leave the basic protein—

Dennis:  What about girls?  What about girls, sir? 

Ben:  I would basically say, “Ladies, stay in your rooms (Laughter) all weekend—just study, ladies, study.”  That’s what I am telling my daughters.  (Laughter) 

Dennis:  Well, Ben is—he is into improv—and he does bring a smile to our faces today.  He is the Director of gradGUIDES®, which is a ministry of Cru®, where he has served for the past 25 years.  He and his wife, Janet, speak at our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways. 

In fact, you’ve been on the team now for, coming up on, 15 years; isn’t it? 

Ben:  It feels like 15, but it’s more like nine. 

Dennis:  Oh, okay.  (Laughter) 

Ben:  Yes, yes. 

Dennis:  Well—

Ben:  It feels like 15 years of impact but only in nine years. 

Dennis:  There you go; there you go.

Bob:  That’s 15 years in sturgeon years—

Ben:  That’s right. 

Bob:  —if you’re counting it in sturgeon years. 

Ben:  That’s right.  As I often do. 

Dennis:  Well, they have three children.  In fact, on the back of his book that he’s written, it says, “We have three of the nicest, smartest, and most beautiful children you’ll ever meet.” 

Ben:  That’s exactly right.  That’s exactly right. 

Dennis:  You tell the truth; don’t you? 

Ben:  I do.  I do.  Lauren is 13, Jack is 11, and Sydney is 9. 

Dennis:  I’m confident that by the time they get old enough to go to college and leave the home, you’re going to have the right perspective for them as they head out.  You actually have a concept that you’ve talked about called “pre-graduation counseling”.  You believe young people need that today. 

Ben:  Absolutely. Janet and I are involved right now mentoring married couples, and we’re talking to people who are getting married.  We’re telling them about the importance of pre-marital counseling.  What’s interesting for our high school kids is—100 percent of the high school kids are leaving our groups, but are we telling them about what’s next? 

All of us know that if we have a family member—somebody we know, who loves the Lord, who knows their Bible, and is going to get married—we’re going to say, “You need pre-marital counseling, no matter how mature you might think you are because the transition that marriage is—is so powerful, so big.” 

Many students are struggling in their faith after they leave high school, and I want to be about helping them get some pre-graduation counseling to know what’s next, what they are facing, and how to walk through that transition. 

Bob:  We have spent a lot of time here on FamilyLife Today talking about that danger zone because we’ve all seen the statistics of these kids who go off to college and quit going to church and quit doing anything spiritual.  I mean, the numbers can get scary.  I’ve seen everything from 60-90 percent of young people who fall away from the faith.  What’s your observation about what’s happening there? 

Ben:  Well, I agree the statistics are all over the map; but what everyone agrees on is that this transition, aside from marriage, is the greatest transition our young people are going to face.  There are a number of factors that go into it; but one of the biggest things is that our kids, our students, are leaving a context that is a known entity.  Now, they have to start all over again—whether that’s college, whether that’s a college group.  Wherever they’re going, they have to start over. 

Church has always been mostly something that they’ve gone to with their parents.  So, they have to get out there and learn how to start over.  Even though, a lot of us might be well-meaning and say, “Wherever you go, make sure you plug in, Laddie.”  Plugging in is harder than we really think about.  That’s where I would love to be part of really helping us think through, “How do you do that?  What is coming up?  What are ways to plug in?  What are things that will be detracting you, or stopping you, from plugging into a new Christian community?” 

Dennis:  You used a phrase called “starting over”.  I think, in many regards, they’re beginning to step out for the first time.  I mean, they are choosing their friends out of a pool of people in the college setting where they may go and have one, or two, or they may have none.  They may arrive and their roommate is somebody they’ve never met before.  The people they start to hang out with, especially during the first 30/45/60 days of college, are really critical. 

