Ask Rooted: Preparing Graduating Seniors to Become College Freshmen

We asked several experienced student ministers how they practically go about preparing their high school seniors to become college freshmen. We hope their wisdom sparks insight and ideas in your own ministry!

Liz Edrington (Coordinator of Girls’ Discipleship & Young Adults at North Shore Fellowship, Chattanooga, TN) said:

One of the things I really love to do is to send seniors off with three things: reminders of where they’ve come from (their story, how they’ve grown, etc.), reflections on who they are (in the form of notes from leaders, friends, parents, etc.), and a hope for their future (which normally entails encouraging them to connect to the body and to fellowship in some way in their next phase of life). I like to invite them to consider the importance of finding “over, around, and under” people as they head off – a mentor to pursue them (over), friends who point them to Jesus (around), and someone to be pouring into (under). I love to send my seniors off with Life of the Beloved or In the Name of Jesus by Henri Nouwen, and to have their small group pray over and for them before they leave.

Kristen Hatton (Author, Pastor’s Wife, Mom of Teenagers, in Edmond, OK) said:

I led a group of high school girls in a Bible study for seven years. Last year, right before the girls left for college, my daughter and I hosted a mother/daughter “College Bound Blessings Brunch.” It was a sweet time for the girls to share their fears and anxiety, and for the moms to offer advice and to pray over them. As their Bible study teacher, I sent them off with the following three reminders:

1) Remember who you are. 
You are accepted and loved; a daughter of the king. You will try to find your worth in your sorority letters, a boy, your GPA, or an experience, but none of those things can give you a true and secure identity. Remember who you are because of who Jesus is for you. His perfection and performance earned you the eternal, unchanging love of the Father.

2) Be Mindful of your “soul holes” and how you try to fill them. 
We all have a God-shaped hole in our soul that only God can fill. But, we seek after things other than God to fill us, believing happiness and “life” will be found in something bigger or better. Whatever those things are that take the place of the God on the throne of our hearts are false gods that can never permanently satisfy. These false gods may be material objects, but more likely the idolatry will come in the form of seeking affirmation, attention, and acceptance. Good things become false gods when you make them ultimate things, so be aware of your heart motives, why you do the things you do and how you try to plug your soul holes. Only in Jesus are you whole.

3) You need the body of Christ. 
To live dependently on Christ means living connected and committed to his bride – the church – which he gave to us as a gift. Apart from his word and his people you will drift away. So it is imperative that you regularly place yourself under gospel preaching and teaching as your life line and food for the soul.

Andy Cornett (Pastor for Family Ministries at Signal Mountain Pres, Signal Mountain, TN) said:

Our wisdom on this one is a track record of “constructive failure.” Over the years, we’ve tried many different ways to prepare students for college: formats, content, mentors, teachers, former students, etc. – all to only mild success. It is so difficult to prepare kids for something they don’t -really- know about, but they think they know everything about! When I reflect on it, I think the two best things I have seen happen in this transition time are a) opportunities for close connection and conversation with current college students and b) extra effort and faithful love on the part of their leaders in high school. Senior year (especially January to June) is just a weird time of transition and exploration. Walking with your students as a faithful witness to the gospel of grace is quite possibly the best prep you can give them.

Kris Fernhout (Director of the Kansas City Fellows, Kansas City, KS) said:

I try to leave high school seniors with a mix of practical suggestions and encouragement. First, I encourage them to act quickly in college. Many of their most important choices in terms of friends, social time, and choices about organizations and church will be made in the very first week of college. Find a campus Christian organization to be a part of in the first week, and make a habit of attending a local church. Second, I encourage my seniors not to stress out about choosing and changing their major right away. Don’t chose a major based on “popular jobs” in the moment. 40-60% of the jobs of the future haven’t even been created yet, and 65% of college graduates work in jobs outside of their major. Also, as Jesus called his disciples from one vocation into another: fishermen, a tax collector, a zealot, and others became evangelists and disciples. Lastly, I encourage my seniors to ask themselves three questions: What am I most excited about? What is a big problem in the world that would I like to be a part of the solution? And how can these two things intersect? Frederick Buechner said, “The place where God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

Lastly, I encourage all youth pastors to read The First Year Out by Tim Clydesdale. It paints an accurate picture of what the first year of college is like for high school graduates.

Kellen Roggenbuck (Youth Director at Community United Methodist Church, Elm Grove, WI) said:

The most important thing you can do to prepare your high school seniors to become college students is to instill a practical knowledge of God’s love for them, as well as how to live that out in a new environment of temptation and opportunity. College brings with it as many amazing opportunities as it does dangerous temptations. Craft your messages around seeing past the world, to see instead the Creator in those opportunities. Check in regularly, follow up, and listen when a good listener is needed. Don’t judge, and remind them that God loves them no matter what!

More resources for your graduating seniors:

Fresh Faith, Topical Devotions and Scripture-based Prayers for College Students by Anna Harris

The Mockingbird Devotional: Good News for Today (and Every Day)

Game Plan: Practical Wisdom for the College Experience by Nic Gibson and Syler Thomas


How do you prepare your high school seniors for college? We’d love to hear about it in the comments section below!


Advancing Grace-Driven Youth Ministry

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