Selecting a college means making some tough decisions. What do you want to study? How far away from home will you go? What size is best for you? As a Christian student, one of the most important questions is this one: "Should I choose a Christian college?" There isn't a "right" answer, since God can guide, teach, and prepare you wherever you go, but here are three of the best reasons why many students select Christian colleges as places to learn, grow and prepare for their future careers.
What is possibly the most distinctive feature of a Christian college education? Academic integrity. We usually use the word integrity to describe those who are trustworthy or stand up for their convictions, which could certainly apply to Christian colleges. But the word integrity originally meant "wholeness." When you build something and all the pieces are finally in place and fit perfectly, what you've built has "integrity."
Academic integrity is one quality that NACCAP, a group of Christian college admissions professionals, says clearly sets Christian colleges apart from all other schools. In discussing this distinctive, NACCAP says: "The Christian college views all of life and learning as a whole, to be understood in relation to God's creation and in the light of God's Word." Christian colleges have the opportunity to explore all truth, because they know that all truth belongs to God.
While secular colleges can teach you a lot about how the world works, Christian colleges can also teach you why it works that way. While most public schools can train you for a great career that will provide you with a good living, Christian colleges can teach you how to use your position and your money to find true satisfaction and purpose, and to make an eternal difference in the world.
This is not an easy job. Often Christian colleges have less financial resources than state-funded universities or private research universities, and yet they are called to achieve a higher standard of academic integrityto help students fit all of the pieces together. Christian colleges take on the big questions other types of colleges largely avoid. They have the really tough job of teaching students how to apply what they believe. Contrary to some stereotypes about being narrow-minded and second-rate, Christian colleges, on the whole, strive for academic excellence and seek to give students the freedom to ask hard questions. So what does this mean as you seek to find a school that's the best fit for you? Well, when you begin to check out potential colleges, here are a few things you need to find out:
Christian colleges can teach you how to make an eternal difference.
• What does the college say about itself? Read the brochures. Browse the school's website. Yes, a lot of what you'll see seeks to put the school in the best possible light. Even so, ads and web pages will give you glimpses into what the school considers important. If you feel like the school is talking down to you in its material, you might not want to put that school at the top of your list. But if you're excited by the way the college talks about its approach to "academic integrity," then it might be a fit for you. While brochures and websites won't give you the full picture, they are a great place to start.
• What are classes like? Prior to your college visit, arrange to drop in on a couple of classes and also speak with a few professors. And be sure to talk to students about their classroom experiences. Find out if the classes have special speakers who are engaging and add to what's being taught, if discussion and debate are encouraged, if out-of-classroom projects help reinforce what's being taught in the classroom. Find out if students can follow their interests to the next level by getting involved in in-depth research. Some classes will certainly be more interesting than others, but what you are looking for are patterns and overall atmosphere. Most importantly, you are seeking to discover how well faith is applied to the academic disciplines being taught.
• Do students talk to fellow students and professors about academics outside the classroom? During your visit, look for evidence that discussions continue after the class period ends. Now, this doesn't mean students are always in the library in study groups. What you're trying to find out is this: Is this a place where peopleboth faculty and studentsactually like academic topics and want to learn, rather than just going to class because it's expected of them? Do the professors hold discussion groups for students who want to learn more? Do students sit down over coffee to debate a controversial issue that was brought up in class? Do they actually want to keep talking about the class when the class ends? Not every class will be thrilling and engaging, but overall, students at schools you're seriously considering should enjoy and be challenged by what they're learning. They'll show it by the conversations they have both inside and outside the classroom.
