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What Non-Religious Students Need to Know About Religious Colleges

If you're a non-religious student and haven't considered attending a religious college, here's what to know about them and why you should reconsider.

Throughout your college search, chances are that you’ll come across at least one Christian college or university, if not more. It’s not surprising considering that Christianity has historically supported establishing schools and centers for higher education. In fact, many “big-name” schools you may have seen while making a March Madness bracket are associated with Christianity: Baylor University, Gonzaga University, and Liberty University, to name a few. However, if you’re not a religious person, considering a religiously affiliated school may seem out of the question for you. Not so fast! There are great opportunities found at church-affiliated colleges and universities that you’ll miss out on by automatically crossing these schools off your list. Read on to find out more about what you can expect from colleges like these and why they could be a good fit for you.

What’s different at a religious college?

Religiously affiliated colleges and universities are obviously going to come with some differences from other higher education institutions. How different and what those differences look like is going to depend on the specific school. Some schools have Christian roots due to the person or group that founded them but don’t emphasize their faith in everyday college life, while others consider it a strong part of their identity as a school. However, there are some common differences you can expect from your run-of-the-mill secular school.

Religious course and activities requirements

First, there’s a possibility of required Chapel credits and religion courses at Christian colleges. Depending on what school you choose, you may have to attend a certain number of religious services and/or take a few religion-based general education classes. However, Christian schools often take the route of providing religious opportunities without requiring them. One such example is Davidson College in North Carolina, which sponsors a wide variety of optional Christian services from various traditions such as Catholic, Episcopal, and general Contemporary.

Related: Great Christian Colleges and Universities in the South

Religion-related campus policies

In many cases, the rules at religious schools will be stricter when it comes to visitors of the opposite sex in dorms, drinking, and partying. Again, this depends on the individual college, but many Christian colleges have beliefs that influence their campus policies. If you don’t ascribe to these policies, it may be worth considering if you’ll be able to respect these rules or if you would be happier elsewhere. Asking about rules or codes of conduct on campus tours or during virtual events will give you a better idea of a school’s culture and whether it’s a place you’d like to be.

Students of faith

Of course, at a religiously affiliated college, you’re going to find more religious students. You will also most likely find that students have an increased emphasis on making time for spiritual life and attending religious services. This will most likely be more of a cultural emphasis than a school-mandated policy, and of course, you’re not required to participate in any religious activities. All you’re required to do is respect the beliefs of others.

Related: How to Maintain a Deep Connection to Your Faith in College

Benefits of attending a religious college

Believe it or not, there are some huge benefits to attending a religious college even if you don’t practice that religion.

New perspectives

As someone without a religious background, you’ll get to learn more about your own belief system through open discussions about faith and the world around you with people who have different perspectives than you. One of the biggest points of college is to broaden your worldview; what better way to do that than by digging into tough questions with people who see the world a bit differently? Equally important, you’ll expose religious students at your college to the point of view of a non-religious student, which expands their perspective as well.

Smaller class sizes

On a more practical level, many Christian colleges offer smaller class sizes and more interaction with professors than you might find at a larger, secular college. Of course, you can also find this benefit at small colleges anywhere, but religiously affiliated colleges—with some notable exceptions—are often smaller, which promotes more intimate class sizes, perfect for discussion-based courses and relationship building. 

Related: Considering College Size: Which Is Right for You?

The fun factor

One false assumption a lot of people make about the religious college experience is that students don’t have fun. That’s simply not true! From personal experience at Anderson University in South Carolina, I’ve found there’s plenty of fun to be had, and some of the happiest people I know go here. In fact, many Christian colleges go out of their way to plan fun, safe events for their students. While these events aren’t likely to involve drinking or heavy partying, there’s plenty of fun and exciting activities ranging from arts and cultural performances, biking trips, and themed parties. Don’t write off Christian colleges and universities because of this false belief.

More than just a religious school

Finally, don’t believe the myth that everything about a religious school is directly tied to religion. Most of them have amazing and rigorous academic programs, worthwhile extracurricular activities, and communities that don’t relate to religion. An excellent example is Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, which is known for having one of the premier music programs in the country. You can easily take advantage of great academic and extracurricular programs at schools such as Belmont without being an active participant in religion as long as you’re willing to respect the traditions of the institution. 

Related: How College Changed My Outlook on Religion 

No matter where you end up for college, remember that it’s what you make of it. Whether you’re at a religious college, a large public institution, or a private secular school, what will define your college experience the most is how actively you embrace the opportunities and connections available to you. Now that you know you can attend and thrive at a religious school as a non-religious student, your college search can broaden to include even more options. Happy hunting! 

Find great schools to add to your college search with our lists of featured Christian Life and Catholic School Profiles.

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