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How do I stay strong when I go off to college in the fall?

As you know, when you arrive at college, no one will be at school to hold your hand and take you to church. No one will be there to choose your friends or tell you when to be home on Friday night. Therefore, it is an opportunity to greatly advance in spiritual maturity or to fall away. The decision is in your hands. Therefore, have confidence. St Julian of Norwich said, "[God] did not say: You will not be troubled-you will not be tempted-you will not be distressed. But he said, ‘You will not be overcome." To help you stay strong, here are some tips to keep in mind:

1. Find good friends. This is perhaps the best strategy to stay strong in college. If you study the lives of the saints, you'll discover that a great number of them were friends with other saints. St. Francis Xavier was the college roommate of St. Ignatius Loyola. St. Clare and St. Francis were great friends, as were St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila. You may think, "That's nice, but I don't think anyone on my campus is going to get canonized a saint any time soon." While that may be true, it shouldn't stop you from finding friends who will help you become more fully yourself.

At some truly Catholic colleges, this is an easy task. However, most universities aren't exactly brimming with students who value the virtue of chastity. This means you may have to do some searching. Get involved in the Newman Center, campus ministries, or things like that in order to find like-minded students. Many campuses, such as Harvard and Princeton, have student-run chastity clubs you can join. If yours does not have one, do not be afraid to start it. Finding such friends is not always an easy task, but it is always worth the effort.

Finding good friends also means sometimes turning down the opportunity to hang out with those who will wear down your morals. When you arrive on campus, you will certainly receive invitations to attend parties during pledge week, where fraternities and sororities recruit members. Most of these gatherings are like high school parties, with the difference being that parents never break it up to send everyone home. As a result, it's not the best place to be if you're hoping to maintain your purity. You would be wise to skip such parties. Respectfully declining the opportunity to attend a certain party will not mean the end of your college social life. In fact, it may open the door to finding better friends.

If you have friends who waver between what kind of lifestyle they want to lead, come up with ideas of fun things you can do on weekends that won't involve them making harmful decisions. Keep them busy with good things, and they'll see what most college students realize in the silence of their hearts: hookups and hangovers aren't as much fun as advertised.

2. Choose your college carefully. Consider attending a college that will directly strengthen your faith. Click here for some examples (Click on Great Catholic Colleges).

3. Pray in Private: In order for you to keep your faith, you'll need to become more disciplined in your prayer life. Start now with a routine of morning and night prayers. That way, you'll have a good habit to bring into college. Also, stay close to Our Lady. Carry a Rosary in your pocket at all times. You'd be surprised how often it reminds you to pray. If there is a Eucharistic adoration chapel anywhere near your school, make a habit of making frequent visits there. A weekly holy hour would be a good place to start.

4. Pray in Public: Never stop going to Mass & confession. There is a good reason why the Bible commands us not to stay away from the assembly of faith (Heb. 10:24-25). We need the support.

5. Stand up: Don't be afraid to stand up for your faith in the classroom and out of it. You will be tested in many new ways, but God allows such purification in order to strengthen you. You may need to learn how to intellectually defend your faith and your lifestyle as never before. Therefore, use resources like catholic.com when you need to find straight answers to tough questions about the faith.

6. Read good books: Bring holy reading to college. For starters, you may want to read Pure Faith, How to Stay Catholic in College, and The Way (available here). Also make a practice of reading a few chapters from the Bible each day.

7. Don't date right away: Resist the temptation to jump into a romantic relationship right away. It's exciting to meet so many new faces when you get to college, but take some time to get settled in. Get to know others as friends long before you consider dating him or her.

8. Ask for what you lack: Do not forget that faith is a gift from God. Ask for the gift of faith each day, and it will be granted to you. If you lack courage, ask for that. If you lack purity and conviction, beg for those virtues as well. In the words of Christ, "Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (Luke 11:9-13)