Ben:  Absolutely.  Yes, Paul says it’s important for us to be around the right kind of people—that bad company corrupts good morals.  What is interesting is Peter goes on to say, in 1 Peter 5:8, that, “Our enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” 

If you’ve seen those nature videos where the animals, or the lions, are ganging on somebody, they are ganging up on the one animal that is alone.  Our kids are going off from a context that they know, and they’re all alone in this brand-new context.  You are right.  The first people they meet, they start to glob on to.  If they’re not the right group of people, that could be their community.  It takes awhile for them to get away. 

Bob:  Let me ask you about your transition from high school to being a freshman at Arizona State.  Was it a difficult transition for you? 

Ben:  I actually wasn’t a Christian.  It was difficult for me because I went from a high school where there were basically 400 in my graduating class to, now, 40,000 people.  Part of that sea of, “Wow! Who am I?  How do I fit?” was very overwhelming to me. 

Bob:  When you locked in with your friends, did you find yourself kind of attracted to folks who liked the same things in life that you liked? 

Ben:  Well, I did a little bit; but what the dynamic really is—is you are willing to go with where the groups’ going.  You’re not really trying to find likeminded people.  You’re trying to find anybody.  In college, those first few weeks, you just want to fit in.  Even if it’s not something you’d normally want to do, you find yourself doing things. 

That’s—this one gal that I talked to—she said, “When she went off to school”—in a Northwestern school—she had said even though she knew all about the toughness of college and how it might affect her faith, she said this phrase.  She said, “You find yourself doing things you never thought you would ever do”—because she never anticipated those kind of challenges emotionally and relationally as a part of going into college.

Dennis:  Is peer pressure the main cause kids are leaving their faith, and parking it back home, and not embracing spiritual matters at college? 

Ben:  I think that is a huge part of it.  There is a second part, too, that the peer pressure side—what’s interesting is they are at this season of their life where God is saying, “This is time for you to grow up.”  One of the things that is interesting in Ephesians 4, Paul says that the reason God put all these leaders in the church was so that we would all grow up and become mature. 

Like you said, this is a time, not just to start over, but maybe even a beginning.  They are, in a sense, almost trying to fight for, “Who am I?  What is my identity?”  If they allow their peers to define them too much, that’s where it gets tricky.  Instead of being a strong enough person to figure out who they are, what’s important to them, what their faith means, in the context of all these people who are trying to pull them to think a certain way and act a certain way—it is kind of like a mini sumo wrestling going on.  “Who’s going to win?”

Bob:  Well, let me ask you—because this is hitting home for me—because, this fall, Mary Ann and I will pull out of the parking lot at some college, university, say, “Goodbye,” to our son, and drive off into the sunset, leaving him there.  What can I do, as a dad, today, to help him in those first few weeks of college to have his eyes open, look for the right crowd, get involved with the right people, and not to wind up ship-wrecked like you are talking about?  

Ben:  Well, the biggest thing is to help him find a new Christian community.  That’s the thing that’s the key element to all of this, I think.  Again, they go from a place that is well-defined, they know people—

Dennis:  Right. 

Ben:  —they’ve got a pecking order—

Dennis:  Right. 

Ben:  —and they have to start all over.  That’s tough for anybody.  The idea of community is so important.  The Bible stresses that.  I would say helping him understand what the layout of the spiritual environment is on the campus and know what are the groups—because part of the problem that students have is what I call brand-name recognition.  They go on campus; and they’re flooded by maybe eight, nine, ten different Christian groups, who are all fighting over their luggage, who are all inviting them to the 90-foot Subway® sandwich or the 1,000-foot sundae.  It feels like a bunch of cults are pursuing them. 

A lot of kids just turn off because they haven’t had anyone identify one group from the other, and they are all on their own.  I would say help them understand what’s going on, what’s offered on campus.  Offer your thoughts and opinions on each of the groups, and help him make some decisions about that. 

Dennis:  You’re saying the power of a friend is that determinative, over a four-year period, in a young lady or a young man’s life. 

