Ten Mistakes to Avoid at CTS

by Matthew Cooke. Director of Admissions 

The beginning of your seminary career can be a critical time as you form habits while digesting new information and meeting new people.  That’s why I’m here to help! Below are the top 10 mistakes first-year students make at the start of their time in seminary:

Mistake #1. Saying “I’m too busy to get involved”: I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but life in seminary can get busy. Between studying Hebrew or Greek, writing long papers, preparing sermons and presentations, and all the other academic work that takes up your time, it’s easy to get so busy that any extracurricular activities feels like a poor use of time. This is unfortunate.

CTS offers a variety of ways to get involved, to meet new people, and to grow academically and in your faith. There are weekly events such as chapel (which includes donut Wednesdays!) and Town Hall meetings to spend time as a community. In addition, there are a variety of clubs and student groups offered through the Dean of Students office. Finally, there are excellent annual events such as Dies Natalis, Christmas Around the World, and the beginning-of-the-year cookout. It is obviously important to do your work, but it would be regrettable to be so busy that you didn’t feel connected!

#2. Saying “I’m too busy to study”: With all the events listed above, it is easy to become too busy. You are first and foremost a student. Good time management is important! Set up a weekly schedule that includes homework time. Go to the library. Buy a planner. Do what you need to do to invest the time in your school work that it deserves.

#3. Thinking the workload at CTS will be similar to your undergrad experience: It won’t be. This is a graduate school education and CTS is one of the most challenging. This is a good thing, but you will need to plan accordingly in order to flourish during your time in seminary.

#4. Not bringing candy and soda to the admissions office: This is, obviously, a HUGE MISTAKE. Bring us treats! Often!

#5. Not exploring Grand Rapids: This is the most pertinent to our residential students (sorry distance folks), but I am here to tell you that Grand Rapids is a great place to live. Events like Art Prize and Celebration on the Grand are wonderful to attend to get oriented with downtown. You can easily drive to the Meijer Gardens and Lake Michigan. Get out and explore this wonderful part of the world (and did you know you can get a bus pass for half price from the Dean of Students office?!)

#6. Not asking for help: One of the many great things about CTS is the caring and supportive faculty and staff. If you ever find yourself struggling (academically, spiritually, emotionally, financially), talk to someone. We are here to help.

#7. Not making new friends: This mistake can be most tempting for folks who either have a community in Grand Rapids already or are coming from a college that sends a number of students to CTS every year. You have your group of friends. Who needs more community? I was talking with new students last fall and asked them about their favorite part of CTS. Without pausing, both said the community of people they were meeting. What they loved most about these new friends was the diversity of age and background. It would have been easy to stay with their existing group of friends, but they were blessed when they took steps to meet new people.

#8. Avoiding the sushi at Johnny’s: This is a very specific mistake, but more broadly it refers to missing out on the many benefits of Calvin College during your time at CTS. Not only can you enjoy Johnny’s Cafe for a delicious on-campus meal, you have access to the Fieldhouse, the Library, and a variety of spaces and resources at the college. Want to see FUN or Regina Spektor in concert? Want to join an intramural sports team? Want to hear an interesting lecture or attend a great conference, like the Festival of Faith and Music? Calvin College offers a variety of options for CTS students. Oh, and the sushi is pretty tasty as well!

#9. Not asking the tough questions: Like any good learning environment, CTS is a great place to ask challenging questions. This is particularly important in seminary, where the big questions of life—about faith, identity, and meaning—can be a part of everyday conversation. Don’t play it safe. There is no better place to explore these questions.

#10. Not realizing how precious your time at seminary is: When you are in the middle of it, it can be easy to forget what a blessing it is to be in seminary! You have the privilege of spending significant time in God’s word, learning from world-class scholars, and discussing the finer points of Reformed theology and ministry best-practices. As you grow in your theological knowledge, you will also grow in your faith and in your understanding of God’s calling on your life. And many of you are receiving support (financial, but also in prayer and mentoring relationships) from people who think this sort of education is very important. This time in your life is such a blessing!

Avoiding these simple mistakes should make your journey through seminary more enriching and enjoyable. Welcome to Calvin Seminary!