When I look back on my ups and downs and the crazy roller-coaster ride college life was, I often want to encourage those a decade or so behind me to take heart, keep perspective, and avoid the pitfalls I did.
If I could write a letter and deliver it to myself 15 years ago, it might read something like this...
Dear Wondering, Wide-Eyed Student,
The next four years may stretch out as a vast expanse before you, but trust me, it does go so quickly. You will look back in wonder, "could it really all be over already?" Maybe not on graduation day, but soon.
The first year, you'll be figuring out your balance and where your feet should go: don't overdue it. Yes, opportunities abound, but for every "yes," you must say "no" to something else. Explore and sample, but don't over-commit yourself till you figure out what you truly want to keep as most important. Prioritize.
Grades are important, of course, but you aren't just there to attain a 4.0. You are here for people, building beautiful relationships, growing in your connection to the Lord, and understanding who you are and what you want to do with your life. And believe me, you won't fully know even on graduation day, for you will continue to learn and grow beyond those brief 4-5 years.
As for relationships, you'll be given many freedoms and choices you didn't have before: choose wisely. Not everyone that winks and smiles is worth pursuing. The one that you should follow and allow to pursue you is the one who seeks the Lord above all else, who treats you with patience and selflessness and consideration. Don't listen to flatterers who use you and think themselves more important than they should. Just because he says he loves you doesn't mean that he does. Perhaps he just loves the idea of you on his arm. Your worth does not and cannot come from someone other than your Creator. So, please, save yourself some heartache and let go of that lie. The "other he" will never satisfy like the One and Only He.
Although you have friends and family around to support you, remember that you are basically on your own now. So, start taking some ownership of yourself and your days. Don't always look to them as your fall-back or handout. Take personal responsibility for your time, your relationships, your coursework and your money. In this somewhat "cushioned" environment, you have a great chance to prove to yourself that you can take care of yourself. Don't throw it away.
In the same stroke, balance responsibility and grace. Remember that the path you start off on--whether it be relationally or academically--is not one you have to finish on. Sidestep to another path and allow yourself to learn and grow. Avoiding mistakes is great, but you're going to mess up sometimes. Allow the situation to humble you, learn from it and then move on.
Don't let fear and insecurity rule your decisions.
Remember you are dearly cherished and God has a plan for your life.
And to balance it all, you aren't as important as you think: life isn't about you.
Plan ahead but keep your plans with a loose grip.
Don't try to figure it all out right now.
...the older, wiser you
Three questions I'd encourage you to ask yourself (whether you are a freshmen, a nearly-graduating senior, or alumni):
1. God, what do you think of me?
2. Lord, what do you want me to do right now?
3. Will you please give me the strength to walk out in those two answers?