Dear David,

Thanks for your question. It’s one I wish more seniors in high school asked. Unfortunately, many of your peers aren’t even thinking about how to maximize their final year of high school in order to prepare for college. I’ll try to answer by thinking about your spiritual preparation, your academic preparation, and the actual decision about where to go to school.

Spiritual Preparation 

Your fundamental goal in the coming year ought to be to become dangerous. Not scare-the-daylights-out-of-your-parents dangerous. Not dangerous to other people. But dangerous to the kingdom of darkness. Up until this point, you’ve been sheltered by your parents in many ways. They’re godly people, and they’ve raised you in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. But now you’re entering the final transition into full adulthood, and your goal—both for this year and for your time in college—should be to become dangerous.

This means your final year of high school ought to be the prepare-to-launch phase of your life. No coasting, no going through the motions, no bunker mentality. Instead, as you look to the horizon and see the next stage of your life approaching, your attitude ought to be one of leaning in and going on offense. You’re the Israelites, and the future is the land of Canaan. So take the land; don’t be taken by it. Disciple the nations; don’t be discipled by them. Plunder the Egyptians of their wealth; don’t, as one pastor put it, go dumpster-diving in Egypt.

But, as the Israelites discovered, this is more easily said than done. So here are some diagnostic questions to help you think about preparing to launch. Think about your present spiritual direction. Based on your present trajectory, does the devil view your leaving home with eagerness or with fear? He’s a lion looking for someone to devour. Do you look like fresh meat? Is he just waiting to get you isolated out of your home? Or does he see the big sword at your side and the bright mail on your chest and so tread more carefully?

With respect to the Scriptures, now is the time to root yourself in the ultimate authority of God’s Word. Be a biblical absolutist. This means at least two things. First, you must be growing in the knowledge of the Bible. In this final year, you want to train your mind to run in biblical ruts, to have your imagination shaped by the Word of God. Second, and more importantly, you want to grow in obedience to the Scriptures. Knowledge without obedience is useless. In particular, I’d focus on your attitude toward authority, especially your parents. A lot can go wrong during this transition time. But the command to honor your parents still persists, even when you’ve outgrown car seats and tricycles.

Other areas to consider:

  • Prayer: Are you eager to seek the face of God on your own?
  • Love for the church: Do you love worshiping with Christ’s people? Or is worship attendance a chore and a drudgery?
  • Accountability: Are you seeking accountability on your own initiative?
  • Holiness: Are you addressing specific sin issues in your life? Envy, lust, pride, laziness, senioritis: are you putting them to death by the Spirit? Or have you begun to wave the white flag and try to make peace with them?
  • Gratitude: Are you giving thanks to God always and for everything, including the fact that you have one more year of high school?
  • Gospel: Do you know in your bones that God is fundamentally and passionately for you? That he’s not ambivalent or lukewarm about your fate, but is deeply committed to your good because of what Jesus has done?

Academic Preparation

More could be said about spiritual preparation. But academic preparation is equally important. As a college professor, there are two main areas I wish our incoming freshmen were better equipped in. The first is communication. I tell my students all the time that it doesn’t matter what you know if you can’t communicate it to others. Intelligence, by itself, isn’t enough. You must be able to show and tell what you know. By this point in your education, you ought to be able to write with clear sentences and well-structured paragraphs. If you can’t, if you struggle with the basics of grammar and syntax, then get help now. The same is true for speech. Can you speak in an articulate way? Or do you mumble your way through answers, cluttering your speech with umms and uhhs and “like” and other filler words? Ask your parents and your friends to help monitor your speech so that you become more clear and concise.

The second area where many students are lacking is self-control. Are you a self-starter? Do you have self-discipline? Do you follow through on commitments and honor deadlines? Do you still rely on other people to get you out of bed in the morning? Are you always turning things in late? Those kinds of things won’t cut it. So use the next year to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit known as self-control. God is in the business of restoring control of you to you.

Choosing the Right College

Finally, you asked about how to choose the right college. Well, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to that question. But here are some questions you should consider as you make that decision in the coming year.

  • Why do you want to attend college? Do you have a specific vocation in mind? How you answer that question may limit the choices before you.
  • What’s the spiritual environment of the campus like? Is there a vibrant Christian community active at the school?
  • Is there a gospel-proclaiming church nearby? Don’t just assume there is. Research and find out. When you visit the school, visit the church too.
  • Does the school think of education mainly in terms of training you for a particular job, or do they aim to shape you as a whole person—heart, soul, and mind? If the latter, how do they accomplish that shaping?
  • Does the school have rigorous academic standards, or is it primarily known for its sports programs and entertainment options?
  • How large is the student body? How big are the typical classes?
  • Are there specific professors you hope to study under? How accessible are the professors? Do they actually teach the classes, or does the school rely on adjuncts and teaching assistants?
  • Are the professors robust Christians? Nominal Christians? Hostile to Christianity? Remember what Jesus said: students become like their teachers (Luke 6:40).
  • What’s the total cost of education (tuition, books, housing, etc.)? Will you be required to take out student loans in order to pay for school? Student loan debt is a crushing burden on the back of many graduates. I’d highly recommend avoiding it as much as possible.

As you seek to answer these questions, talk to current and former students of the schools you’re interested in. Ask them about their experience. If at all possible, visit the campus and sit in on classes. At my own school we encourage prospective students to join us for our “Experience Bethlehem” weekend where they sit in on classes, meet students, enjoy chapel, and participate in special events like a concert and a conference featuring our faculty.

Seek the Lord

In all of this, both in the preparation and the decision-making, seek the Lord. Ask him to help you grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus, and to give you wisdom to make the best decision about your future. God is faithful; he’ll show you the way.

Thrilled to help you prepare to launch,

Pastor Joe