Ben:  I think so, especially at that age.  They’re in this stage of trying to sort through who they are—and having a companion who is also at the same stage of life and also wanting to really walk with Christ—and talk about that, and process that, and work through any doubts, or work through any questions with someone who is on that same trajectory.  It’s going to be very important to them. 

Dennis:  I can say it’s true for my own life.  I can divide my college experience into two halves.  The first half where I kind of wandered into the college setting—I was clueless about the importance of the kind of friend I needed to select.  I hung out with the guys who were on the basketball team.  Man, there were some characters on this basketball team!  I mean—and some that didn’t have much character—I’d have to say. 

Honestly, my first two years of college, I was adrift.  I was being gobbled up by peer pressure.  My second half, I went from a junior college to the University of Arkansas.  I got involved with a group of Christians who were involved in, what was then, Campus Crusade for Christ®—it’s now Cru.  I can tell you—that was life-determinative for me, as a young man. 

I mean, it ordered my priorities.  I’m convinced, looking back on it all, college was kind of a side issue to my spiritual growth.  I was there, on a mission by God for a purpose, surrounded by people who were there for the same reason. 

Bob:  I’ve said to my kids, as we’ve launched others to college, “What happens in the classroom is going to be 30 percent of the next four years of your life”—

Dennis:  Yes. 

Bob:  —maybe less than that.  What happens outside of the classroom is what’s going to shape and mark the direction you are headed—who you are, what your character is going to be.  So, when we prepare our sons and daughters for college, we prepare them for what the classroom experience is going to be like; but we really have to prepare them for how, “You do life on your own,” and, “How you settle your identity,” and, “What group you are a part of.” 

Dennis:  To that very point, Ben, I want you to comment on this.  Don’t you think it would be wise for a mom and a dad to help their son or daughter, as they go away to college, to begin to anticipate these Christian groups that are going to be on campus and say, “Now, here’s what the Navigators® are all about.  Here’s what Cru is all about.  Here’s what this organization does, and this one and this one.  I just want you to understand what these groups are all about and the importance they are going to play in your life.  One of them needs to match up with your heart, and you need to get involved”? 

Ben:  Absolutely.  The thing that’s really been interesting is taking the students through, what I call, my “Fellowships Shopper’s Guide”.  Part of the problem that we don’t understand is that we’re encouraging our sons and daughters, our students, to go out and find a new place.  That’s shopping.  Now, some people love shopping; and some people hate shopping.  You are right—helping them understand the different groups, the different brands, so to speak, is really important. 

There was a gal that was going through our seminar, and we had this exercise where you go online to find out where you are going to college—what’s the spiritual environment like, what’s offered in the sense of groups and Christian communities on campus.  She was really excited that she was off to this small, liberal arts school in New England.  It sounded prestigious and, “I’ll get away from Mom and Dad”—have some distance.  When we did this exercise, she found out there were only two groups on her campus that might line up with her faith. 

Now, other students who were doing the similar exercise, who went to a larger school, found 15 or 17 different groups that lined up.  This girl began to realize, for the first time, that, “Oh, my gosh!  I’m going to this college, and I may not find a place for likeminded people.”  Now, the kids, who found 15 to 17, they were overwhelmed.  “How do I pick one out of 17?” 

You are right.  The fact that a parent, or a youth pastor, or a youth leader, small group leader, can walk through with people saying, “This is what is available in your new environment.  Let’s understand each one”—even to encourage them for one.  You know, “I think this one would do well for you.  I think this one would do well for you.  This is where I met your mother; so, go to that one.”  (Laughter) Helping them sort through that list of 15 is very, very important. 

Bob:  Our kids, as they have headed off to the college campus—one of the things I’ve observed with them is they can have a little bit of, “I’m too cool for the average Christian group” syndrome,—a little bit of a cynicism about, “Oh, yes, there’s this group meeting.  It’s the Cru group, but I don’t know if I want to be with those guys.  They’re kind of ‘rah-rah’, and I’m not that kind of a ‘rah-rah’ person.” 

