Return LDS Missionaries Adjust to College Life


(Photo Courtesy of Westin Wong)

(Photo Courtesy of Westin Wong)
(Photo Courtesy of Westin Wong)

In Oct. 2012, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints made a huge change that impacted many young members.
Leaders lowered the minimum age for Mormon missionaries to 18 and 19 for men and women respectively. What followed was a 471 percent increase in mission applications, and, as a result, college admissions saw a slight decrease in enrollment.
Two years later, Tracy Williams, director of the LDS Institute of Religion, noted that the bulk of the first wave of returners — who left for their mission after the change — will most likely be enrolling in this spring semester.
What the institute has done in the past to help returned missionaries resettle to the college lifestyle was contact them directly and give them resources and opportunities to get involved with the community. The difference now, Williams said, is readjusting this outreach to cater to the large number of individuals who skipped college and went on their missions first.
“We’re still discussing how we can do more,” Williams said. “The leadership of the student council is doing a lot of different things to welcome them back and help them with this new experience.”
In response to the age change, the U adopted a new deferment policy in fall of 2013, shifting from a merit-based system to an overarching examination of the student’s qualifications. The new system allows deferment for seven consecutive semesters, which is roughly equal to a two-year mission, the typical time served by male missionaries.
This policy was implemented through the Office of Student Affairs.
Although the dip in enrollment was less than five percent in total headcount for all Utah colleges and universities, the U’s 2012-2013 admissions report stated “more than 500 … potential incoming freshmen chose to defer their admission, with religious and humanitarian service being the overwhelming reason.”
Williams said she feels the first wave of missionaries who have returned after this change have adjusted well.
“They said their mission has made them more willing to jump into college because of the discipline of their routine and studying,” Williams said. “They feel their experience in the world really helped them mature and better prepare themselves.”
But for returned missionaries, like Natasha Norton, a senior in recreational therapy, the readjustment wasn’t as easy.
“It was hard because on my mission, the focus was on other people and helping them reach goals,” Norton said. “When I came back, it was all about me and what I need to do myself. It was overwhelming thinking about myself.”
Norton said she realizes the transition can be difficult, but her own readjustment was grounded in staying focused.
“The best advice I could give would be to use the tools you learned to motivate and inspire others,” Norton said. “Use the disciplines you learned for your mission to make goals, reach those goals and make more goals.”
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