Make College Count: A Faithful Guide to Life and Learning

Derek Melleby  
Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011


According to Derek Melleby, in contrast to how many students spend the “critical years” of college, faithful Christian students must be intentional about seizing the opportunity that college affords for them to develop their minds, discover their gifts, and discern God’s call, thereby “increasing [their] serviceability for God” both during college and after graduation.[1]



After a foreword written by David Kinnaman (president of the Barna Group and the author of UnChristian and You Lost Me), Melleby issues his call to students to be intentional about utilizing college to grow in faithfulness and usefulness to God. He does this through asking seven questions of the reader. These seven questions, each of which precedes a chapter of the book, are also accompanied by subtitles. They are as follows:

  1. What Kind of Person Do You Want to Become?
  • Following Jesus During the Critical Years
  1. Why Are You Going to College?
  • Finding Your Place in God’s Story
  1. What Do You Believe?
  • Taking Ownership of Your Faith
  1. Who Are You?
  • Securing Your Identity in Christ
  1. With Whom Will You Surround Yourself?
  • Connecting With Christian Community
  1. How Will You Choose a Major?
  • Putting Your Faith into Action
  1. How Do You Want Your Life to Influence Others?
  • Leaving a Legacy

Following the main text of each of these chapters, there are profiles of college students or recent graduates, which are meant to give the reader (presumably a new college student) insight from their peers into the challenges, successes, and failures these students experienced as they attempted to “make college count” for God and for others. Each chapter also ends with three discussion questions. At the end of the book, Melleby offers a list of “Resources for the Road Ahead,” such as books, websites, and magazines that might be useful to students as they live out their Christian faith in college.



Derek Melleby holds a BA from Bloomsburg University, an MA from Geneva College, and is currently working on a doctorate at Gordon-Conwell Seminary. Having previously served on the staff of the Evangelical Free Church of Hershey, PA, Melleby is now the director of the College Transition Initiative. He is also the Executive Director of OneLife, a gap year program that is offered through Lancaster Bible College. He has dedicated his life to helping Christian high school students make the transition into college. 

Within the larger context of this book, Melleby shares three personal stories of his undergraduate years, each of which gives insight into the concerns that led him to write Make College Count. First he tells of a winter day on campus when he encountered a half-naked drunk student acting foolishly. Looking back on that encounter, Melleby is struck by how normal it seemed to him back then. He had bought in to the popular idea that the point of college is to have as much crazy fun as possible before entering into the “real world.”[2] Melleby assumes that a large number of college students have bought in to the same image and are wasting their time in college by acting like this drunken student rather than by growing in faith and purpose.

The second personal story that Melleby tells is about a philosophy professor that had all the Christians raise their hands on the first day of class and then spent the entire semester trying to convince the Christians of their ignorance. The professor would check in with the students on a regular basis and then show delight when fewer students identified as Christians each time.  Melleby presupposes that many Christian students will have experiences like this, that college (although he does not differentiate between secular and church-affiliated schools) will likely be a place not only of intellectual challenge to Christian faith but even outright hostility. He wants Christian students to expect this, to go deeper in their own faith in response, and to face it with confidence.

The third personal story is about how Melleby’s identity was too tied to his performance as a college basketball player. When he played well, he felt good about himself. When he played poorly, he felt terrible about himself. He assumes that a large number of college students are tying their identity to performance (sports, grades) or to peer groups (Greek houses, clubs), when they should be tying their identities to Jesus Christ.



For such a small book (113 pages), there is a great deal of theology that undergirds Melleby’s arguments. Within this theological framework, the foundational doctrine is the providence of the Triune God, the guiding “hand” of God that not only cares for God’s creation but calls God’s children into particular vocations through which they can love and serve God and others. “We have been created to do things for [God] and for others,” Melleby writes.[3] This is of utmost importance for Melleby because he believes that it is quite often during the college years (a natural time of vocational discernment) that young Christians need to be most attentive to God’s providence in their own lives. “Your time in college provides a unique context for reflecting on God’s call on your life,” he writes. “Take advantage of it. You will never have this kind of time again.”[4] (34).

