All across the country, young people are packing up laptops, clothing and books as they prepare for one of life’s big crossroads: going away to college, and living on their own for the first time ever. 

College offers abundant freedom, but it often comes with pitfalls. Left to their own devices, many students will stay up into the wee hours of the night, consume brownies for breakfast and party a bit too heartily on the weekends. 

These are the ordinary dangers, but for Catholic students something far more treacherous lurks on the average secular campus, which is a strong atheistic bent that slithers its way through courses, ranging from philosophy and English to history and psychology. 

Take it from someone who has been there and done that: Many Catholic freshmen put their prayer life on hold and sleep in on Sundays instead of going to Mass. But this is certainly not inevitable, and here’s some advice that may help: 

1. Be firm in what you believe. Don’t be taken by surprise the first time one of your professors makes fun of those who believe in God — and suggests religion is rather quaint and outdated. Many older professors especially are still suffering from the ugly fallout of the 1960s and ’70s, when vast numbers of people decided God was dead. Be on the alert when you see the first signs of the well-admired atheistic professor, espousing anti-Christian beliefs in the classroom. Don’t be afraid to stand up for your faith, respectfully and firmly. There are other students who will thank you for it. 

2. Say “no” to premarital sex. There is a prevailing belief among many college students that “Everyone is doing x, so therefore it is OK for me to do it.” This kind of thinking is fallacious and highly dangerous, especially when x means dabbling in premarital sex. Keep in mind that sex is never safe — emotionally, physically and spiritually — until you are married. The risk you face from not going along with the crowd is that you may be considered odd. The dangers of going along with the crowd are infinitely greater. 

3. Find the Catholic Center on campus and get involved in it. It’s important to have friends who share your values, and you are likely to find them at the center. This way, you won’t feel like the odd duck when other students are “hooking up,” drinking excessively or dabbling in drugs. Also, Catholic centers typically host social get-togethers, study groups, meals and volunteer activities. 

4. Keep your priorities straight. Even if mom isn’t there to nudge you awake, head to Mass every Sunday. Also, make an effort to know the campus priest, or a priest at a nearby parish. It is crucial to have someone you can rely on to provide spiritual advice as needed. 

5. Make time for prayers. As a freshman, I remember seeing my roommate, also Catholic, kneeling down each night to say her prayers. That really impressed me because she wasn’t ashamed of her faith. You can also pray silently while you are walking across campus, or while you are jogging. Pray for professors who don’t believe in God, pray for classmates who have fallen prey to the “everyone is doing it” mentality — and pray for God’s grace. 

6. Pack some books on your Catholic faith. You may find that in sociology and psychology classes especially, pro-life issues will be dismissed out of hand. You may be presented with arguments trying to show that abortion is acceptable, homosexual actions are not sinful and premarital sex is fine. It is crucial to keep your grounding and realize why our Faith teaches what it does. One good source is “The Catholicism Answer Book” (Sourcebooks, $15.99) by John Trigilio and Kenneth Brighenti, which answers 300 questions about our Faith, including social teaching. 

7. Go to confession regularly. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about whatever is troubling you, and seek spiritual direction when you need it. Keep in mind that when it comes to sin, there is nothing new under the sun. 

8. Pack your rosary beads! You’ve got your running shoes, favorite DVDs, photos of friends and your laptop, right? Well, don’t leave behind one of the most important items, and for heaven’s sake — and your own — put some mileage on it. 

Lorraine V. Murray writes about her college days in“Confessions of an Ex-Feminist” and is the author of “The Abbess of Andalusia,” a biography of Flannery O’Connor.