The transition from high school to college and from college to career is challenging for everyone, but for people of faith, there’s an extra hurdle. It’s in these college years that we have to delve into what our faith truly means to us—not just what it is to our parents. Heading to college may be the first time in your life that you have complete control, and that includes how (and if) you choose to practice your religion. No one is going to wake you up for church on Sunday mornings anymore, or police your eating habits, or remind you to read sacred texts or spend time in prayer. It’s all on you.
College can be a tough place to maintain your faith. You’ll encounter many people from different places with different backgrounds and faith traditions than you knew back in high school. You may also take classes that broaden and challenge the beliefs you were taught growing up. In fact, many college students end up walking away from their faith—a 2016 study found that the number of college students with no religious affiliation had tripled from 10% to 31% since 1986. In the same time period, those who said they frequently attend religious services dropped from 85% to 69%. Some students respond to these discouraging statistics by choosing a religiously affiliated college, but those schools won’t be right for a lot of people. If you’re a person of faith—and want to stay that way—don’t give up hope! There are still many ways to remain connected to your faith at a non-religious college or university.
As with most things, consciously making the decision to pursue your faith in college is the biggest key to maintaining it. The fact that you’re reading this shows your interest in your faith, but intentions go a little further than that. Take the initiative to find resources that will support you in your faith journey. They may not be readily available without a little digging depending on which college you attend. Additionally, intention starts with you and your own faith disciplines. Will you commit to daily prayer and meditation times? What about reading your Bible? Are you willing to seek out a mentor? All of these things can take away from other valid and pressing priorities at school: classes, friends, family, jobs, volunteering—the list goes on. If you’re serious about maintaining your faith, you need to be willing to prioritize it in your daily life.
Related: How to Live Your Faith on Campus
Find a small group
Knowing people who are also committed in your shared faith is extremely critical to growing your faith throughout college. The knowledge that you’re not the “only one” can be incredibly encouraging, especially on a college campus where many students may be actively turning away from their religion. For some people, small groups look like Bible studies or community groups affiliated with larger organizations such as Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) or InterVarsity. At most colleges, you can find a comprehensive list of religious-affiliated organizations, which is especially helpful if you’re from a less widespread faith group. And remember, it’s okay to join a group outside of your specific denomination or background. The important thing is that you have a community!
It can be tough to find a good fit. For this reason, you could also consider forming a small, more informal group. It could just be hanging out with some like-minded people in your college life that you know align with you on a spiritual level. The key thing is to have people your own age to live out your faith with, whether that looks like a spontaneous prayer-journaling picnic with a few friends or a weekly group event with an official organization.
Find a place of worship
While walking your faith with fellow students is helpful, worshipping surrounded by all kinds of people is also an important factor for many. Building relationships with people of your religion of all different ages helps you get to know people in your college town, and a church is likely to have resources to get you plugged in to your local community. Whether it’s helping in the children’s department, volunteering at the soup kitchen, or visiting the elderly, a place of worship can connect you to a multigenerational family of faith. Plus, sometimes it’s just nice to be around people other than college-age students.
While finding a church is vital for your faith, be patient with the process. Visiting churches with friends is a great option because they can hold you accountable in participating. However, be wary of joining a church just because your friend loves it. It’s okay to branch out on your own and find one that really fits you. This is a great time to explore what you’re looking for in a church and differentiate your needs and values from those of your parents and friends.
Be open to doubt and explore your faith
Going to college will likely test your faith and force you to determine for yourself what you believe. While this can be a difficult and somewhat painful process, you don’t have to give up on your faith just because you’re experiencing some doubts. According to Miguel de Unamuno—a Spanish novelist, philosopher, professor, and more—“Faith which does not doubt is dead faith.” Embracing your doubts and digging into what you’re unsure about can make your faith stronger than ever before. And don’t be afraid to talk to a religious leader or mentor about what you’re going through; they likely were in the same place once and can reassure you and provide you with resources to explore your beliefs and those of your church’s more thoroughly. When you accept your doubts and eventually come to terms with them, you’ll be setting yourself up for a healthier faith journey throughout your life.
Continuing to practice your faith while in college can seem daunting, but prioritizing it in your daily life and finding a community of believers can help strengthen your resolve as you explore and grow deeper in your faith.
For more advice on exploring your faith and living a religious life in college, check out our Christian Colleges and Universities section.