By Andrew Waring, Special to The Catholic Virginian

The middle of August is here and for many young adults that means they will be departing in just a few days for their first year of college. Most likely they have already chosen their courses for the first semester; they have bought their extra-long twin bedsheets; and they have coordinated with their new roommate about who is going to bring what to furnish the dorm room. The beginning of college is an exciting time full of potential as young adults begin the process of determining who they are and what they want to do with their lives.

An essential – but frequently overlooked – element of this transition is the importance of taking steps to stay strong in one’s faith. A student’s time in college can provide an opportunity to take the faith imparted by parents, religious educators, youth ministers or pastors and to make it his or her own. It is a time to grow in understanding of the Church and her teachings and to discern how to live them out. For someone now away from home, this can be a challenging prospect, especially when faced with the culture and choices confronting students on a typical college campus. However, students can take steps to maintain and deepen their faith. Here are a few important steps for new college students.

Attend Sunday Mass

Many college campuses across the Diocese and the country provide opportunities to go to Mass right on campus. With a congregation made up almost entirely of college students, homilies are directed towards the life of the college student: exams, transitions, decision making. Masses are also scheduled at a variety of times, so if students are late risers they may be able to find a Mass in the afternoon or evening.

Get to know your campus ministry staff

Many colleges and universities have staff members to guide the campus ministry and work with Catholic students. These priests and laypeople help young adults grow in the Catholic faith and provide attractive ways to experience authentic friendship and community. They seek to connect with new students and will be thrilled if students come up and introduce themselves.

Bring a Bible

There will come a time during the first semester when it will be helpful to have a Bible. Whether it is to take a moment to pray, or to look into a claim made by a professor, roommate or classmate, having an actual Bible will help students to find what they are looking for.

Join a Small Group

Small Groups have become a staple for many campus ministry programs. These groups might look different depending on the school, but at the heart of small groups is the opportunity to learn and grow in the faith with like-minded people. They help to foster real friendships with other Catholic students so students know someone to sit with at Mass and have people with whom to commiserate about the ups and downs of college.

Go on a Retreat

In many locations, retreats are held at the very beginning of the school year for either new students or for the whole community. It might seem difficult to leave school one of the first weekends but a retreat is a great way to get out of campus, grow in community, have quiet time to pray and to step back from the craziness of campus life.

For parents, it can be challenging to send children off to school, whether it is your first, last or only child. While you might not be able to ensure that they are attending Sunday Mass or that they know the campus minister, you can talk to them about how they are living out their faith and when they look for experiences to grow in it. College is busy and it is easy to lose sight of things or to change priorities but simple conversations with parents can help students to remember the faith that they have been raised in. These conversations open a door for parents to share with their students their own faith stories and experiences in a more mature manner. With all the planning and preparation that goes into the first semester of college, parents and students should start these conversations now so that students have a plan when they arrive on campus for furthering their Catholic faith.

Andrew Waring is associate director for campus ministry, Office of Evangelization