You’ve probably gotten a lot of advice about the college search from parents, friends, teachers, and—let’s be real—Google searches. But if you’re a Christian student, are there additional factors you should consider?
In this article, we’ll walk through five important things to look for in a college. Full disclosure: I work for a Christian college (check out Erskine College!), and I believe in the value of Christian higher education.
That said, the advice in this article acknowledges that you might choose to attend a secular school (though I’d love it if you came to Erskine College!). No matter what college you choose, it’s important for you to think about your faith as you make your decision.
1. Mission and Beliefs
When you’re considering a college, ask yourself: Do my beliefs align with this school’s core beliefs or values? If not, do I still feel comfortable abiding by the school’s standards and practices? Here are a few ways to find out:
- Look up the school’s mission and vision statements.
- See if the school has a faith statement (for a Christian school) or a set of core values.
- For a Christian college, find out if the school has a denominational affiliation.
- Find the school’s policies, rules, or student handbook.
You don’t have to agree with everything a school stands for to have a good experience there. However, it is important to know where an institution stands and consider how that might affect you as a student.
2. Spiritual Support
In your new college environment, it’s important to find other believers and groups that will help you grow in your faith. As you research schools, ask these questions:
- Are campus ministries available? On most college campuses, you’ll find ministries such as Reformed University Fellowship, Baptist Collegiate Ministry, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and CRU. Find out which ministries are active at the colleges you’re considering.
- For Christian colleges, does the school offer worship or chapel opportunities?
- Are there churches in the surrounding area where you can get involved?
We aren’t meant to live the Christian life alone. Find out what resources are available at the colleges you’re considering.
3. School Culture
Whether Christian or not, all students should consider school culture: laid-back vs. fast-paced or academic vs. fun, for example. But as a Christian student, you should also consider: How will the school’s culture affect your Christian walk? Are there opportunities for ministry? How will you handle cultural pressures? How might you grow at a Christian school or at a secular school?
Here are some of the best ways to learn about school culture:
- Visit the campus. You can often get a vibe for campus culture just by being there.
- Talk to current students and recent graduates.
- Attend a class or talk with professors.
Ideally, you’ll study at that school for the next four years. You’ll want to feel at home there.
4. Programs and Professors
- What areas of research does this program or professor focus on? Is it interesting to me?
- Does the program align with my values?
- Can I learn well from these professors? Will they be willing to let me express my beliefs, or will they be antagonistic toward those beliefs?
If the focus of a program or one of its main professors is antithetical to your beliefs, take that into consideration. That’s not to say you need to agree with your professors on everything—no matter what college you attend, you’ll find a variety of perspectives. But you do want to make sure that you will be able to thrive in the program and learn from professors who are invested in your success.
5. Financial Aid
As Christians, we are called to be good stewards of the resources that God has given us. Here are few considerations when it comes to financial aid:
- Schools rarely cost their sticker price. If you’re interested in a private Christian school but the tuition cost seems out of reach, do a little research. It may be more affordable than you think.
- Talk to admissions or financial aid offices. If you’re interested in a school, ask questions about available aid. Don’t be afraid to contact the college—they want to hear from you!
- Research scholarships and grants. Many institutions offer scholarships on the basis of academics, athletics, or financial need. Aid may also be available through state and outside sources.
- Find out if your denomination offers scholarships. Depending on what school you want to attend or what you plan to study, your church’s denomination might offer funding.
- Take everything into consideration. Which schools are most affordable? Which offer the most aid? Will a slightly more expensive school give you a better education or a better campus experience?
You probably feel bombarded with choices in your college search. In the middle of the information overload, don’t forget to consider your Christian faith. As you explore majors and programs, as you look at finances and campus culture, remember that your faith is central.
Check out these tips for Christian students heading off to college.