The first year of college can be especially challenging to a new high school graduate.
An overarching distinction between high school and college is that participation in high school is compulsory while participation in college is voluntary. Apart from the core curriculum, college students choose all of their courses via their selection of majors and electives.
Compared to high school, there is little supervision and guidance from school or parents.
College students are members of an elite population where opportunities and consequences of failure are greater. No one necessarily watches closely to see if students are enrolled or even if they attend class. Students must manage their own time.
Although students spend much less time actually in class, they spend much more in study. Coursework is typically harder. Lectures may be non-stop. Note taking is obligatory. Simply doing homework and participating in class will no longer garner success.
Rewards are based on results not effort. Competition with other students is more apparent. Low scores on initial tests can be fatal to final grades.
Contact with teachers is less common and must be self-initiated. Failure to ask questions signals comprehension of material. Missed material is typically acquired from classmates– not the professor. Students are expected to know and respond to course requirements as outlined in a syllabus. Assignments and updates may be communicated via email. Teachers have little concern for conflicts between their classes and other classes/events. Mastery of course material requires students to grasp overarching issues, principles, and themes. Passing grades require research, analysis, and critical thinking. Professors seldom teach the text. They may spend much time in class on one subject, but test to something different as outlined in the syllabus.
Although all of the above apply equally to students regardless of whether they have faith, one could argue that ideals of stewardship, etc. should make Christians better able to handle the opportunities, freedom, temptations, failures, frustrations, and provocations of collegiate academics better than those who lack faith.
Persons of faith should also have an advantage with respect to the meaningfulness of academic content. The Christian worldview provides unique reference points for analysis and critical thinking that are unavailable to non-Christians. It gives the facts of creation significance that does not otherwise exist. Thus, Christians should have greater incentive to master and retain the content of college subjects.
On the negative side, in college the “gloves come off” with respect to the measured atheism of high school. Greater academic freedom allows teachers to push anti-Christian ideas much further in college.
In the meantime, the pluralism and diversity of college life can make Christian claims, beliefs, and practices appear provincial and naive. For many Christian students, those appearances are in fact true due to a history of inadequate faith development. For them, the advantages of faith are merely theoretical. Unfortunately, such students are often confronted with an academic environment centered on non-Christian if not anti-Christian assumptions.
Many students of course rise to the challenge, finding the whole experience exhilarating. Many others, however, have their faith devastated by universities that deny any “universals.”