Let's say you're a growing Christian who wants to keep maturing in your faith. You may not necessarily be headed for full-time Christian service, but you do want to live out your faith in whatever vocation you decide to pursue. If this is true for you, then a Christian college is a great option. So, what should you look for? Here are five areas to check out:
1) Statement of faith and code of conduct. You'll probably find both of these documents on the school's website. If you can't find them there, ask the admissions office for copies. The statement of faith highlights the school's basic beliefs related to the Christian faith, while the code of conduct tells how the school seeks to work out the statement of faith in very practical ways. Read both and then discuss them with your parents or your youth pastor. Here are some questions to ask: Is this school's basic set of beliefs consistent with yours? If there are differences, do you understand them and are you OK with them? Would you be willing to live by the school's rules and policies? Do you feel this school would create an environment where you can grow in the love and grace of God?
2) Opportunities for growth on campus. Do students naturally have discussions about their faith? What are the opportunities for spiritual mentoring and accountability? What are the chapel services like? Are they well attendedeven if students aren't required to be there? Do students continue that growth through small groups and Bible studies? By asking these kinds of questions of students and admissions counselors, you can get a pretty good feel for the overall spiritual atmosphere of the campus.
3) Ministry opportunities. Campus-sponsored ministries, mission trips and outreaches provide opportunities for you to apply your faith. Look for the variety of programs offered. Find out how many students are involved in ministry and if ministry activities are a vital part of life on campus.
4) Spiritual growth and the classroom. The classroom should be a place where you learn how faith applies to both academic disciplines and everyday life. Look particularly at how professors deal with difficult ethical and moral issues. Do they help students think through these issues from a solid biblical worldview? Are students encouraged to debate difficult issues? Are they allowed and even encouraged to express their differing opinions and doubts? True Christian growth and ownership of faith often comes by wrestling through life's most difficult issues.
5) Getting outside your comfort zone. For your faith to be effective, you need to practice using it in the "real world." To meet this need, many schools provide internships and service opportunities to help you interact with people from backgrounds very different from your own. You need to wrestle with questions like these: How can you represent your faith in a secular work environment? How do you build real friendships with people from different faiths, or who may be anti-Christianity? All in all, you should look for a Christian college that will push you outside your comfort zone and help you apply principles of faith through real-world experiences.
Making a Difference
As a Christian, you're not simply going to college to get a job and make money. You have a greater purpose. You are called to make a difference. You are going so you can learn to be a missionary for the Kingdom of God. And this mission is not just for people who are training to be pastors or who plan to be missionaries in the traditional sense. Every teacher, lawyer, doctor, social worker, engineer and fashion designer is called to bring the gospel into his or her part of the world. Christian colleges know this and are committed to helping you live your faith in whatever vocation you may choose.
A Christian college should help you see that evangelism is a lifestyle and not just an activity. Through both classroom and out-of-classroom experiences, students should learn that their faith really shines when they work hard and live by high moral and ethical standards. A Christian college should not only teach you how to do a job, but also show you how to imitate Christ in the way you work.
Along with teaching students how to share Christ, Christian colleges are called to train them to bring about positive change. Students need to see that they are to care for the needy, the impoverished, and the oppressedjust like Jesus did. A Christian college experience should teach you how to bring a little bit of God's Kingdom to a hurting world.
One of the best ways to measure a college's impact is to look at its graduates. Whether they're in full-time Christian ministry or working in a secular career, are they in positions of leadership and influence? The admission office should be able to provide this information. You'll probably also find profiles of grads on the school's website. What about current students? Do they think they're being prepared to live out their faith in their chosen career? Overall, the big question to ask: Is this college having an impact in ways that are clearly demonstrable?
Consider a Christian College
A Christian college can provide you with a first-class educationchallenging and preparing you academically, helping you to grow in your faith, and teaching you how to make an impact for Christ's kingdom in the world. If these are your goals, consider Christian colleges. Explore their websites and brochures, visit campuses, and speak with current students to find a Christian college that best suits your needs and interests. In doing so, you'll prepare to become the best professional, best follower of Jesus and most effective witness you can be.
As an educator, seminar speaker and writer, Aaron Basko helps schools, churches, and homeschool groups assist their students and parents with educational and career planning from a faith perspective. Contact Aaron at firstname.lastname@example.org