How many college applications do you plan to submit? Six applications once seemed like a lot. Eight applications was ambitious. But a New York Times article indicated that high school seniors regularly apply to as many as 20 colleges, with some students applying to as many as 30. And with most colleges application fees around $40+, that means that seniors today are making a pricey investment before they ever set foot on campus—in part out of anxiety of being accepted and in part because they aren’t certain where they will want to attend. For students looking for a Christian college or university, perhaps we can make that process a bit less intimidating (and expensive).
Christian values vs. college stereotypes
Evaluating your top colleges is like balancing a scale. The aim is for the pros on one side to significantly outweigh the cons on the other. For Christian students, some of the most significant pros or cons are related to the spiritual characteristics of the school being considered. Contrast that with what pop culture considers top college attributes. From Animal House to Greek, the big and small screens depict parties and pledging as rights of passage. Experimental excesses and risky initiations are presented as essential pieces of the American college experience.
Several organizations, including The Princeton Review, regularly rank “top party schools.” But when Syracuse University claimed the top spot in 2014, University officials were not pleased. They implored the public to take note of the University’s “long-established reputation for academic excellence with programs that are recognized nationally and internationally as the best in their fields,” as opposed to its glorified party scene.
Many non-Christian schools now acknowledge the negative effects of a heavy party atmosphere on the college experience. Studies show students above and below the legal age guzzling unprecedented amounts of alcohol. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) decries the negative impact this is having on generations of students. An estimated 1,700 college students between ages 18–24 die of alcohol-related causes each year, while about 600,000 suffer from alcohol-related injuries.
Party atmospheres also contribute to deterioration of academic performance. Nearly 25% of all college students report academic consequences of drinking, including missing class, falling behind, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall. Heavy party atmospheres can be closely linked to societal pressures to engage in other risky behavior as well. On the other end of the spectrum, college review website Niche allows students to rank the “tamest party schools” by state, including the likes of Biola University (California), Oral Roberts University (Oklahoma), Southeastern University (Florida), and Southwestern Assemblies of God University (Texas). Many of these “tame” schools actually embrace the label (like SAGU, which produced T-shirts emphasizing the honor!).
When living on campus at many Christian schools, student codes of conduct can create an atmosphere of accountability and support through Christian peers and professors that help prevent such negative outcomes described above. This is not to imply that secular universities are bastions of evil—or that Christian colleges are boring. That’s certainly not the case. In fact, you’ll find thriving Christian societies on many secular campuses. However, even the most active Christian society cannot compare to the unique community offered at Christian colleges.
What makes the difference?
Christian colleges offer studies from a faith-based world-view. Their traditions, values, and missions vary, but most will help you explore Christianity throughout your college experience. First, keep in mind that there are different categories of Christian colleges. Bible colleges tend to emphasize biblical and theological course work. Seminaries prepare students for vocational ministry or priesthood. And there are many Christian liberal arts colleges.
For most Christian schools, Bible classes and related Christian courses are a mandatory part of the college experience, something that a public school could never do. Offerings might include classes on Bible study, Christian history, or biblical languages. Many Christian colleges will also require you to attend chapel at specific times. They may also have other worship opportunities through student-led organizations and ministries. And you will find that many Christian colleges provide unique opportunities for service and volunteering.
If you worry that you have to sacrifice fun and entertainment at a Christian college, you can put those fears aside. Any university worth its salt, Christian school or not, will make the student experience a top priority. You will find dorm competitions, concerts, competitive sports, and deep traditions and culture unique to each institution. However, at Christian colleges, those opportunities generally come without the implicit pressures present at many secular schools.
If you worry that you have to sacrifice academic prestige and opportunity, you can put those fears aside as well, because most Christian colleges rank on par or better than their public and private college counterparts. In 2010, 12 Christian colleges were among the top 10 schools in their respective regions on U.S. News & World Report’s annual college lists. Christian colleges also continue to rank high for affordability, academic excellence, and extracurricular activities by The Princeton Review and Forbes.
Most Christian schools have diversified their program offerings to match the interests of rising students, including the fields of applied arts and sciences, mathematics, engineering, and medicine. Christian schools also offer diverse opportunities to study abroad. In some instances, Christian schools place a larger emphasis on global exposure than their secular counterparts. At the end of the day, Christian colleges are a popular choice because they offer the same benefits of their non-Christian counterparts—with environmental characteristics that can’t be rivaled.
Finding the right college fit for you
College is one of the most substantial investments you will make in your lifetime. Like buying a car or a home, the question comes down to what features justify the cost. If you are about to devote tens of thousands of dollars in financial aid, savings, and even student loans to your education, you need to make the right choice.
That brings us full circle to the start of this article. Why not save yourself the anxiety and cost of applying to an excessive number of schools by arriving at a top handful that really and truly fit you?
Questions to ask yourself
Consider these questions to help determine whether a Christian college is right for you:
- Do the structure, environment, and opportunity of an intentional Christian community appeal to you?
- Do you want to meet new friends who share your core beliefs?
- Are you interested in more opportunities to serve others?
- Does the idea of Christian mentors in the classroom appeal to you?
- Do you want to enhance your spiritual maturity?
If you answered “yes” to all or most of these questions, you should then incorporate the following questions into your overall college search and use them to evaluate your choices:
- Does the school have a statement of faith or mission statement?
- Do you agree with the statement of faith or mission theologically?
- Are there places of worship in the area that will fit your needs while in college?
- What is the student-faculty ratio and average class size of the school, and do those numbers align with your desires for approachability or access to professors and Christian mentors?
- Does the school publish a list of student faith organizations and clubs?
- Are there sufficient opportunities to grow your faith?
- What types of service, missions, and discipleship opportunities are available?
- Does the school have a published code of conduct, and if so, do you feel it would benefit you?
By answering these questions, perhaps you can narrow the schools on your list to those schools with the right academic, social, and spiritual fit. Then you can take those top five or six schools and focus your energy toward applying for admission!
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