An Open Letter to Chris (a new freshman just arriving on a state college campus)

By Gretchen Magruder


Dear Chris,

I have this friend named Apryl whose father seemed to enjoy embarrassing her in front of her teenage friends when she was growing up. As they would leave the house, he’d yell “helpful” reminders: “Remember who you are!” “Remember where you’re going!” “Remember how to get home!” Chris, as you begin this four-year (or longer) journey, these reminders are well worth considering.


Remember Who You Are

Going to college is a privilege. According to a Harvard study, just 6.7 percent of the world’s population earns a college degree.1 Take the opportunity seriously—go to class, study hard, learn as much as you can. While many of your classmates will see this as an opportunity to do anything, anywhere, anytime, remember who you are as a follower of Jesus.

Stanley Hauerwaus of Duke Divinity School describes being a student as a “calling.” He says, “The years you spend as a student are like everything else in your life. They’re not yours to do with as you please. They’re Christ’s.”


Remember Where You’re Going

You will be asked, “What’s your major?” hundreds of times. Don’t stress out about it—you don’t have to have it all figured out right away. Try new things. Volunteer, join a club, and take the “History of Ninjas” class. Cultivate your personal strengths and interests and ask God how he might want to use them for his glory.

08_Magruder_JNWhile a student at Eastern Illinois University, I met a guy studying auto mechanics. His reason for choosing that major? “I felt like this would be the kind of training God could use on the mission field just about anywhere.”

Your time at the university isn’t just about getting a good job when you graduate. It’s about equipping you for something special God has planned for your future.


Remember How to Get Home

You may have family or friends who are worried about you going off to school—and with good reason. According to a recent study by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, the number of students who “frequently attend religious services” drops by 23 percent after three years in college. The research also confirms that 36 percent rated their spirituality lower after three years in college.2

Chris, we worry about you—the messages you will hear and the choices that will confront you. More than a few times what you hear in class will stand in total opposition to what you know about God, his Word, and his will. It’s important to listen to people who think differently from how you do, and learn to think critically about new ideas.

Still, the Bible urges us to bring every thought before Jesus to see how it stands in comparison to his teaching (2 Corinthians 10:5). Chris, make sure you’re part of a campus ministry or church where you can process what you’re learning and reconcile how it fits (or doesn’t fit) with a Christ-centered worldview.

Campus ministry is not a babysitting service for Christian kids. It’s a launchpad.

When my friend, Shana, was a junior in college, she took a summer trip to Kenya and met a woman who had started an orphanage in her home for children living on the street. Shana shared her experiences with her campus ministry when she returned, and students began to pray about how they could get involved. In the next year, “poor” college students raised $17,000 for projects at the orphanage, things like new buildings, food, and school fees. In five years, the work these college students began raised more than $167,000 for orphans.

Campus ministry helped equip Shana with training, encouragement, and resources to make an impact. And, Chris, they can help you along your journey too.

Most likely, your parents are hoping the university educates you and helps you find a good job (so you can move out of their basement). But the rest of us are watching and waiting to see how God will use your time at the university to understand the mission he has for you. And we’re confident this can happen, Chris, if you remember who you are, remember where you’re going, and remember how to get home.



1Huffington Post, May 19, 2010.

2Quoted in the report, “Preliminary Findings on Spiritual Development and the College Experience: A Longitudinal Analysis (2000–2003).” Online article:


Gretchen Magruder and her husband, Todd, ministered at the University of Illinois/Springfield and Lincoln Land College for 20 years. She currently serves as the president of the Association of College Ministries (ACM);

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