There are plenty of resources on the net about how to write good papers, take the right classes…you know that sort of thing. Here are is my Top 5 “secret” tips (in no particular order) that will help you out in your first semester.
1. Get a job on campus.
If you live on campus, you may be trying to do this already because it means you don’t have to commute to work. But this is a great option for any student. I have two (sometimes 3) jobs on campus and it has allowed me many opportunities that the average student would never have. I work in the office of Community Life and I lead the Worship Design team, a group of students that is responsible for planning the three chapel services a week. Through my jobs I have worked with all of the Vice-Presidents of Asbury, had lunch with our President, interacted with our Board, had countless individual interactions with some of the professors that most students would love to have, and many other cool things.
I would not be as involved with so many things around campus if I didn’t work on campus. I would say that as much of my learning has taken place in meetings and planning sessions as has in the classroom.
2. Go to chapel.
At Asbury chapel isn’t required. This surprises many of our prospective and incoming students (I know many Christian colleges require chapel, but do any other seminaries?), and just that barrier being down makes chapel more meaningful to some people. It is possible to just go through the motions at seminary and not involve yourself at a spiritual level, but this is the biggest mistake that you can make. When you become a part of the worshiping body at your school, you instantly have a time to let the “minister” in you take a back seat to your primary role as a worshiper.
Different school’s chapel services look different, but no matter what, becoming involved in yours will make a big difference in your life at seminary.
3. Find a hidden place in the Library.
I go to the library at least 4 times a week to study. I have joked with friends that work at the library (let’s make that a sub-tip, make friends with the library workers) about how full the library gets before mid-terms and finals. We all know why it gets so full, but it is wild to see how many people don’t utilize the library except for the computers. I know of several “hidden” places in our library where I can go and be completely uninterrupted. Your school may allow you to check out a carrel for the entire semester (I wish Asbury did). I don’t know how my friends claim to get work done at home. I can do it for an hour or so, but spending 8 hours writing a paper is impossible at home. I can do it easily in the library.
When you go to the same place session after session, your mind gets into “study mode” when you sit down. This allows you to concentrate on your work and fully pour yourself into it. Our time here at school is an act or worship, so why not try to offer God your best.
4. Make friends with the students about to graduate.
Within a month at Asbury I met my friend Isaac. Isaac and I worked together for two years until he graduated and it is one of the best relationships I have had while here. There are several reasons why our relationship was so important to me.
1. The academic level: Isaac and I came from the same situation, preachers kids who didn’t have religon degree’s from undergrad. We were also both under-achievers in college. Isaac had already navigated through some rough waters in seminary and passed down so much to me. When I was thinking about asking a professor for a grade change, Isaac walked me through it. I used Isaac to figure out what teachers to take, because we both were interested in similar developments in theology and biblical studies.
2. The personal level: Isaac and his wife were just a few years older than Meredith and I. There have been so many pieces of advice he has given me that have proven to be golden. Seminary can be hard to navigate for the first year or so, and having a friend that had done it successfully was a huge help.
3. The Spiritual level: I had accountability in Isaac. Asbury tends to be an immersive academic environment with the professors sometimes turning a five minute pre-class devotion into the full blown lesson for the day. Learning how to connect personal devotion to academic excellence is a common discussion. When I was struggling through rough theological decisions, Isaac had been there before. When Meredith and I were trying to make decisions regarding our denomination, Isaac had been there before.
Why not have a friend that is farther along the journey than you. This will prove to be one of the best moves you can make at Seminary.
5. Make friends with a lesser-known professor.
Your school probably has at least one teacher who is known at a large scale. We have several at Asbury and their classes always fill up quick. Everyone tries to get office time with them, and crowd around them after they speak at chapel. I don’t want to encourage you to never take their classes, but you should investigate other professors. More often than not, the professors that don’t publish yearly aren’t sub-grade scholars, but are more active in their church communities and other areas. I have two professors that I enjoy spending time with that have mentored me along my seminary journey. Both of them are brilliant and have taught me tons. I have learned about what a pastor-scholar looks like through both of them. When I need help with something, I can go to them.
Building a relationship with a professor or two who has more time under girds you and better prepares you for the ministry. While you can try to do this with the most popular professor, it will be more profitable if you are able to be mentored by someone who has more time for you.
These are just a few tips that have greatly bettered my time at seminary. I hope that they are helpful to you too.