The college search is an enlightening experience because it requires students to ask themselves tough questions about their goals for the future and what they truly want out of a college—which means knowing themselves enough to know what they need. As a Catholic student (or student of any religion), you must take into account the bigger factor of your faith and how it will play into your college search. To help you as you search for your best-fit Catholic college, here are five questions to ask your prospective schools so you can have the best college experience while continuing to grow in your faith over those four formative years.
1. How prominent is faith on campus?
Catholic colleges typically have a larger focus on faith than non-religious institutions, but the interaction with religion and the commitment to it still varies from school to school. Many students choose Catholic colleges to live their faith and be ingrained in it every day on campus, while others want to be connected, just not every hour of every day. Being able to set your own boundaries by choosing how and when to practice your faith could be important to your emotional and academic balance—or maybe you want a school where Mass and chapel attendance is mandatory because it shows the school’s commitment to faith and holds you accountable to yours. In addition to asking how prominent faith is on campus, ask yourself: “Am I able to choose my level of involvement in my faith on campus, and how important is it to me that I am able to do this?”
2. Is it possible to participate in service and other ways to nurture your faith?
Most colleges and universities offer study abroad, but many Catholic schools offer the added benefit of spreading the Word of God while you study. If you’re interested in going on mission trips in college, ask what options exist through the school. Also ask about local service opportunities: How is the college helping the local community? Education experts often express how important hands-on learning is to your educational journey—and hands-on service learning is especially crucial when your faith is entwined with that journey. So in addition to asking if these opportunities are available, ask yourself: “What am I looking to gain from service learning experiences, and if what I need isn’t readily available, are there avenues for me to make these opportunities for myself with the school’s support?”
3. What’s the campus community like?
Many students at Catholic colleges say a big reason why they love their school is the tight bond they feel in the campus community. Some schools may have students who still participate, talk about, and act on your shared faith in their social groups, and that may be the comprehensive faith-based living you need. Other schools may have students whose social circles are removed enough to offer a healthy balance to the faith in your life. Your faith can be as all-encompassing, balanced, or reserved for your personal practice as you would like it to be as long as you’re attending a school that provides you the space to be who you want to be. In addition to asking what the community is like, ask yourself: “How did I feel when I visited campus? Will I feel like I’m really a part of the college’s family if I attend?”
4. How large is the student body?
Because so many people at Catholic schools talk about that familial feel, many students think those campuses are small—but what’s great about Catholic colleges and universities is that they come in all shapes and sizes. You can find that tight-knit community on a campus of 2,500 students or 15,000, and you’ll find Catholic colleges of those sizes and everything in between. College is about broadening your mind, and that can be through opportunities to interact with many different types of students or through deeper, long-lasting connections within a smaller community. In addition to asking how large the student body is, ask yourself: “Do I want a large campus with a lot of sub-communities or a campus small enough where I could have the opportunity to really get to know everyone?”
5. What other religions are represented in the student body?
Having people who share your faith is helpful to making connections and lasting relationships with like-minded people at college—but don’t let that be the only student statistic you look into. As previously mentioned, college is a place to broaden your mind and perspectives, so be sure to inquire about the other faiths that are represented on campus at your colleges of interest as well. Learning from other cultures and religions can help you form a deeper connection to your own through cultural understanding and acceptance. While it’s important to have other Catholic students to share your faith with, also ask yourself: “What can I learn from other faiths while in college, and does this school offer opportunities for me to do so?”
Your faith means a lot to you, and it should also mean a lot in your college search if you want it to. Use these five questions—and the additional questions to ask yourself—to guide your search process, and you’ll be sure to find the best-fit Catholic or non-denominational school that allows you to practice your faith your way and get a great education.
For more advice on nurturing your faith on a college campus, check out our Catholic Colleges and Universities section.