We are entering the time of year when students begin to look past May and focus on what is coming their direction in the Fall. Seniors have been preparing their whole life for what is next, but now they suddenly find themselves standing on the doorstep of something that has always felt far away. Students need programs and structure, but more importantly they need relationships during this time. Here are a couple of ways to bridge the gap from high school to college for our graduating seniors.
Be a presence, but don’t be pesky
Students have a lot on their plate and the last thing they need is someone overloading them with texts and constant conversation. Try to find the balance between persistent and pesky when it comes to communication. Make sure that you have a presence in their life, even when they are not in your building. How do you do that? Have an active social media account, find ways to get on campus, and seek out places that students are — then be there.
Throw a party for them, but don’t put them on the spot.
Remember that feeling of dread that hit you when you were single and it was time for the garter or bouquet toss at a wedding? Or when you were at your favorite restaurant for your birthday and you heard the line of waitstaff walking toward you singing happy birthday? Some people enjoy those moments, but most wish to be anywhere else in the world. By nature, we are built for community. But putting people on the spot is a sure way of starting off on the wrong foot. Find a way to get a social event together that helps the freshmen feel welcomed and included, rather than isolated and embarrassed. Be strategic with this event so that you can gather contact information from these students for follow-up.
Take the initiative in helping them find their tribe
Like anyone else, incoming freshmen want to know that they have a place at your table. Many students are living in new towns with roommates they just met, and there is comfort in someone knowing your name, your hobbies, or your coffee order. Remember back to when you first stepped on your college campus for the first time. No matter the size of the campus you probably felt small, overwhelmed, and a little alone. When faced with so much unfamiliarity students put on blinders and switch to survival mode. They want to build deep relationships, but they do not know where to find them. Take initiative now by gathering your upperclassmen, getting a plan together, and setting aside budget dollars for coffee appointments for your student leaders to connect with the incoming freshmen. The students will expect it from you, but it will mean even more when a peer is the one reaching out to them.
Reach out to their student pastor
Your greatest resource in connecting with incoming freshmen is their former student pastor, who has spent years getting to know these students and walking with them through some of the most awkward and developmental years of their lives. Though the freshmen are not in the student ministry anymore, their former student pastor is still one of the most dominate spiritual voices in their life. They will be able to give insight that would take you years to find out, and they will be your advocate in the eyes of the student. It will take some time and effort, but the payoff is well worth the work.
When it comes down to it, the most important thing is to simply be yourself. It is not the big stages or lights that attract students, it is authenticity and knowing they have a place. Everyone has strange quirks, so be who God created you to be. Don’t compare yourself to ministries down the road or across the US — you are called to serve the students that God has graciously put in your ministry with the gifts and resources He has given you. Find out what your strengths are and press into them. Find out what your weaknesses are and build a team around you.
Listen to the Roundup Podcast episode where we asked Nathaniel how to reach incoming freshman from a youth pastor’s perspective.