That worries me a little bit because I want to make sure that they find a place that they can plug in; but there’s almost a little edge to them that’s like, “Yes, I’d kind of like to get away from this for awhile.  I don’t want the youth group to follow me off to college.” 

Ben:  Right.  The thing that I like to tell students is the idea of, “You need to find the right place for you,” and that is a process.  Also, to give them permission to know that, “You might go to a group that’s fun and exciting, but they’re not your kind of people.”  There’s nothing wrong with saying, “You know what?  I don’t get along with those people”—

Bob:  “I don’t fit here.” 

Ben:  “I don’t fit here.”  The idea is that they still need to fit somewhere, if they take their relationship with Jesus seriously.  The thing that I try to do—because this is a season where they are really having to make their own decisions—and when I talk with them, I try not to say—point the finger and say, “You ought to—,” “You have to—,” “You better—,” but say, “If you take Jesus Christ seriously, if you’d like to learn how to walk with Him, then, it would be wise for you to do these things.” 

Let them make those choices and have the room to say, “This isn’t my group.”  “This is my group,” but persevere until you find the group that’s right because community—if you take your faith seriously or you’d like to learn more about your faith—that community is going to be a huge part of helping you do that. 

Bob:  With our kids, I’ve done campus tours, now, of probably 20 to 30 colleges—getting our kids ready, looking around at where they were going to go.  Whenever I’d go on those campus tours, I was always looking in the classroom buildings, in the dorms, around campus, for the bulletin boards to see what signs are up there about what groups are meeting. 

I remember one college tour we were on.  It was a big campus.  I kept looking, and I saw nothing on these bulletin boards—I mean nothing!  I went home, got on the internet, and then, looked up that college campus.  I looked up Christian organizations, and they listed two—this is a big school, and they listed two groups.  I had heard of one; and the other was, I think, the Chinese Christian students group.  I thought, “That’s probably not where my son is going to be.” 

I called the other group; and I said, “I’m just curious about what you guys are doing.  I didn’t see much.”  The young lady who answered said, “Well, there are four of us who are meeting.”  I remember going, “This would not be a safe place.”  It’s a good school—prestigious school, scholarship money available—but I don’t know that that would be a safe environment to launch a son or a daughter. 

Dennis:  Bob, what you’re talking about is, I think, fully within the responsibility of a parent to guide your son or your daughter as they leave the home and go to college. 

That’s what both FamilyLife and Ben have put together—a couple of tools that we want to make you aware of.  FamilyLife produced one called CollegeReady®, which is a DVD-assisted training to equip a young person who has graduated from high school. 

Ben, also, has been working on, for the past few years, a resource, himself, called College Life 101.  It’s designed, Ben, for a parent to take—absorb the material—then, show some DVD’s, as well, to your son or daughter—and then, walk them through this process over—what?—five sessions, six sessions? 

Ben:  Five or six, yes. 

Dennis:  Yes, and help them begin to determine what they believe and what they are going to look for as they go away to college. 

Ben:  That’s exactly right.  When I was reading in Acts, Chapter 20, about ten years ago, when this started, the thing that hit me was Paul’s comments to the Ephesian elders, if you are familiar with that passage.  He comes all the way back—he meets them on the beach—can’t make it all the way into Ephesus—so, he meets them on the beach.  The thing that he says to them is—he says that, “You need to guard yourselves and watch yourselves because, after I leave, savage wolves are going to come in and try to tear you a part.  Even people from your own group are going to try to destroy your faith.”  He ends by saying, “Guard yourselves.” 

