Dear College Girl,

Nine years ago I packed my bags and headed into the unknown world commonly known as college. My heart was both filled with anticipation and joy that was mingled with fear and anxiety. After living 18 years under my parents roof, the thought of living elsewhere and being on my own was exciting and nerve-wracking. I had waited my entire life for this moment. I remember as a young girl thinking that once I reached my college years I would feel like an adult. The opposite was true! I felt even younger walking onto that large campus and sitting in classes with hundreds of other students! I couldn’t wait for my college years to come, but once they arrived I felt completely unprepared.

The day I moved into Church Hall, the dormitory I lived in at the University of Georgia, the air conditioning decided to quit and we had to haul every single one of my belongings up four flights of stairs in 104 degree heat. At the end of that day we were soaked with sweat and tears. I remember watching my parents drive away from the top of the fourth story of my dorm. I sat in my newly put together room with tears burning my eyes and streaming down my cheeks. I didn’t know what the unknown held in the coming days, and in that moment, I felt completely alone, yet also completely held by the hands of God. Within the 3 1/2 years that I was in school (I graduated a semester early), my faith would be tested and my love for Christ would be grounded through trials, periods of waiting, joy-filled adventures, and an unexpected journey of discovering who God made me to be.

You may be sitting in your dorm room right now feeling the same overwhelming loneliness, joy, anticipation, and fear that I felt. The first few transitional months of college can be a reality check for your faith and will test where you place your confidence. Throughout my years at the University of Georgia, I made mistakes that God graciously allowed me to learn and grow from. Through it all, I leaned into His truth and it made all the difference. If you are embarking on this adventure, I want to share with you what God taught me in my college years, and I pray that these truths sink deep into your heart and stick with you as you walk on this journey of following Jesus into the unknown. 

Wisdom for college girls:

Embrace God’s sovereignty in the unknown.

He knows what lies ahead for you. Jeremiah 29:11 is one of the most commonly misused Scriptures of the Bible. You might have even received something with this printed on it as a graduation gift! Let me encourage you to read the context of this verse. In Jeremiah 29 the people were in Babylonian exile. They were forced to leave their home in Jerusalem and travel to a new unknown place. During this season of loneliness and wandering, God gave them this promise to cling to: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” God knew their circumstances, and He offered them an unfailing promise.

When you feel lonely in your college years, go back to this. God was faithful to the Jews in Babylonian exile and He will certainly be faithful to you as well. In verses 12-13 the Lord commands the people to call on Him and seek Him whole-heartedly. Seek Him with all your heart. The unknown is known to our great God. 

Remember Whose you are.

If only I could write this on the palm of your hand to read every single day! I often forgot Whose I was in my college years. I fell prey to temptation and sunk into a pit of an eating disorder. I allowed the mirror on the wall to define who I was instead of the Word of God, and it left me in despair my freshman year. God used my despair to redefine my identity and to show me that His ways truly are the only way to live. “In my distress, I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears” (Psalm 18:6). He saved me and delivered me and He taught me Whose I am. Never forget that you are a follower of Christ, purchased by the cross, washed clean by His blood, and made knew in His promises. Stand firm on this truth when the enemy tries to tell you otherwise.  

Identify the real enemy.  

The enemy you fight is not your roommate, it is not your professor, it is not your counselor, and it is not your neighbor. Ephesians 6:12 tells us, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against he rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Knowing who your real enemy is changes how you respond to trials and temptations. You have to know your Savior and the fact that He has defeated sin and darkness. Nothing can truly have dominion over you when Christ is your shield and shelter!

If persecution comes, then rejoice!

