Welcome to our Blessed Chats series! Each month, we will dedicate an entire week of blog posts to a topic that affects many of us. These conversations often come up in our Facebook groups and in our real life friendships. We want to share a variety of perspectives on the topic at hand, so we’ve asked women to share their stories and how the teachings of the Church have guided and comforted them. In this series, we’re talking about college. We’d love for you to join the conversation!
Here is my full disclosure: I attended three different universities in my five years of undergraduate education. While that may make it sound as though I’m very unskilled at college discernment, I prefer to look at my experience through a more positive lens. It gave me more practice than most with discerning a school!
If you are hoping for a perfect formula to tell you what to do if you’re feeling stuck or undecided, you will not find that here. What you will find, however, are the tips I gathered through my unique college journey, as well as some wisdom I’ve gained about discernment in the decade-plus since then. Where to go to college is a big decision; there is no doubt about that. In many cases, it may be the first major life decision that you have made on your own, or that you have the final say about. That responsibility may feel invigorating, or it may feel paralyzing. No matter which side of the spectrum you fall on, here is my greatest encouragement to you, sister:
God can work in your life and use you for His purpose at any college. There may be a “best” option, but there is no “wrong” option.
Narrowing Down Your Choices
This video by Father Mike Schmitz contains one of my favorite teachings on discernment. In it, Father Mike shares how to discern a path by considering the following: is this a good door, is this an open door, is this a wise door, and finally, is this a door that I want? When it comes to choosing a college to attend, the last three questions tend to be the most relevant.
An “open” door may refer to a variety of factors. Does a school have the major you want to pursue? Could you afford to attend? And, of course, when it comes time to actually decide on a school, were you accepted? If the answer to the last question is no, it may not mean you are never supposed to go there, but it does mean that the door is closed to you for now.
Identifying a “wise” door is more challenging. Pray for the gift of wisdom—to know yourself, to recall the struggles or temptations you’ve faced throughout your high school career, and to clearly see the areas in which you have thrived. With that knowledge, try to assess each school on your list. For example, if partying has been a source of temptation or sin over the past four years, it may be wise to steer clear of schools with a wild reputation. If you are very close to your family and anxious about being too far from home, consider sticking to a school within a few hours’ driving distance, even if all of your friends are applying across the country.
You have grown so much over the past four years. Now is the time to take what you have learned, what you have experienced, and what God has taught you, and use that wisdom to guide this decision.
When He Makes His Will Clear
I spent most of high school perusing liberal arts colleges with strong writing programs up and down the East Coast. It wasn’t until the summer before my senior year that God made it very clear, very quickly that He wanted me at a small Catholic university—the same one I had told myself I would never consider. I honestly had not even prayed about it before that day. Quite literally, I woke up one morning, felt deep in my heart that I had to go there, and submitted my application within the week. I was accepted before my first day of my senior year. Done and done (or so I thought).
I wish it was this easy for every student. In fact, I wish it was this easy with more of the decisions I’ve had to make in my life since then. Looking back, I knew it was God’s prompting because it was the total opposite of my own plan, and yet, I felt complete clarity, peace, and conviction about it. The door was good, open, and wise, and as I prayed about the school, my desire to go there grew exponentially.
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The Grace of Seasons
If you are struggling with this decision, I would love to offer you this lesson from my experience. Once you choose a school, you are not stuck there.
I never imagined, when I set foot on campus for the first time as a freshman, that this wouldn’t be the same campus I would leave in a cap and gown, diploma in hand. God had made it so clear that I was supposed to be there! Why would I ever need to leave?
As it turns out, God was calling me to that school for a season and a purpose. But then, He wanted me elsewhere.
On your first day of college, you have no idea how the next four-plus years will play out. You may end up changing or refining your field of study and need to go somewhere else to pursue that (the case for me). You may realize you want or need things from a school that you hadn’t considered before. You may find yourself convicted about being closer to home or to your best friends….or further away from them so that you can forge your own path in a new way.
If any of these situations is the case, it does not mean that the time you spent at the first school you chose was a waste. Perhaps you’ll meet a lifelong friend, your future spouse, or a professor who will change your life (again, all the case for me!). You may create sweet memories, or be drawn closer to the Lord if the season turns out to be a painful one.
No matter what happens, He uses us wherever we are. He is present to us wherever we are.
Where Do You Want to Go?
Between my sophomore and junior years, I transferred from the small Catholic school to a large public university in the next state over. I had discovered a passion for magazine journalism and was eager to immerse myself in a nonfiction writing curriculum and as many internships as I could get my hands on. And although both of those aspects of school #2 were wonderful, there was something missing.
I went from living in a dorm surrounded by household sisters to living a public bus ride away from campus in a sketchy little apartment that I had never seen before my move-in day. My packed class and internship schedule quickly filled my calendar, leaving little space for finding, let alone making, friends. I joined clubs, went to church, and talked to people after class, but six months in, I still hadn’t found my place.
This wasn’t what I wanted from my college experience.
Here is where Father Mike’s fourth question about discernment came into play for me. “Is this a door that I want?” No matter how many check marks in the “pros” column this school had, I was unhappy there. Through many prayers, tears, and some embarassment, I decided to transfer again, this time to one of my reach schools.
Looking back, I now see the beautiful purpose that God had for me at school #2. He has redeemed so much of that experience since then and I am grateful for what He did in my life during that challenging year. He had not made a mistake by prompting me there, and I did not make a mistake by going. But what I wanted at the time mattered too.
School #3, my beloved alma mater, is where I received my magazine journalism degree, where I joined a Catholic sorority and lived with three sweet friends, where I completed dream-come-true internships, and where I made so many wonderful memories. It was worth the journey, even with as many twists and turns as it had.
Sisters headed to college, you are so dear to Our Lord! He cares so much about this next season of your life. No matter which school you choose, stay close to Him in prayer and the Sacraments. Stay open to His promptings, even (especially) if they look different from your plans. He is with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:9)!
This is just one of many stories about college life and discernment. We want to hear YOUR story. Please share in the comments below!
And if you want more help with finding your own story, our popular Write + Pray course offers 9 topics, nearly an hour of guided video, and almost 50 Scripture verses and questions for you featuring Managing Editor Nell O’Leary. Find your story today.