Any guide to choosing a college can provide a list of important factors to consider, like student-teacher ratio, average student test scores or distance from home. But what about the intangible, immeasurable factors that can't be counted in percentages or captured in a guidebook, but will have a real-life impact on your child's college experience? We've asked experts from six key areas of academic and college life to talk about those intangibles, and to tell you how to search them out when you and your student visit campus.
A Thriving Christian Community
Stephen Kellough, Chaplain
Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois
In many cases, Christian students are able to "survive" on a secular campus by surrounding themselves with other believers and by building up walls to protect their faith. On a Christian campus, it is easier for students to grow in their relationships, their faith and their studies because they know and trust where their fellow students and professors are coming from. So instead of entering college in a defensive mode, feeling the need to justify their beliefs, students can be more open to freely seek out opportunities for spiritual growth.
You can't "feel the spirit" of a campus by reading literature or browsing a website. The only way to get a sense of the spiritual life of a campus is by talking to the people there. You don't want the chapel or the Bible department to be the only places where students consider matters of faith. Look for signs that Christian faith is integrated across the curriculum, in the dorms and throughout the community. Both you and your son or daughter need to talk to professors, visit classrooms and chat with students. This will give you a feel for whether the Christian faith is thoroughly integrated throughout the campus community.
Help for the Transition
Bill Buhrow, Director of Health and Counseling Services
George Fox University, Newberg, Oregon
Some students do just fine in adjusting to college life while others end up feeling overwhelmed. Students who do feel overwhelmed by the increasing demands of college life benefit a great deal from counseling. This is why during your search you should ask questions about the types of services offered at each school and make sure the school has a quality, well-trained counseling staff.
Of course, the counseling department is there not just to help students adjust to college, but also for those individuals with more serious or chronic mental health concerns. If your child has sought therapy prior to college and will likely need to continue treatment once they arrive on campus, the quality of the counseling department is extremely important. This is especially critical for those Christian colleges located in remote areas with limited mental health services. In those instances, it's all the more important that the university's counseling service be a good one.
A Committed Christian Faculty
Annalee Ward, Communications Arts Department Chair
Trinity Christian College, Palos Heights, Illinois
A key aspect to choosing the right Christian education is the faculty. You need to ask questions like, "Are the faculty committed Christians?" You'd think the answer would be obvious, but not all schools have the same requirements about hiring faculty who are committed to infusing Christian values into their teaching. Also, read the school's mission statement and see if it aligns with what you're seeing on campus and what students you meet are saying about the school.
Each college is different in the way it incorporates a Christian worldview into the classroom. Think about how important it is to you that your child be in a classroom where professors teach every subject from the understanding that it's part of God's world. Basically you need to ask yourself whether or not the institution aligns with your core Christian beliefs.