Students around the country are getting ready to head back to campus, purchasing and packing things like comforters, coffee pots and computers. Here are a  few things to consider as you ready for a brand new school year.

But in a new op-ed for Fox News, religion and culture expert, author and national radio host Dr. Alex McFarland (www.AlexMcFarland.comwrites that first-time and returning college students should pack five skills that will ensure success in college—and later in life.

After spending more than a decade in both church youth ministry and college academia, McFarland has been blessed to help students succeed in college, watching not-especially-gifted students do well in college and also witnessing extremely gifted students fall by the wayside. Success during the college years, he says, is in many ways less about raw talent and more about choices and character.

In his book “Stand Strong In College,” McFarland writes about the intellectual, social, emotional and spiritual dynamics of university life. Over the years, McFarland has had the fascinating and eye-opening experience of interviewing hundreds of students. As a result, he’s come away with five traits every student must cultivate within themselves to thrive at college—and some words of advice for parents, too:

  1. Discipline

    “This cannot be emphasized enough—in both college and in life, you must supervise yourself,” McFarland writes for Fox. “There comes a time when you have to take ownership of certain things in life: Such as being responsible to get up on time, arriving punctually for commitments (like class), and meeting deadlines. Keep a ‘to do’ list on a legal pad, write yourself Post-its or put alarms in your phone. Whatever it takes, become a disciplined, ‘get it done right’ type of person.”

  1. Decision making

“It has been said that good leaders don’t make good decisions, good leaders make hard decisions,” McFarland says. “Every college student should see themselves as a leader—at the very least, a leader in terms of their own personal development and future. The student should carefully, and prayerfully, make decisions about class load, desired major, time management, relationships and activities outside of class. Life is about knowing where to invest and what to jettison. College is a training ground to hone this ability.” 

  1. Discernment

McFarland remembers that a wise professor once told him: “Show me who your friends are and I will tell you who you’ll be in 10 years.”

“So many promising young futures have been lost on the university campus,” McFarland writes. “The pursuit of higher education—though valuable—also comes with risk. Most campuses and ‘college towns’ can be a wonderland of opportunities to wreck one’s life. Far too many universities can also be places where critical thinking skills and one’s worldview may get deeply warped. Mom and Dad, don’t send your child to a school where your child will be programmed to become a godless, America-hating ‘social justice warrior.’ Within the classroom and without, students need discernment.”


“Success at college depends on a clear and realistic vision for oneself,” McFarland says. “Repeated changes of major and even too many ‘drop/adds’ of classes get expensive. I encourage parents to make their child help pay their own tuition. Let the student have some financial skin in the game, and watch their responsibility level increase!”

And, McFarland adds, the old saying applies: “Plan the work, and work the plan.” Students should choose a school, a degree path and¾unless something exceptionally radical changes¾stick to it.

  1. Dedication

McFarland says many students may feel like “throwing in the towel” at some during college and in launching their careers, but he encourages students to remember a line from the film “Apollo 13:” “Failure is not an option.”

“Approach college,” he says, “and even each individual class, with this mindset of commitment. Tell yourself, ‘I will succeed.’ College is a wonderful time to set patterns for life, of following through and succeeding. Make the mental commitment that, God willing, nothing will stop you from ‘going the distance.’ Most importantly, do more than just ‘phone it in.’ Invest. Hanging in there and just not quitting—these things are crucial in life, and certainly so during the college years.”

McFarland adds that when students give their best today, they will thank themselves tomorrow.

“College is not a time to merely learn stuff,” he says. “Plan to make a mark. Plan to become someone. There is knowledge, and there is wisdom. For God and country, and in honor of those who have invested in you, resolve to obtain both.”

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