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Keeping your faith alive in college is as important as your intellectual, career and social development. This can be an exciting, inspiring and challenging time to grow and mature in every area of your life. In a secular environment, it is easy to overlook this critical facet of college adjustment: your spiritual growth. A wise campus minister, Fr. Ken Irgaang, once told me, “College is your time to grow spiritually as a young adult, with your eyes wide open; not to follow blindly the ways you knew as a child, but to develop your faith from the inside out.” That advice allowed me to build a strong, mature faith that strengthened me as well as my family bonds. Later, in my career as a student development specialist with many years of experience in college student administration, I was fortunate to share those words with many students and help many young people approach their spiritual development with the same vigor as other areas of personal growth; intellectual, moral, physical, career, etc.
Here is some of my advice to students who want to grow spiritually and not “lose their faith” in college:
Ways to Keep Your Faith in College
1. Learn about other Religions
Whether through formal classes or by learning from friends, be open to learning about other faiths and religious practices, even those you don’t agree with. College is all about understanding others and learning to co-exist and cooperate with different cultures, religions, and ways of being. You should not feel threatened by others’ enthusiasm. (If you do, then that may be a red flag to consider—see advice on coercion below) . Many students have found that, ultimately, their own faith has been strengthened by exposure to other religions.
2. Find Friends of Similar Beliefs
Connect with students who come from a similar religious background as you. You’ll likely find the camaraderie and fellowship to be a support that you need at times. Practice your faith with them and support one another in keeping important traditions and devotion to your own faith.
3. Connect with Campus Ministry
Check out and participate in the Campus Ministry department on campus. It is a great place to find opportunities for the other suggestions in this article. The purpose of Campus Ministry is to embrace and support all major (and some minor) religions represented on campus. It promotes understanding and respect among all, which is one of the most important life skills you will develop. Campus Ministry may also be the perfect place for you to practice leadership and have an influence on your campus. You could be empowered to make great things happen!
4. Attend a Retreat
A Spiritual Retreat, even though it may not focus on or align exactly with your particular religious practices, can be tremendously enlightening and refreshing. It is a good place to begin to examine your own spirituality as well as be inspired by new insights into how human spirituality develops.
5. Respect Your Family Traditions
Some families invite lively discussion about religion; others are threatened by it or find the topic too volatile to approach constructively. Be aware of your family’s position and, regardless of your current habits, be respectful of your family’s practices. Continue to practice your family traditions together.
6. If You Feel Coerced…
Exploring and developing your own faith as a young adult should be a positive experience, and your college should encourage that. Learning about other religions should not feel threatening to your own beliefs. You will find people who strongly disagree with your beliefs, and that is part of learning about the diversity of our world religions. But cults and coercion should never be a part of that. You should never feel forced or threatened into believing or practicing or even exploring in a way that makes you uncomfortable or confused.
By their nature, most colleges encourage and support diverse beliefs and practices, and that includes yours. Also, college can be a time of questioning, exploring and reaffirming. Your college campus ministry staff and peer leaders who understand this process of student development can be helpful guides to you.