College Bound? Here’s a Realistic, Relevant Resource

Here is my column that appears in this weekend’s print edition of The Catholic Post. I invite your feedback.

A box surfaced recently of old letters that my parents wrote to me while I was in college. I treasure them all the more because my parents are gone now.

My mom’s letters often signed off with “be good.” Perhaps that’s not really surprising, as she had sent off four older siblings to college (and one after me), so it’s pretty likely she knew the challenges I might face. I imagine she wanted to give me extra encouragement to do the right thing.

If you are sending a recent grad off to college, or even if you’ve done so in the last few years, doubtless you have concerns about the competing influences and lures of college life. And you’ve probably wondered, as I have, how to get across that simple message of “be good.”

A word to the wise: it takes a village. While our family is still a few years away from this transition, I realize that it’s not just what mom and dad say or model to our children that will have impact, but a plethora of other voices:

*other family members

*your friends

*your teen’s friends (and their friends’ parents)

*the school environment

*the culture at large

These voices–and more– are competing to sell young adults on the way to “be” and –maybe– “be good” in college and beyond. Most parents want to be sure there are enough voices of positive influence.

Consider Your College Faith: Own It! by Colleen and Matt Swaim one of the “good” voices.

Your College Faith manages to be both extremely practical and extremely Catholic. No, the two are not mutually exclusive. How is it possible to do both so well at the same time?

First, the Swaims have a broad and deep knowledge of Catholic doctrine. They quote freely from Scripture, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as well as classic works and lesser-known saints, to provide a range of Catholic background to campus life. But they do this not in long essays on doctrine or theology, but through short, creative bites that capture the attention and get to the point.

Next, the Swaims are not that far removed from college life, so their advice is truly geared towards today’s students. I’ve been giving copies of Your College Faith as high-school graduation gifts, and the universal feedback I’ve gotten is that it’s a positive, realistic book that encourages Catholic identity as well as good tips for college living.

A recent college grad who’s heading off to law school previewed the book, and she agreed that it is an especially realistic, relevant resource from a Catholic perspective. She especially appreciated how the Swaims kept the advice short, but sweet, with helpful sidebars and extras.

Finally, the Swaims have a lot of genuinely helpful and practical advice for late teens on time management, social media opportunities and pitfalls, and just general life skills.

Consider this all-too-true quote the chapter, “Making it Morally: Living Christian Ethics in the Dorms:” “Unless you’re the luckiest person who has ever attended college in the history of higher education, you are going to run into some conflict with your roommates or housemates. … Campus life gives you an opportunity to learn compromise on a whole new level to create a more harmonious living situation. This does not mean compromising your Catholic values of identity, but instead some of your preferences that may not even be that important in the big picture.”

The suggested reading from each chapter contains really helpful books and articles for exploring an area further. Cleverly, an “Alumni Directory” at the end of each chapter profiles a saint who exemplifies the virtue of that chapter.

All of the chapters were helpful, but in addition to the “Dorm Life” chapter, “24/7: Balancing It All With So Many Available Options” stands out. It’s not just about time management, but taking time for prayer and for silence. How well the Swaims put this together makes Your College Faith a must-read for college bound and those who love them.