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A Student’s Helpful Guide to Christian Colleges and Religious Education

If you're considering a Christian education, there are many different types of colleges you could attend. This guide can help you get to know your options.

You’ve likely come across a variety of schools labeled as Christian throughout your college search. However, it can be difficult to know exactly what that title means. The term “Christian college” is a broad one. When a school is labeled Christian, it’s usually because it was founded on Christian beliefs or by a specific church group. However, there are a lot of differences when it comes to how those founding Christian beliefs play out in the daily life at various colleges. Do you have to be Christian to attend a Christian college? What sets Christian colleges apart from other schools? Whether you’re a Christian or simply committed to exploring all your higher education options, these are just a few questions you may have. Read on to learn more about some of the specific types of Christian schools you could attend and what sets them apart.

Catholic colleges

Catholic colleges are (not surprisingly) affiliated with the Catholic Church—many of which were originally founded by the Jesuits, such as Georgetown University in Washington, DC. Within this category, there’s a wide range of school atmospheres, from large Catholic colleges like Notre Dame University in Indiana and Villanova University in Pennsylvania to lesser-known schools like Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio. Larger Catholic colleges tend to have higher ratios of non-Catholic students in attendance, while smaller, more traditional Catholic schools usually have a larger number of practicing Catholics. Many Catholic schools are known for their academic reputations as well as athletic success. For example, Notre Dame is widely renowned as a top-notch football school but also boasts strong academic programs. As with anything, it’s important to consider each college individually, as there’s a good deal of variety between the roughly 200 Catholic colleges in the US.

Catholic schools accept all students regardless of their religious beliefs; however, you must be willing to accept the school’s rules and core beliefs rooted in Catholicism. Most of these colleges and universities will have stricter rules regarding visiting members of the opposite sex in their dorms, especially after certain hours at night. Depending on the school you choose, you may be required to attend Mass or participate in other school events that invoke the Catholic faith. While there’s no requirement to share in these beliefs, you should be respectful of the traditions and values of the school you have chosen to attend.

Connect me with Notre Dame! Connect me with Villanova!

Denominational colleges

Denominational colleges refer to schools directly affiliated with a specific Christian denomination. Common denominations include Protestant, Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian. These schools were founded by the respective denominations to which they are connected, but how closely they remain to their roots varies widely.

Strict denominational schools

Some schools remain extremely close to their denomination and follow strict policies that are in line with their teachings. One example is Anderson University, which is affiliated with the South Carolina Baptist Convention and requires eight chapels per semester for students as well as adherence to rules regarding dorm visitation and drinking. In general but not always, Baptist-affiliated schools tend to have closer ties to their associated denomination. In many cases, these schools also require students to take a certain number of Christian-related courses ranging from Bible classes to Contemporary Worldview lectures. While these classes allow for discussion and a variety of perspectives, they will likely be taught from the starting point of a Christian worldview.

Loosely denominational schools

Other denominational colleges have looser ties with their founding denomination. These schools tend to offer Christian activities and services without requiring them. For example, Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, is affiliated with the United Methodist Church but doesn’t require students to attend chapel or limit drinking outside of restricting it to students of legal drinking age. There’s a wide variety of colleges affiliated with the Presbyterian denomination, from Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, to Davidson College in North Carolina and many more. Similarly, Lutheran-affiliated schools include Newberry College in South Carolina, California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, and Concordia University in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Within each denomination, there’s plenty of diversity in beliefs and practices to suit a wide variety of students.

Regardless of the level of church involvement within a denominational college, these schools tend to offer smaller class sizes and opportunities for diversity of thought. There’s no requirement to be of the same denomination as the college’s affiliation, although you’ll likely find more students of that specific denomination due to shared beliefs with the college.

Connect me with Covenant!

Nondenominational colleges

Nondenominational colleges identify as Christian without a connection to a specific denomination. Rather than fall in line with a specific denomination, they’re governed by an individual statement of faith, often formed by their board of directors or general school leadership. One excellent example is Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona, which is now touted as one of the largest Christian colleges in America. Grand Canyon isn’t affiliated with any church but holds beliefs in line with evangelical Christianity after becoming interdenominational and moving away from the Baptist church. Many nondenominational schools have large student bodies and possibly even Division I athletics, such as Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. Additionally, many of these colleges offer substantial online programs, including both previously mentioned schools. While every college is different, nondenominational institutions are typically somewhat aligned with evangelical Christian beliefs. This means there are likely restrictions or some required courses. Schools sometimes also require faculty members to sign an agreement with their statement of faith to ensure students are being taught with a Christian worldview.

Bible colleges

Bible colleges may be the least well known and least considered out of this list. The main difference here is that Bible colleges focus on preparing students for Christian ministry or service rather than offering a variety of majors for various careers. Some majors may have secular application, such as a degree in Education that can be used at Christian high schools as well as public ones. Bible colleges are usually found to have the highest percentage of Christian students due to their Christian-focused career options. Bible colleges are also likely to be smaller than other Christian college options. Some examples include American Baptist College in Nashville, Tennessee; Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois; and Northpoint Bible College in Haverhill, Massachusetts. As with others, there’s a wide range of belief and diversity found at these schools, so be careful not to box them into a single-minded perception.

Connect me with Moody!

As you consider Christian colleges, remember to consider the wide variety of schools labeled as such and research each individual college to find out more about its beliefs and practical everyday life. Whether you’re Christian or not, many of these colleges may provide just the academic rigor and program specialties you’re looking for, so give them a chance!

There are a lot more Christian colleges and universities than just the ones mentioned here. Start researching them by checking out our featured Christian school profiles!

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