Finding Balance at College, Rooted in Time With God

Students and recent graduates offer advice on how to steward a daily prayer life on campus.

L to R: Jacob Hooper, Maura Flynn, Jackson Coulter and Elizabeth Hudelson attest to how prayer aided their college journeys.
L to R: Jacob Hooper, Maura Flynn, Jackson Coulter and Elizabeth Hudelson attest to how prayer aided their college journeys. (photo: Courtesy of subjects)

While school offers structure and routine, it’s still challenging to commit to daily prayer amid 8am classes, extracurricular commitments, and making new friends. 

If you’re anxiously awaiting your freshman year of college, or you’re gearing up for your senior year, these students — from Catholic and non-Catholic schools — have advice and wisdom to better cultivate a daily prayer life. 


Why Pray Daily?

“Daily prayer is a non-negotiable of Christian life, as I was reminded of in a homily this past weekend,” said Elizabeth Hudelson, a child-life specialist who graduated from Miami University in the spring. “Without prayer, the communication between myself and my God, I have no desire or motivation to pursue virtue or live a good life.”

Though schedules fill up fast, Jackson Coulter, a senior at the University of Georgia, said that college is when you need a prayer life more than ever: “It’s easy to reason your way out of daily prayer, especially in a time like college, but that’s when you need it most.”

Maura Flynn, who just finished her freshman year at Franciscan University of Steubenville, said that a seminarian once challenged her to pray every day for 15 minutes, claiming that it would change her life. 

“After doing it, I can attest to the fact that daily prayer can and will change your life,” Flynn said. “Prayer allows you to dive into the mysteries of Christ’s heart, which otherwise would’ve been left uncovered.”

Daily prayer is fundamental for cultivating a spiritual life, she continued. 

“It’s as necessary for our souls as oxygen is for our lungs,” Flynn said. “It’s a privilege far beyond anything we can comprehend.”

On top of that, Flynn said that prayer as a conversation gives us the grace to live holy lives, constantly refocusing our hearts, minds and souls on the things that matter within a busy school schedule. 

“I think it’s important to have a daily prayer life because, especially in college, your attention is being divided among so many things, and daily prayer is how you remain attentive to Jesus,” Coulter said. “If Jesus is not influencing your time, he probably won’t be influencing your life.”

Even though it may be obvious to some why the faithful should pray, it’s still challenging to understand how to pray. 

Jacob Hooper, a Hillsdale College graduate who is attending Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University this fall, suggested starting off every morning in prayer rather than waiting until the end of the day. 

“If you can start the day off on the right foot, and with a sound conscience, you’ll be able to tackle the day’s challenges with more ease and peace,” he said. “Daily prayer gives one clarity of mind to act well and conduct yourself in a Christlike manner, almost like a check to ensure we are living a Christlike life every day.”

This past summer, Coulter said that daily morning Mass and a daily Rosary have been keeping him in a rhythm of prayer, though his routine changed throughout college semesters and seasons. Sometimes he’ll pray in daily Holy Hours or via the Liturgy of the Hours, or do praise and worship.

For Flynn, the sacraments were easily accessible on Franciscan’s campus, with Mass four times a day and adoration chapels in each dorm. “I tried to start and end my day with prayer by saying a Morning Offering before I jumped off my bunk bed and concluding my day with St. Ignatius’ examen before drifting off to sleep,” Flynn said. 

Hudelson said she didn’t always have a built-in place to pray at school, so she would make one for herself. 

“The first few years before my school had much structure to our community and access to a church, I would prioritize having a designated prayer space in my dorm room or bedroom and pray in the morning before anything else,” she said. 

During his senior year, Hooper said he took the time to find devotionals and books that were divided up into chapters that made for easy early-morning reading. He read from Padre Pio’s Words of Hope, Consecration to St. Joseph: The Wonders of Our Spiritual Father by Father Donald Calloway, St. Louis de Montfort’s Total Consecration to Jesus Through Mary, and Into the Deep by Dan Burke.

“While these books offer excellent spiritual guidance, I still make sure I have direct personal time with God,” Hooper said. 

“An old friend of mine introduced me to a simple prayer: three Hail Marys followed by intentions and brief meditation. The prayer is easy to learn and allows me to get right to the heart of my troubles and figure out a way to reorient myself to God.”


Prayer Is a Relationship

Many students offered the same advice to those struggling with prayer: Keep it consistent. 

“Prayer must be consistent,” Flynn said. “I will be the first to admit that this challenge is very hard, but so worthwhile when lived out.”

Flynn recommended picking a set amount of time to pray and sticking to that. “If it’s five minutes, stick to five minutes, nothing less,” Flynn said. “If it’s 15 minutes, stick to 15 minutes, nothing less. And if it’s 30 minutes, stick to 30 minutes, nothing less.”

Hudelson said that daily Mass has been a staple for her since early college and now post-grad. “The graces received in the Eucharist have been undeniable,” she said. 

“Yes, the homework had to get done, the internships needed to be applied for, and the club meetings had to be attended — but not at the cost of my soul, so sometimes sacrifices of good things had to be made to make prayer happen,” she stressed.

Coulter said that having discipline in his prayer life is crucial. 

But even when he feels like his prayer isn’t enough, Coulter said it’s important to “just show up”: “It’s the best advice I have received about daily prayer. Jesus can do more in your life than you could imagine simply with the time that you give him. Our time is one of the greatest gifts we can give to the Lord.”

Feeling like one is slipping away or struggling in prayer isn’t a cause for dejection, Coulter added. 

“Simply turn back to him. Remember, prayer is not just a task and is not about perfection or performance. Relationship is key!” 

Hudelson agreed that prayer is more than just checking off a task, but investing in a relationship with God: “A faith without deep, personal connection can’t do that.”

Hooper recommended praying in the morning. 

“Morning prayer will set a great tone for the rest of your day,” he said.

Hudelson suggested going to Mary and entrusting all worries and struggles to her: “If you find it hard to go directly to God, start with the woman he gave us to be a mother, Mary.”


The Key to Discernment

By stewarding her daily prayer life, Flynn found the peace and joy of her vocation. 

Having finished her freshman year at Franciscan, this fall, Flynn will be joining the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville, Tennessee. “Prayer was the hinge for my personal discernment,” Flynn said. “I knew that my discernment had to be rooted in prayer, and not just based on reading books, searching orders online and talking to mentors,” she said of discovering her call to be God’s own. 

“Day in and out, the Lord’s will for my life, and the timing of it all, slowly unfolded through conversation in prayer.”