Your first time off to college is full of excitement. All of the other first day of school jitters seem like childsplay in comparison to the all-night stomach churning anticipation that you experience starting out in a new place like university. Not only are you about to leap into the most academically challenging experience of your life, but you’re out on your own for the very first time. Now you have to take the reins and make your own decisions regarding how to fill your time in-between classes and studying. There are a lot of competing things taking your attention, the college experience comes with a near-onslaught of new friends, new ideas and new hobbies. Each one competing for a little bit of your energy. As a Christian, it’s very easy to start out with great intentions to keep your faith strong, and as time passes, watch it weaken and/or dissolve under the pressure and allure of all of these new interests.

It’s a common story. As a young Christian growing up, many of us are surrounded by faith-nurturing communities, whether our parents provided support and daily spiritual guidance, or it was through our friends and youth group companions back home. Your first time stepping foot onto a brand new campus with none of your familiar support network can be shocking. Many of us find ourselves feeling very alone in our faith as we discover that being a Christian isn’t very popular or well-regarded at many non-Christian colleges. This leads most Christian students to end up falling into three categories: They either lose their faith entirely, hide it away from any public knowledge, or their faith deepens. Allowing the adversity to strengthen their faith as a diamond is formed from pressure deep under the earth.

If you’re about to head into college and you are worried about keeping your faith, don’t be. There are a number of ways you can ensure your relationship with Christ grows deeper and stronger through this experience.

1. Choose A Church Before You Arrive

This may seem a little bit like jumping the gun. After all, how can you choose a spiritual community to guide you if you’ve never experienced it? Picking a church before you get to your college town doesn’t mean you have to stick with it, but before you jump around, stay for at least a month and try to meet some people who share your faith. Remember, at a non-christian college you are going to be surrounded by aesthetic and countering worldviews all of the time. The best way to stay firm in your faith is to surround yourself with a community that will help to remind you of your values.

2. Make Time For Journaling And Devotionals

As a new college student, you are about to go on one of the most life-changing experiences you’ve ever been on. Taking the time to journal and reflect is something that can benefit you in countless ways during any period of change, but it’s especially valuable as a Christian college student. As all of these new experiences come into your life, you will need God’s guidance to help you keep your faith strong. Your relationship with Christ needs nurturing just like any of the other relationships, so put in the time to make sure you are connecting with Him daily. After all, a relationship takes work! You may need to get creative. Wake up early, take some time between your classes, or maybe an hour before bed. Open your Bible or devotional book, and spend some time writing about your experiences. Ask God for His guidance and He will provide it.

3. Pick Your Friends Wisely

Just as important as it is to choose the right church and Christian community, you have to be smart about the friends you surround yourself with. It’s easy to jump into friendships with your roommates and the people in your dorm or classes. But pay attention to their values. Seek out friendships that share your Christian values and who are passionately pursuing their relationship with Christ. You will be influenced by the people you surround yourself with, so it’s important to make sure that they provide the right kind of influence.

4. Keep An Accountability Partner

If you already have an accountability buddy, don’t allow the distance to get in the way of that relationship. Having that person there to remind you, ground you, and challenge you will prove to be invaluable. Do weekly phone calls or skype sessions. Read the same devotional and share notes. Text each other when you feel tempted, or to remind each other to pray and follow our devotional practice. If you don’t already have one, now is the time. Find someone you trust from your home church to be your accountability buddy and keep those ties strong.

5. Choose A Christian Mentor

Just like having an accountability partner can provide you with daily reminders and strength to stick to your faith, so can choosing the right kind of mentor. You are going to be faced with all kinds of academic challenges, and mentorship is one of the best ways to find guidance through those struggles. Even more important is choosing one who understands and shares in your faith. Pick a mentor who understands that keeping your faith is a priority to you, and they can help to guide you through the pitfalls they would like to have avoided in your shoes. You may have a harder time identifying and finding Christian mentors at non-Christian colleges, but Christian colleges will offer you a wide range of mentors who can guide you through your educational and spiritual growth.

6. Get Involved In Activities That Are Close To God’s Heart

There are countless groups and programs on college campuses geared towards giving back to the community. You’re going to be tempted to fill your time with all kinds of activities, not all of which are God-serving. So, not only is it important to find the right individuals to keep your counsel, but it’s also important to fill your free time with activities that fill your heart with love and honor Christ with your time and energy. If your campus has an outreach program, join it! Find a group that offers mission trips, and take one for your long breaks and holidays.

7. Build An Arsenal Of Good Books

Fill your mind with words of wisdom from other Godly men and women. Use your free time to build a library of advice from other Christians who have faced the same concerns about keeping their faith while in college. Take the time to read and dig into their words, and use these books as devotionals or guidance for the moments when you start to falter in your faith. Most Christian colleges have a library full of books just like this that you can take advantage of.

8. Choose A Christian College

When you’re choosing a college to attend for the first time, you have to consider a lot of options. The school’s focus, choice of majors, and the array of programs and opportunities that it can offer you. One of the best parts about choosing a Christian college is that it’s a community of academically minded people who also value growing their faith. Christian colleges provide you with lots of support, whether it’s opportunities to join Christian communities and mission trips, a focus on keeping Christian values on campus and in the dorms, and/or chapel and Bible studies. Keeping your faith while in college is a challenge no matter what, but going to a Christian college can help you to stay on the right path.