The “Anywhere but BYU” College Survival Guide

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Life is exciting. You just started your first semester at the best university around. And no, you’re not going to BYU. Not in Provo, Idaho, or Hawaii. And even though your parents and friends are only mildly disappointed with you for not choosing the Lord’s school, you are happy with your choice.

Being a successful and faithful Latter-day Saint at a non-Church school has its challenges, but is entirely possible. Here is a college surival guide for your first year (or first semester) to have fun and keep you on the strait and narrow path.

Join the Institute

Foosball at Institute
Institute can be a refuge from the University

Institute is the best thing for any Mormon college student, especially for those not at a Church school. If you’re living on or near campus, institute can be more of a home than your apartment.

They will have formal activities almost constantly: Monday night FHE, Wednesday night classes, Friday night dances or activities, Saturday morning hikes, and Sunday church. At larger universities, there will probably be even more options.

The institute at your school will generally have one or more of the following available at most hours of the day: Pool table, ping-pong, foosball, basketball, an available fridge, couches and chairs, and most importantly, WiFi (the password is almost always Pioneer47).

Being at a university can be a challenge for Latter-day Saints in a lot of ways. Institute can be a refuge from a lot of those challenges.

Lastly, Institute can be a great way to introduce the Church to your friends. If you listen to one piece of advice in this article, go to the institute.

Find a Club

College survival guide tip: join clubs
At Freshman orientation, look for organizations focused on interests you enjoy rather than “college life” in general.

At freshman orientation, every single fraternity said the exact same thing: “We’re not like the other fraternities. We care about community and brotherhood. We do the other stuff separate.” It was definitely eye-opening and a little intimidating.

Rather than taking a risk with Greek life, I recommend focussing on single-interest clubs that spark your interest. Join two or three clubs for things that you really enjoy doing, student government, intramural sports, cultural clubs, dancing clubs, anything else they happen to have on campus. Chances are you won’t have time for all three, but this will help you find one that works for you.

Joining a club will help you find friends, have fun, and make long-term professional connections, all while focusing on a specific interest rather than general “college life,” which is all too often a euphemism for breaking any number of commandments.

The Dorm is Your Home Too

Dorm Room
Be respectful of your roommate, but don’t be afraid to set boundaries.

If you want a good roommate you have to be a good roommate. Be friendly and clean. Don’t eat your roommates’ food. Give them space when they need it. Don’t play your music too loud. Bake them your favorite cookies occasionally. Forgive them. Forgive yourself.

Don’t assume that your roommate doesn’t share your values, there are a lot of good people in the world. Having you as a roommate could help them avoid bad decisions they otherwise might make.

But there is a good chance your roommate won’t share your values. If you want them to respect you, do your best to respect their choices. That said, remember this is your dorm too. If you don’t want midnight bed guests, be clear. If you don’t want pornography strewn on the floor, be clear.

Consider dedicating your dorm room. Invite some new friends from the institute, maybe make it a party.

Dorms are not necessarily a bad experience. One roommate I had was my absolute best friend, he was a great roommate, and it was a blast living with him. If your roommate isn’t that great, remember that the semester will be over before you know it.

Find Time for What’s Important

College student reading the scriptures
If you have time to eat, you have time to read scriptures.

This advice certainly can apply to those at Church schools too. College is super busy. And when you’re struggling to find any possible time, it’s really easy to justify doing away with the basics.

At one time, I had seventeen hour days in my program of study. When I finished I needed to do my homework and studying. Not to mention my church calling, social life (ha!), or sleep. Not reading my scriptures would have been very easy.

But as long as you have time to eat, you can read your scriptures at the same time.

Sunday church is another area where you might consider saving some time. When Church can last four or even five hours depending on your calling, it can be tempting to use that time for something else. It’s tempting because it’s a temptation. Go to church. You will be rewarded way more than anything else you could accomplish with the same time.

Embrace the Singles Ward

Mormon Singles Ward
The Singles Ward is essential for young Mormons away from home for the first time.

Yes, I get it. Singles Ward. Ha ha. And they are hilarious. And they certainly can be awkward. They’re also the best. And if you’re trying to live the gospel away from home for the first time in your life, they are the best thing in the world.

Contextualize all the marriage talk. It is an important principle of the gospel. It does come up in singles wards a lot. Don’t freak out, follow the advice in a reasonable way for your life. No one’s going to tell you to get married this weekend.

In fact, the best thing you can do in a singles ward is to make friends. Real friends. Because at a lot of universities, Friday night is going to have a lot of drunk people, and after five minutes, they’re not that funny anymore, and you’ll need someone to hang out with.

Plus, a singles ward will give you a way to serve and help you maintain balance when schoolwork starts to become overwhelming.

Date, Really Just Do It

College Dating
Go on dates. Go on awkward dates. Go on nerve-wracking dates. It’ll make you a better person.

Dating should be fun and natural. One day, when you find that lucky person, you will love spending time with them. Until then, just learn to have fun. Will you be weird for going on dates? Almost certainly. Should you do it anyway? Yes.

Dates are awkward. But so is your physics class. And college should be a time where you are stretching and growing even socially. Church leaders have emphasized dating a lot. And it is certainly harder when you’re away from the BYUs, but think of it like any of the other hard things church leaders have asked you to do, like go to church every week, read your scriptures, or attend the temple.

And while you do marry who you date, you don’t marry everyone you date. Let some of the pressure off. Date someone you wouldn’t expect. Or ask out your biggest crush. Just do it. You’ll learn about yourself, and you’ll have fun.

All in all, you are at a very exciting time of your life and will have lots of opportunities to grow in your education, your spiritual life, and your personal life. You will make life-long friends and will love your experience. Good luck!!

Nathan attended the University of Texas at San Antonio. After his experience there, he eventually transferred to BYU-Hawaii, where he met his wife. He currently works at a large manufacturing company near Charlotte, North Carolina. He loves church basketball, tennis, and spending time with his beautiful wife.