Choosing a Christian College

For those seeking a Christian college environment, how do they go about finding a place where Christian values and behaviors are not only encouraged, but celebrated and valued?

With the transition to college being one of the most important in your lifetime, figuring out where to spend these four years is something no family should take lightly.

When a student goes through this journey, there is a shift from parental control and reliance to self-control and self-reliance. Core values from childhood are tested, sorted, and prioritized as Christian students move from an imposed or conventional faith to an owned faith, an individuated faith that becomes the student’s. Perhaps the most important part of the transition is that students begin to “search for their identity” during this time of life.

In Arthur Chickering’s groundbreaking research in the 1960s, the Psychosocial Theory of Student Development, he identified the first three of seven vectors that students move through as they develop in college—competence, managing emotions, and autonomy. He states that movement in each of these areas need to occur if a student is going to develop properly during their four years to go on to establish identity, purpose, freeing interpersonal relationships, and integrity. As we see the importance of this time, the question is a simple one: where should the Christian student spend these developmental four years?

How do we go about finding a place where Christian values and behaviors are not only encouraged, but celebrated and valued? A Henderson study in 2005 published these findings of 16,000 students attending 133 schools:  

  • There is a relationship between the type of college a student chooses and the outcome of their religious commitment.
  • Students who attend independent Protestant, Baptist, and other Protestant-affiliated institutions report the largest increases in overall religious commitment.

As we break these findings down we find students who attend schools that are members of the CCCU (Council of Christian Colleges and Universities) showed significant positive differences on almost all individual measures of religious commitment, as well as an overall increase in that commitment. These 118 Christian colleges and universities came together in 1976 to advance the cause of Christ-centered higher education and to help Christian institutions transform lives by faithfully relating scholarship and service to biblical truth. According to the U.S. Department of Education, there are over 4,000 degree-granting institutions of higher education in the United States; these include 1,600 private, nonprofit campuses, about 900 of which define themselves as religiously affiliated.

So, why choose a Christian college?

In a CCCU survey of students attending a CCCU school, these top 10 reasons came to light:

  • Students want to grow within a caring, Christian community of believers.
  • Students prefer an institution where undergraduate teaching is the highest priority. They can study under faculty who care about their intellectual and spiritual growth.
  • Students desire a liberal arts-based education within a biblical world-view.
  • Students prefer a relatively small campus that can provide a smaller student-faculty ratio.
  • Students want personal attention to their financial aid needs.
  • Students prefer a values-oriented campus atmosphere with lifestyle expectations.
  • Students seek a community where God-honoring scholarship, life skills, and service are integrated as legitimate parts of higher learning.
  • Students plan to pursue a major offered uniquely on a Christian campus.
  • Students respect the choice of their family and friends who attended a Christian college.
  • Students want to form lifelong friendships with faculty and fellow students who share a commitment to Christ.

As a family begins to focus on a Christian higher education, they should look at several different factors. Choices of Christian colleges or universities are excellent no matter what a student is looking for. From majors offered to where the school is located and its size to the athletic division and service opportunities, there is a Christian college to suit their needs. When it comes to academic excellence, Christian colleges and universities are comparable across the board to all other colleges and universities in incoming students’ average ACT/SAT scores, class rank, qualifications of faculty, success of graduates, and number of students attending grad school.

You’re not just a number

Perhaps the most outstanding reason to choose a Christian College is personal attention. Most Christian colleges and universities are teaching colleges focusing on student-faculty interaction. Faculty at teaching colleges and universities are promoted for their success in the classroom and with students in extracurricular settings, all with the goal of sharing Christ. Because of this, it is rare for a student to have a graduate assistant or teaching assistant for an instructor, as most Ph.D.s at teaching colleges and universities carry a full teaching load and commonly teach freshmen right out of the gate.

Christian colleges and universities typically enroll around 2,000 students, allowing the school to be attentive to the individual academic and spiritual needs of their students. When you add classrooms of 18–25 and living environments with resident assistants (upperclassmen who live on the students’ floor to provide for their spiritual and residential needs) with ratios of less than 30:1, you have an environment primed for student success in their spiritual walk and classroom achievement.

Outside the classroom, students are encouraged to explore their spiritual relationship with the Lord through missions, ministry, and chapel (sometimes required) that bring the community together to set the stage for spiritual growth and accountability. These efforts are usually fortified with weekly discipleship groups and other spiritual activities that will set the stage for a widening and deepening faith among a student body. Since most schools have certain spiritual qualifications that each student must meet to get in, it assures that all students on campus are pulling in the same direction. You don’t have to make an appointment to find Jesus at a Christian college or university; He is in everything you do and all activity that goes on throughout the entire day.

What do graduates that attend a Christian college say about their experience? Another CCCU student survey found:

  • Four years stabilized a foundation of faith and an integrated world-view into every aspect of life.
  • Mentoring and teaching students felt sounder in their direction for life and their calling from God.
  • The installation of a service mentality sets a scope and purpose for the student.
  • The smaller class sizes and learning outside the classroom gave a more in-depth understanding of major and vocation.

What qualities are most important to you?

It is important to note that in searching for a Christian college or university you should be diligent in finding the kind of atmosphere that’s right for you. You might find an institution that satisfies your spiritual goals but does not have the right majors to support your career interests. Make sure your gifts and talents are represented in the academic programs.

It is the Christian experience that relates to real transformation, so make sure you keep these things in mind as you consider and visit colleges:

  • Go to chapel. Take a look at chapel speakers and the atmosphere in chapel among the students.
  • Look at “essence statements” of the college or university online.
  • Talk to enrolled students. How many times does the concept of “Christian community” come up in those conversations?
  • Check the size of the school. It may be harder to have a unique Christian community experience with a large student body.
  • How does the school handle key evangelical topics that are important to you?
  • Look for first-year programs. How much do they encourage faith and purpose?  
  • What is the freshman-to-sophomore retention rate? Anything over 75% is above the national average.
  • Is chapel required? Is service required? How important is this to you?
  • Is the college or university denominational versus nondenominational?
  • If you’re interested in athletics, is there a spiritual standard for athletes who attend? Many schools will set aside their spiritual requirements for students when it comes to athletics.

As you go into the next phase of your life, remember that Christian colleges are designed to help you grow in faith. This, coupled with excellent academic programs and opportunities on campus, makes attending a Christian college or university an excellent choice for spiritual formation and the strengthening of a student. And as you search for a place to spend these important four years, make sure you’re keeping your eyes on the Lord at the same time.

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