Pope Francis’ Advice for College Students

Pope Francis gives a thumbs up as he leaves his general audience in St. Peter’s Square. (CNS photo/Gaby Maniscalco)

Pope Francis has a reputation for saying surprising things. Remember when he found common ground between Christians and atheists? Then there was the time he told a newly married graduate student not to worry “if the dishes fly.” Sometimes his advice is like talking to your favorite grandpa and other times he really rocks the boat. We’ve been offering advice to college freshmen for more than a decade in “The Freshman Survival Guide” and wondered if any of the Holy Father’s advice applies to new college students. Not surprisingly, the answer is a big fat YES. Even though he jokes that he’s “from the stone age,” his advice to young people is surprisingly relevant. Here are seven tips from Pope Francis for those beginning the college journey.

1. Be open to new people.  

“Befriend those who disagree,” Pope Francis urges. Talk to people who see things from a point of view different than yours. Make a special effort to engage with a diverse group of people, and you might be surprised what you’ll learn. Pope Francis has encouraged people to build unity across religions, too: “Dialogue is born … from a conviction that the other person has something good to say. It assumes that there is room in the heart for the person’s point of view, opinion, and proposal.”

2. Consider new ideas.

Pope Francis encourages students to engage in rigorous study and to embrace challenging ideas, debate, and dialogue: “Do not be satisfied with partial truths or reassuring illusions.” Rather than being afraid of the ways they might challenge us, the Pope encourages wrestling with new ideas. “Welcome an increasingly full comprehension of reality in your study.” He frequently warns against arrogance: “Doing this requires the humility to listen and a far-sighted vision.”

3. Science is good. So is faith. They’re not mutually exclusive.

We do not have to think of God as a “magician, with a magic wand,” Pope Francis says, but we can understand evolution and other scientific thinking in the context of faith. Pope Francis studied chemistry in college and even worked as a chemist before he entered the seminary. He embraces science (as did his predecessors) and encourages others to do so as well.

4. The internet is a gift.

Francis understands your Facebook habit. “The internet … offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity. This is something truly good, a gift from God.” But the pope also warns against the dangers of isolating ourselves, “We need tenderness,” he advises. The internet can help with that to a point, keeping us close to loved ones, but break up your social media marathon with active time outdoors or in person human contact. The internet can be a great tool, but don’t let too much screen time consume your life.

5. Take care of others.

Pope Francis says, “If you withdraw into yourself, you run the risk of becoming egocentric. And stagnant water becomes putrid.” Go through life with a generous spirit and care for those in need. If you’re feeling down, one of the best things you can do is help someone else.  Every campus has service opportunities and doing good can be a real anchor point when studying begins to consume your life. Tutoring at an elementary school, volunteering at the soup kitchen, even just helping a friend can keep you connected and caring.

6. Don’t use religion to condemn.

The pope warns against using religion to hide from the world or as a way to be critical of others. When we do this he says religion becomes “a little convent of words, of prayers, of ‘I’m good and you’re bad,’ of moral regulations.”

7. Be courageous!

Invoking a saying from his home country, Pope Francis offers this advice: “In Argentina, we say, ‘Don’t be wimpy.’” Yes, you will face challenges and problems, but he says, “Don’t fear the difficulties. Be prudent, be careful, but don’t fear.” Beginning college can be intimidating, but remember, you’ve worked hard and learned a lot already, this is just the next step on your journey.

There’s a lot more great advice in the new edition of “The Freshman Survival Guide,” available online and in stores now. Download our free condensed version here to give to your favorite freshman-to-be. 

Special offer: Receive 52% off bulk orders (minimum of 25), non-returnable, when you email bulkbuys@thefreshmansurvivalguide.com and mention the code “FSG18.”