College can be one of the most productive and enjoyable times of your life if you approach it wisely. You’ll spend your time learning, developing relationships, and growing as a person.

On the other hand, your college years can quickly become disastrous. Poor decisions during these critical years can negatively affect your life for decades to come, and that’s no exaggeration.

In my time as a college pastor, I’ve seen many students navigate these years well, but I’ve also seen many of them make terrible mistakes and reap terrible consequences. Here are five of the most common mistakes college students make:

1. Acting like what you do during college doesn’t really matter. Some students view college as an interim period in their lives, one in which actions have no real consequences. It’s as if they believe there is a “reset” button they can hit when they graduate, erasing all of the poor choices they’ve made for the previous four or five years. Students engage in promiscuous behavior, thinking that it won’t affect their future marriages or families. They drink to excess, as if that MIP or DWI won’t be a black mark on their good name for years to come. The truth is that once you enter college, you should consider yourself a real adult, one whose choices have real consequences. And act accordingly.

2. Underemphasizing your schoolwork. Your classes are important, even if you never get a job in your field of study. Through them you learn how to study, how to gather information, and how to work under authority. For the Christian student, you are setting a pattern for how you will approach work for the rest of your life. And we are called to do everything to God’s glory (1 Cor 10:31). When you show up late, blow off your homework, and barely scrape by, you are not living in a way that reflects the character of Christ.

3. Overemphasizing your schoolwork. While schoolwork is important, it’s really not the only thing that matters. Some students ignore the other critical aspects of their college years and spend all their time locked away in the study dungeon (read: library). Although you are learning a career and learning how to work, your life consists of more than that. It’s important to make friends, join a church, and participate in campus life. It’s impossible to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) if you never talk to anybody! You are setting patterns now for how you will manage your life — your work, relationships, spiritual life, and free time. All are important.

4. Avoiding the opposite sex. This is a weird one that I’ve seen more recently. Students seem afraid to spend time with people of the opposite sex, especially in the Christian community. In fact, I wrote a post about this a few months ago. I’m not saying that dating or getting married are essential elements of life for everybody. However, many students avoid dating because they are afraid, or have strange ideas about the appropriateness of it. Whether you ever get married or not, you will need to know how to interact with the opposite sex in a normal (read: not awkward) way. College is a wonderful time to learn that skill, and you can’t do it if you always sit on the other side of the room from those of the opposite sex.

5. Failing to connect with a church in a meaningful way. I’m all for campus organizations — I was involved in them as a student, and I’m currently on the board for a major student organization at A&M. However, these organizations do not replace the local church. Most student organizations are homogenous — people of the same age, station in life, and ethnic background gather together. Many of them even choose their members based on who is cool, smart, good-looking, or spiritual. A local church, though, forces you to sit next to people who look different than you. People who are older, younger, more mature, less mature, from a different country, cooler than you, or nerdier than you. It reminds you that the Gospel is about God’s grace for all people, and not just the people you really like (1 Cor 12:12-13). It also prepares you for life after college, where it won’t be so easy to just hang out with your favorite group of people. I really think it’s a critical element of your spiritual growth in college.

These are obviously just a few of the common mistakes students make. I could write a whole other post on the things students do particularly well, and perhaps I will.

Are there others that you’ve observed in your own life or among your friends that you’d like to share here?

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