Every year, colleges and universities spend millions upon millions of dollars to identify and recruit students they believe will be successful at their institutions. For many of you, the evidence of this is clear every time you open your mailbox or sign on to your e-mail account and are bombarded by various schools—many of which you’ve never even heard of!—trying to capture your attention. A key component in finding the “right” institution for you is making sure the things that matter to you also matter to your future college home.
There are many different factors you must weigh when trying to identify the right school for your needs: academics, size, location, internship opportunities, and more. For many students, an incredibly important factor is making sure they will be able to continue to grow in their faith while attending the college of their choice.
Knowing how to identify an ideal environment for integrating your beliefs on campus can be tricky. It’s rarely as simple as looking for religious buzzwords in the “Quick Facts” section of the school’s website or checking to see if religiously centered clubs and organizations are offered through Student Life. If finding a home for your faith is important to your college experience, then you must proactively seek out this information just as you would to find a specific major or field of study.
Do I have to limit my search to private schools if living out my faith is vital to my college experience?
Absolutely not. While many private institutions may be very outgoing about the role a particular faith may play in the fundamental mission of the school, you can find incredibly rewarding, deeply committed faith-development environments at public schools as well. The appearance of religious doctrine in an institution’s mission statement (or core foundations) does not automatically translate into whether or not that campus has a faith-growing academic environment or if that school is necessarily a better fit for you than another institution.
It is worth noting, however, that many private, religiously affiliated colleges and universities can be far more transparent about their commitment to creating a faith-based environment and establishing certain resources that are readily available to their students.
Will my outward acknowledgement of religious faith limit my academic opportunities?
Again, absolutely not. There is an abundance of high-quality institutions out there—some that outwardly declare a religious affiliation and some that do not—and regardless of your faith doctrine, you will have plenty of academic opportunities to explore. But if this is still of concern to you, voice your anxiety to the schools you’re investigating. Not only does this allow them to explain their stance on the topic, but it also allows them to gain a better perspective of your priorities in finding the right fit.
How can living my faith on campus prepare me for my professional future?
Like other traits that help identify who you are, your faith can not only set you apart with distinctive qualities, it can also provide you with opportunities to develop important skills that future employers may be looking for. Your involvement in a Christian philanthropic group might give you experience organizing events in the community or require you to step outside of your personal comfort zone to speak about your faith with individuals you haven’t met before. These qualities translate very effectively into many careers as well.
Not only can your faith help create real-world opportunities to improve your marketability, your involvement in faith-based organizations and activities might even alter your career path altogether. My sister attended a small private liberal arts institution for physical therapy. While on campus, her Christian student outreach organization made multiple mission trips to Africa. When she graduated, instead of pursuing a career in physical therapy, she took a position in North Carolina as part of a similar Christian ministry on a college campus before eventually moving to North Africa to serve the population she had first met on a mission trip in college.
This isn’t to say that your involvement in a Christian organization will land you a job or change your career path in ways you’re unprepared for; however, living out your faith on campus can have far-reaching effects that don’t just serve to improve your time at school. It can directly impact the spiritual, academic, and professional aspects of your life forever.
How can I identify campuses that will not just accommodate my faith but aid in its maturation and development?
The best advice I can give can actually translate to other aspects of your life as well. When seeking out opportunities for growth—spiritually, professionally, intellectually, or otherwise—don’t rely solely on others to create an environment for development. Yes, it’s incredibly beneficial to find a place where resources are already in place to assist you in this process; however, don’t expect to find situations where others will do all of the work for you.
I equate finding the right place for spiritual growth to finding a school that will help you land that coveted internship you want. Let’s say you really, really want to snag an internship at ESPN. You go from school to school in your college search process and ask, “Do you have a partnership with ESPN for internships?” You immediately mark each school that answers “no” off your list until, finally, you come across a school that says, “Why, yes, we do have a partnership with ESPN where three of our communication majors take part in an internship during their junior year.” You’re overjoyed. You should be! But the truth is, you’re at least three years away from that internship opportunity. And no one told you, “I’ve gone ahead and marked a spot for you that we’ll keep reserved.” You’ll still have to come to campus, be a quality student, choose a communication major, and get picked as one of the top three individuals for that spot. It’s not a guarantee. And the same goes for faith development on campus.
By asking the right questions, getting connected with student leaders or staff who are involved in Christian organizations on campus, and showing a desire to put your words into action, you put yourself in a great environment for spiritual growth. But like with the school that has the resources for an ESPN internship, you still have to take a certain amount of responsibility for finding opportunities for growth. Volunteer for activities that will stretch your faith in ways you’ve not previously experienced. Seek out individuals in the surrounding community that can also help nurture your faith. Ingrain yourself within the day-to-day opportunities that will surround you both on and off campus. You can find a campus with all of the spiritual resources you could ever dream of, but if you never take the initiative to utilize them, they’re all for naught.
Ultimately, living out your faith on campus can be as rewarding as you hope to make it. The opportunities to challenge yourself—as well as those around you—and grow in your faith are tremendous and should be embraced. Be proactive in seeking these opportunities out, and be sure to keep a quality perspective of what you’re looking for. Many have already walked the path you are preparing for and can offer great insights. Take these, along with your own discernment, to find the right opportunity for yourself.