If during your college years you experience persecution because of your faith, remember who the enemy is and rejoice in your Savior! (Matthew 5:11-12) I had an english professor my freshman year who challenged my faith and it affected my grades. I had another professor who was teaching evolution and challenged believers to make a stand in his class and defend what they believed. I remember standing with trembling knees and then class dismissing right when I was about to be called on. I remember God telling me to share my testimony in speech class and seeing people’s eyes widen as I shared how Jesus rescued me from an eating disorder that year. I remember leaving one class mid-session because the professor was making us watch an R-rated movie celebrating transgenders and having to explain why I would be willing to take a lower grade and not compromise my beliefs. She never understood me but she respected me. I tell you all of this so you know that you are not alone and that Jesus is with you in persecution. Stand firm in your faith and rejoice in the Lord. Be bold in your faith and unashamed of the gospel that radically saved your soul! (Romans 1:16)

Your years of studying are not wasted, they are preparing you for your calling.

I spent many study sessions complaining to the Lord about how many other “better” things I could be doing for Him instead of preparing for a test. A wise teacher told me that being a student was my job, and if it is my job then it is to be done well and for His glory! (Colossians 3:23) This completely changed how I viewed schoolwork and attending class. School was now my mission field. Studying could be an act of worship! I started bringing verse cards with me when I was studying, and when I felt overwhelmed I would recite them or write them down. The 3 1/2 years that I was at the University of Georgia were preparing me for things that I never could have realized in the moment. Know this time is not wasted; do it for His glory!

Expect nothing, expect great things.

I went into college with a four year plan that looked drastically different than reality. I expected to trip and fall into my future husband's arms on my first day and to graduate with my dream job in 4 years. Everything looked completely different than this “dream.” I did trip and fall my first day walking up a set of steps (how I tripped going up is still a mystery!) but no one was there to catch me or help me. I graduated single and without a clue as to the next step (but God faithfully showed me where to go in His time). College consisted of a lot of trips and falls, but in all of them the Lord was with me and held me up in His grace. I had to learn that my expectations were limiting my vision of what God was going to do! Expect nothing. Don’t give God a four year plan, but come to Him with open hands. And then expect great things knowing that You serve a great God! He is better at writing your story, trust me on this!

Find a church and stick with it.

I had several friends who never plugged into a church their entire college career. They either church hopped each week or ended up not attending anything at all. Just because you are in college doesn’t mean you are excluded from the body of Christ! Find a gospel-centered church, meet the pastor, get plugged in, be a servant, and even consider being a member during your four years. You will be greatly blessed by this! Not only will you find a home away from your dorm, but you will also find mentors and some of your closest friendships. You were meant to serve like Jesus. Commit to a local body of believers and contribute to the needs of the saints (Romans 12:13).

Lastly, I want to remind you that the command to rest still applies to college.

I know there are so many things going on and everyone is suffering from a severe case of FOMO, but the command to rest and take a Sabbath still applies to you and is for your good! I wore myself out in college. My first two years I felt like I had to do everything and meet everyone for coffee and be involved in everything. It led to me having shallow roots when I needed to dig deep. My junior year I narrowed down what I would be involved in and became more involved in my local church. In doing so I found a mentor and learned from her example! (In case you were going to ask about being mentored - I want to challenge you to ask someone in your church if they will meet with you! Even better, tell them you want to come over and serve them and just be in their home. I guarantee they will welcome you with open arms and gospel fellowship will happen!) Through that mentorship I learned the importance of rest. I would pour my heart out to her each week I came over and receive wisdom. I learned over and over again that if I truly rested, got the sleep I needed, and took a Sabbath, that I would be more capable to serve and do what God has called me to. (Read this great article if you don't believe me yet!) Don’t wear yourself out! Take the Sabbath seriously. Take one day off not to study. Actually get sleep (even if it means missing out on a midnight Waffle House run). You will be better equipped to serve and love others. 

Spend time in the Word of God everyday. Thirst for it like water. Hunger for it like it is your daily bread. Surround yourself with friends who will spur you on to know Jesus more and cling to Christ when you feel lonely! The next few years will be full of adventure, transition, and change, but your Savior always stays the same. Make Him your priority.

your sister, 

Gretchen