What I’ve tried to do with this series is, basically, start with the realities of what people are going to experience when they go off to college.  My goal is not to scare people because we serve a big God who can walk through big transitions with us, but to go in with their eyes wide-open.  That’s been my attempt to say, “Hey, this is the college environment.”  As we understand that, then, the rest of the series is designed to say, “Okay, how do we work our way through this?  How do we think this through?  How do we develop a plan to become stronger in our faith?” 

Dennis:  You talk about the importance of the Bible—

Ben:  Exactly. 

Dennis:  —and not being shaken by the culture around them as they leave home.  You talk about having a sense of mission and going to school on purpose.  Frankly, when the Scriptures compare our children to arrows, it has the imagery of, I think, a parent being a warrior, who is pulling the arrow out of the quiver.  It is connecting it to the bow, and aiming it toward the target, and letting go.  We, as parents, need to aim.  We need to carefully shape that arrow in the direction it needs to go.  Then, we need to let go—to keep coaching them, every step along the way. 

Bob:  We have put on our website at a couple of video clips.  There is one from the CollegeReady video series that FamilyLife has produced.  There is a clip from the College Life 101 series that Ben Burns has produced. 

Here’s what we’d recommend.  Go to the website,, with your high school son or daughter.  Watch the clips together.  Then, say to them, “Which one of these two video series do you want to go through?”  Let them pick; and, “Do you want to invite some of your friends to come over and go through it with you?  We’ll go through it together.”  By giving them some choice in the matter, that may get them a little more involved.  Whichever one you pick, the key is, “Be intentional.  Be purposeful about getting them ready for what life on a college campus is going to be like.” 

Go to for more information about Ben’s series, College Life 101, and about FamilyLife’s CollegeReady material.  Again, our website is  You’ll find links on the website, as well, that will give you more information about both of these resources.  Again, go to for more information. 

If you’d like to order either of these resources, they are available from us here at, as well; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY.  We’ll answer any questions you have about these resources or make arrangements to get the one that you want sent out to you.  Again, the number: 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”. 

I want you to know we are grateful for our listeners, here at FamilyLife Today.  We’re grateful for those of you who tune in, who write to us—let us know that you are listening—those of you who leave comments for us down below where the transcript is on the FamilyLife Today homepage.  We’re grateful for those of you who help support the ministry, whether it’s with a onetime gift or as a Legacy Partner. 

In fact, this month, we’re hoping to encourage more of our listeners to become Legacy Partners.  These are the folks who send a donation each month to help underwrite the costs associated with producing and syndicating this daily radio program.  Our goal, this month, is to try to get one new family to join us a Legacy Partner family in each of the cities where FamilyLife Today is heard. 

Actually, that’s not exactly correct because we’re heard in about 11 hundred cities across the country; and our goal is really 15 hundred folks.  We’re asking you to consider, “Would you be the family in your city that would stand up and say, ‘We will join with you.  We’ll help out.  We’ll become a Legacy Partner and make that monthly donation’?”  If you do that, we are going to send you a welcome kit to welcome you aboard as a new Legacy Partner. 

The kit includes some resources designed to help strengthen your marriage.  There are a couple of new travel mugs—FamilyLife Today travel mugs that we’ll include in the kit, as well.  Throughout the year, we’ll make available additional resources that are designed to help strengthen your marriage and your family.  It’s a part of the way we say, “Thank you,” to you for your regular, monthly support of FamilyLife Today

If you’d like to be that one family in your city that says, “We’ll join with you as a brand- new Legacy Partner,” go to for more information; or call us at      1-800-FL-TODAY.  Go on the website.  Click the link that says, “Become a Legacy Partner”; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY and say, “I’d like to find out more about becoming a Legacy Partner.”  I just want to say, “Thanks,” in advance for considering that; and for those of you who join with us, “Thanks for being a part of the team.” 

We want to encourage you to back with us, again, tomorrow.  Ben Burns is going to be here again.  We’re going to talk more about how you get your son or daughter ready for the next step, if that step includes a college education.  I hope you can tune in for that. 

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today

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