Melleby is very clear that faith in this providential God “is not just a ticket to heaven or the ‘religious’ part of your life.  Rather, your faith should be the center of who you are, affecting the way you ‘see’ everything.”[5] This lived-out faith is “defined more by what we do rather than what we don’t do,” he claims.[6] Although Melleby concentrates on faith being lived out in action, he never descends into works righteousness, but continually affirms God’s grace in Jesus Christ.  He writes, “If your identity and worth are determined by being a child of God, then you already are somebody even before you do anything… No one and nothing can take that away from you.”[7] He is clear that the service we offer to God and to others is not to earn God’s love, but rather to show gratitude for God’s freely- given love. 

According to Melleby, the call that God places on the lives of Christians (non-Christians are never discussed) allows Christians to participate in God’s transformative work. God transforms each individual and calls them to join in on God’s work of transforming all of creation. This transformative work begins and finds much of its meaning within the context of Christian community. “It is essential,” Melleby writes, “that you connect to the larger body of Christ.”[8] He suggests that students make this connection by getting involved in a campus ministry and by actively participating in the life of a local congregation. This transformation then spreads from the individual Christian and congregation and causes the transformation of friendships, classroom experiences, the local community, and even the world.[9]



This book is written to be given as a gift to Christian young people when they graduate from high school in order to aid them in the transition from high school to college.  It is intended to help in this transition by inspiring and equipping these students to utilize the “critical years” of college to grow in their understanding of their value as children of God and disciples of Jesus Christ, to discern who God is calling them to be, and to explore how they can serve others in Christ’s name during college and through their post-college career.



The greatest strength of Derek Melleby’s Make College Count is the overall message that college is a critical time in the development of Christian students that should be utilized to develop their minds, discover their gifts, and discern God’s call on their lives. Melleby makes his point in a clear, understandable way based upon solid Reformed theology. If Christian students would take the message of this book to heart, the college years would no longer be viewed as a time to “check out” of church and there would be a much larger number of students graduating from college with a clear sense of how God has called them to serve God and others through their vocation.

The main weakness of this book is that Melleby’s presentation of this powerful and much needed message is overwhelmingly androcentric, so much so that even a reader who is not generally sensitive to it may very well be put off by this aspect of the book. For instance, all six blurbs praising the book are written by male authors, as is the foreword. Throughout the book there are twenty-one featured quotations. Twenty of those twenty-one quotes are by men, the very last one being from a woman. In addition, all of the God-language in this book is masculine (all Scripture quotations are NIV), and in the “Resources for the Road Ahead” section the author suggests seven books, all authored by men. In the same section, he encourages the reader to look into the lives of six saints of the church. All six are men. The only aspect of the book in which women have much of a voice is in the profiles at the end of the chapters. Of the eleven profiles, six feature young women. This overall androcentrism may not be uncommon for some conservative Christian readers, but it will likely be jarring and off-putting to a great many mainline Christian readers. In addition, this male-centered worldview is likely not the message that mainline churches, youth pastors, or collegiate ministers wish to pass on to their recent high school graduates.   

Other weaknesses of Make College Count are that there is no discussion of interfaith interaction (common on most college campuses) and that the book seems dated. Although the publication date is given as 2011, there are several pop culture references that seem to come from an earlier time. The author mentions Myspace (popular from 2005-2008) as though it is still in common use, and the students in the profiles mention bands like Hootie and the Blowfish (1990’s) and TV shows like Sally Jesse Raphael (1983-2002) that, although they may come from the college years of some collegiate ministers, would seem unfamiliar or humorously ancient to recent high school graduates.

Ultimately, collegiate ministers will have to decide whether or not Melleby’s overwhelming androcentric presentation is so troublesome that it distracts too much from the strong overall message to warrant purchasing this book for recent high school graduates or new freshmen. One option that mainline collegiate ministers might consider is purchasing this book for their own library, reading it and gleaning its wisdom, and then communicating it in more inclusive ways to the college students in their ministries. Another alternative would be to read it with a group of students and discuss both the overall message of the book and the problems caused by its male-centered presentation. Regardless of how this book is utilized by collegiate ministers, the overall message of the book is of utmost importance for the college students with whom and to whom these pastors are ministering.


[Review by Everett L. Miller]       

[1] Melleby, D., Make College Count, 33-34.

[2] Ibid., 17-18.

[3] Ibid., 61.

[4] Ibid., 34.

[5] Ibid., 47.

[6] Ibid., 13.

[7] Ibid., 63.

[8] Ibid., 75.

[9] Ibid., 101-103.