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    5 Ways to Make the Most of Your Freshman Year

    You grow and learn more during your college years than any other period of your life.

    John and Jill Bowling

    In Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, Alice realizes she's lost in an unfamiliar forest. She comes to a crossroads and has no idea which way to turn.

    Then, Alice sees the Cheshire cat in a tree and asks him which path she should take. He replies, "Where are you going?"

    "I'm not quite sure," she says.

    "Well, then, it doesn't matter which road you take," the cat notes.

    Like Alice's journey, the transition from high school to college brings a lot of decisions, challenges and opportunities. The Cheshire cat's question doesn't just apply to our choice of schools. "Where am I going?" also makes us think beyond college. It makes us think not only of what we want to be, but also who we want to be.

    You grow and learn during your college years in ways that are more dramatic and significant than in any other period of your life. It all starts with your freshman year. Here are five tips for making the most of it.

    Start with the end in mind

    Have you heard the story of the three bricklayers who were all asked what they were doing? The first man answered gruffly, "I'm laying bricks." The second man replied, "I'm building this wall." But the third man could see more than the bricks or the wall. He declared, "I'm building a cathedral."

    Like the third bricklayer, knowing what you are building will determine your blueprints. When you develop a clear vision of who you want to be, you can better focus on how to get there. It also gives you increased energy and fulfillment since you know what your work and choices will lead to. You have something specific to work toward. You are doing more than "taking a class" or "getting through the semester." You are, brick by brick, building your future.

    Decide where you're headed. Do you have a clear picture in your mind of what you will need to do to get there?

    Define your plans

    As you choose your goals for the future, be sure that you go beyond just having goals, such as:

    "I want to have a degree."

    "I want to have a job and a car."

    Those goals are fine, but there is more to life than just having certain things. Real goals include action:

    "I want to exercise regularly."

    "I want to travel."

    "I want to attend a weekly Bible study."

    "I want to serve."

    Real goals are also about developing your character. Who you are (much more than what you have or do) will determine the quality of satisfaction of your life. Effective goals ask, "Who do I want to be?"

    This question takes a lot of thought, but it also requires prayer. Proverbs tells us if we lean on God for direction—and not our own understanding—he will make our paths straight (3:5-6). Through prayer, we can spend time with God figuring out who he wants us to be.

    Planning doesn't put you in a straitjacket. It's OK to change your plan as time passes. Setting goals doesn't lock you in for life. In fact, just the opposite happens—you begin to experience a new freedom that comes from a clear picture of why you are attending college and what you want to accomplish.

    You can always adjust the plan and choose new ways to reach your goal. As you grow, God may show you a new path. By preparing now, you can be ready for what God has in store for you.

    Make choices carefully

    As you make a plan to become the person both you and God want you to be, your ability to make wise choices improves and decision-making even becomes easier. You can make decisions about how to spend your time, what classes to take, and what activities to join by asking questions about your long-term vision. How does this ready me for the future? How would doing this strengthen or hurt the person I want to become?

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