I recently spent a few days at a counselor’s conference in the Midwest. Dordt College is a Christian school with 1,500 students in Sioux Center, Iowa, a town of 7,500 people. The facilities and academic programs were impressive, and the institution has a great reputation.
As we learned more about Dordt, one statistic originally surprised me but ultimately explained much of what I saw: The student body is comprised of people who, on average, have come 500 miles from home! Naturally, this means most students don’t leave town often, except for long holiday breaks. Very few go to their families’ homes on the weekend; most stay at their college “home.” The result of this is a school whose students are invested in their environment.
This school’s unique situation reminded me of the great benefits of making a definite physical and emotional “move to college” – for any student, wherever they attend. Even kids who attend college in their hometown can make this mental transition, choosing to engage fully in their campus and be “on their own” in key ways.
So whether your kid’s interest list includes colleges nearby, across the state, or even further away, here are four big reasons to encourage them to plant deep roots in their new home.
1. Campus Engagement
Students that don’t try to live simultaneously in two places (at college and at home) find it easier to make time for study, classes, work, and their social life. For instance, study groups often take place on the weekends – when classes don’t meet, when students probably are not working, and when student-athletes are available. If a student goes home most weekends, their schedule is much less flexible. Likewise, students who live close to each other and routinely eat meals together save time and build relationships.
At Dordt College, I even noticed widespread engagement with professors and their families, because of the availability of most of the students on the weekends.
In my personal collegiate experience, the one year that I lived in an apartment several miles from the University of Texas was the season I was more emotionally detached and distracted from the main task of attending school. When I moved back within three blocks of campus (my last two years), it was much easier to “focus and finish.”
2. Community Engagement
For years, I have seen examples of students experiencing deep fulfillment from community engagement while in college… IF they have made their campus their “home.” Coaching local sports teams, tutoring young students, helping with after-school programs, teaching Sunday school, working a job, and interning at local businesses are just a few of the dozens of ways I have seen college students get involved in the community and still keep schoolwork a priority.
But this is really only feasible when students truly “make the move” to college.
3. Transition to Adulthood
As many parents can tell you, seeing your child go away to school can feel like watching them swing high on a trapeze, without a net. The support of parents, the affirmation of their high school friends, the familiar expectations of the old routines seem so far away. The old comfortable, predictable relationships seem like ancient history. “High in the air without a net.” Free to fall. Free to fail.
But that sounds like real, adult life, doesn’t it? Isn’t that what college should prepare them for? If students don’t make the physical or (at least) mental move to college enough to feel like their “safety net” is limited, then their transition to true adulthood will stall.
4. Emotional & Spiritual Growth
Not only will your student grow into an adult over their college years, a concrete “move to college” will immediately stretch them (in a good way). Whether a student goes far off to attend college or not, “moving to college” emotionally is one of those special times that cause both student and parents to explore the depths of their faith.
I have heard great stories from kids that grew up accustomed to layers of support in their lives. When they suddenly found themselves “on their own” in college, they turned to the Lord as never before. Often when students own their situation (instead of continuing to rely on parents), their faith becomes their own as well.
I asked my son Benson about his thoughts. (He attended college a few hours away from home. He also saw various sides of this in his years as a college minister.) He said,
Personally, I realize how valuable it was to attend a school far enough from my hometown that I wasn’t tempted to go home several weekends a semester. That would have been a big mistake. (Honestly, it was also good that my parents weren’t tempted to visit me all the time, too!) I needed to be fully invested in Texas A&M, and I’m so glad I was.
I do remember starting out nervous. This was a big leap from a Christian high school, with a senior class of 73 people. Dorm life felt dark – spiritually – and lonely before I found Christian community. And I remember my second semester, after returning to school from Winter Break, facing an even harder adjustment. I realized that I would truly be making my home here; I wasn’t just “away at camp” for a few months.
Ultimately, going “all in” at school led to opportunities, growth, friendships, and life-change that I wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. If I had gone home a dozen of times a year, my laundry would have been cleaner, but my life would have been divided. I would have missed out.
Great College Prep Parenting
College Prep Parents probably look back at certain milestones in their child’s life. Like when you were no longer needed to tie shoes, or when you helped your kid box up some toys to take to the attic, or when you realized your chauffeuring services were no longer required. There may have been a few tears or wondering where the time went. But you recognized an important step, and hopefully patted yourself on the back for getting them there!
Well, when your kids put down roots and get involved in their new college home, you’ll enjoy the milestone of them taking a big step toward being a responsible adult. That’s a big part of your role, and it’s great College Prep Parenting.