Making the decision to go to a Christian College can feel like an important step, not only in your educational goals but in your spiritual formation. When you take your discipleship seriously, you may have a strong desire to immerse yourself in a faith-based environment during your formative college years. Just because a college has the name Christian in it, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that it will exemplify the standards and values you hope it will. What are some ways you can explore what a Christian college truly stands for?
Many U.S. colleges began with some affiliation to the Christian faith. According to the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, an international consortium of Christian colleges, around 900 institutions of higher learning in the U.S. would still consider themselves religiously affiliated to some degree. In some instances, however, those affiliations are more historic than current and intentional. The CCCU includes 119 U.S. colleges or universities (and 55 more internationally) that it considers “intentionally” Christian.
Intentionally Christian Colleges tend to be very clear in setting forth beliefs in their institutions’ vision, values and mission statements. Reading over those documents, typically available on a particular college’s website and catalog, can be a good place to start in understanding what the college publicly stands for.
This can also be helpful if you are looking for a college specifically connected to a certain tradition. There is tremendous diversity in the Christian world, and the vision and values you will find at Mennonite, Baptist, Presbyterian, Catholic and other such institutions will vary accordingly.
This doesn’t mean that these institutions will only accept Christians of a given tradition, but that a given faith tradition may have played a formative role in shaping the school’s commitments. Depending on the tradition, an educational and spiritual environment may have an emphasis on missions, for instance, or on social justice.
Getting to Know the Faculty and Students
Once you’re excited about the values of a college, you may be wondering how well they live up to their words. That’s when it becomes important to talk to people within the community.
Making a visit to campus is one of the best ways to learn what it’s like to really live there. Any Christian college, no matter what its historic affiliation, should be a warm and welcoming place. Do the teachers and students respect each other? Is there a sense of freedom and boldness in engaging academic and personal questions in the light of faith? Does the school have a strong counseling center and a well respected chaplain or campus ministry staff?
Sitting in on a class will provide an opportunity to see if faculty rigorously engages their subject matter from a faith perspective. Hanging out in the dorms and cafeteria and talking to students will enable you to see if the students are actively enjoying living out their faith in classroom and extracurricular activities.
There’s really no way to see how an institution exemplifies its values until you spend time getting to know the people – the faculty, staff and students – who live them out each day. So do your research and ask your questions, and then spend some time face to face with members of the community.