How to Find the Christian College for You

Associate Professor, Dean for Student Success, Harding University

Thinking about the future can be both exciting and stressful. As a high school student preparing for college, it can be thrilling to think about the places you’ll go, the people you’ll meet, and the things you’ll learn. But this can also cause a bit of anxiety, and it’s important to remember that this is normal and part of the process.

You may have many questions, and that’s good, because much of college is about asking the right questions and learning to find the right answers. As a Christian looking for these answers, it will be important to look to your current support network of family, friends, church, and others for help. Pray and ask God for wisdom, insight, and patience as you make important decisions, especially the decision of where you will choose to go to college.

Although you may soon be “leaving the nest,” you don’t need to be alone. Part of the college journey is finding new support networks, not to replace but to add to the people in your life by making new friends and finding new mentors who aid you in finding your calling and purpose. This is why it’s important to find the Christian college or university that best fits your academic, social, and spiritual needs. This is also one of the strengths of Christian institutions, as most are teaching colleges focused on developing relationships with students. This emphasis on teaching, shared purpose, and smaller student-faculty ratios in the classroom provide opportunities for more meaningful connections with your professors and classmates, both in and out of the classroom.

Many Christian institutions of higher learning provide a high-quality education, often rooted in a strong liberal arts program that allows students to explore, appreciate, analyze, and interpret information from a broad range of subjects. In other words, a liberal arts education can help a student learn to think critically, find truth, and appreciate the beauty in God’s creations.

Frequently Christian colleges and universities systemically integrate the school’s mission into all aspects of campus life, both academically and socially. Because of this, it is imperative to choose a school that fits your personal world-view, values, and theological beliefs. 

Fitting in

If you are planning to go to college, then it’s safe to assume that your goal is to get an education and a degree. In order to succeed, you must do your homework and some thorough investigating to find out where you will feel most comfortable and where you will get the education you desire. Vincent Tinto, an expert in the field of student success, says that not just academic experiences play a role in a student’s success; social experiences are also critical, including peer relationships, faculty relationships, and integration into the campus culture as a whole (“Colleges as communities: Taking research on student persistence seriously.” The Review of Higher Education, 21(2), 167–177, 1998.). This may sound like a lot to think about, but by choosing a Christian institution, you have done much of the work already. In your decision you have established a desire to be in a place that nurtures your Christian world-view and is committed to your spiritual growth. Now that you know you want a Christian education, let’s look at other considerations.

Academic life

You may or may not know exactly what major you would like to choose, but it’s a good idea to get a general idea of different areas of study offered at each institution. Look at the list of majors on a college website or catalog and rule out ones you are certain you do not want to study.

What’s left? Are there any areas you’re passionate about? Another good resource when deciding on a career and major is your high school guidance counselor. They will often have assessments and interest inventories such as TypeFocus to help you explore and find areas of interest and ability. At many schools, first-year students will take similar classes together. As previously mentioned, Christian schools often have a liberal arts requirement, meaning all students take certain required classes in addition to their major plan of study. These include classes such as English or composition, math, history, music/art appreciation, and a kinesiology or wellness class. This liberal arts foundation also makes it easier to change your major during the first year or two; if this is of interest to you, just make sure you visit your advisor on a regular basis to avoid mistakes that could cost you financially or cause your graduation date to be delayed.

If you are one of the lucky students with a concrete idea of what you would like to major in, then it’s important to look at those specific programs at each college on your list. Questions to ask might include:

  • How is the Christian world-view taught within this program of study?
  • How many students and faculty are in this program?
  • What is the average time a student graduates from this program?
  • What degrees are offered, and what kind of jobs do the graduates usually seek and acquire?
  • Is graduate school an option, and how many students go on to graduate school?
  • What is the graduation/retention rate of the students in this program?
  • Are there specific requirements for entry into this major?

If you still need more information, don’t hesitate to reach out. Ask an admission counselor at a college to connect you with current professors, students, or alumni. You should also investigate if there are clubs or associations on campus related to a department or major of interest and if there are any opportunities for service within the community.

Campus life

A college education is more than just time spent in a classroom. You will likely learn many life lessons and create lifelong relationships at your school. While academics may be the main reason why you are at college, your life won’t just be about classes and homework. Enjoying life and finding a balance between academics, recreation, and social activities will be essential to your success. What activities do you enjoy now, and what might you enjoy doing in the future? What activities or hobbies re-energize you? Are they available at the schools you’re considering, and if not, how easy is it to become involved in a similar activity in the community or start a campus group of your own? You may also want to consider the following:

  • Is there a first-year program with planned campus activities?
  • Is there a student association or student government with activities and programs? How is it received by students and faculty on campus?
  • Are intramural sports or recreational programs offered, and how popular are they?
  • Does the school offer social clubs or Greek life?
  • Are there opportunities for service and/or mission trips?
  • What churches are in the community, and do they offer a campus ministry program?
  • Do most students stay on campus or leave during the weekends?
  • What does the surrounding town/city offer for recreation and other services?

Another important facet of campus living is dorm life. Many Christian schools have requirements for freshmen to live in the dorms the first year, and there may also be a curfew. Make sure you know this ahead of time. Many students enjoy the camaraderie of living in a dorm; it is challenging at times, but it can also be a lot of fun. And you are bound to make lifelong memories while living in a dorm during your first year of college.

Spiritual life

Ideally a Christian college is just that—Christian—and its values and mission are integrated into the very fabric of both academic and campus life. Your new school is your “home away from home,” and while you grow academically, socially, and emotionally, you should also be growing spiritually. Christian colleges and universities have many opportunities and offerings to develop your faith and provide a rich spiritual life. When looking at these institutions, there are a few things to think about:

  • Are there required classes in Bible, ministry, religion, and/or Christian life?
  • Are there chapel services on campus and expectations such as attendance requirements?
  • What types of service, missions, and discipleship opportunities are available?
  • What are the moral and behavioral expectations of the student body and faculty?
  • How approachable are the faculty? Are there opportunities for home Bible studies and mentorship?
  • Do students go to a particular place of worship? What other places of worship are there in the community?
  • Does the school have a statement of faith or mission statement? Do you agree with it theologically and spiritually?

If you’re choosing a Christian college, it can be assumed that a Christian lifestyle and world-view is of primary importance. Reflect upon what you need to grow in your faith, your spiritual goals, and how the colleges you’re considering can help you on your journey.

Financial considerations

Although it’s hard to put a value on this type of experience, you should make sure your school is financially feasible for you and your family. Remember, however, that an education is an investment. The 2013 Bureau of Labor Statistics Population Survey suggests that a person with a bachelor’s degree will earn $1 million more over the course of his or her career than a person with only a high school diploma. This is good news, but as with any long-term investment, there will be short-term, upfront costs. Be smart and frugal, and remember that a good value in education and a cheap education are two different things. Talk to your parents and family about what you can afford, and find out if it is necessary to get student loans and/or a job. Focus on the long term and what you will gain from this experience beyond your degree. 

It’s up to you

Choosing a college is a big decision, but armed with the right questions and resources, it doesn’t have to be a difficult one. Contact the colleges and universities you are interested in and start a relationship with the admission counselors. A recruiter or admission counselor may be assigned to you when you contact a university, and they will often lead you to the answers to your questions.

Matthew 7:16 says, “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?” Look at the fruit of the college by asking questions, and if possible visit the colleges on your short list. Pray fervently as you make your decision, but remember Jeremiah 29:11–13, which says, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” May God bless you as you begin this new chapter in your life.

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