Deciding which university or college to attend can be a confusing, time-consuming, and challenging process with many things to think about. For some students, the majors the schools offer will be the main influence on their decision. The location of the institution or the average cost of tuition might also be important to prospective students as well as extracurricular activities and opportunities for hands-on learning outside of the classroom. Christian students also have an added consideration: Should one enroll at a faith-based university vs a non-faith-based university?
If you are thinking about attending a religious college, it is important to understand both the disadvantages and advantages of faith-based schools in order to make an informed, empowered decision. Below, we outline some of the most important faith-based schools pros and cons to help prospective students make the best decision possible.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Attending a Religious College?
Pro: Students Are Part of a Strong Campus Community
At faith-based colleges, the campus community maintains the same religious beliefs and values. This ultimately makes for a tighter-knit campus by forging strong bonds between students, faculty, and staff. At many institutions, professors help these relationships by encouraging students to stay connected through religious activities and services as well as different assignments and projects pertaining to the specific academic programs.
Con: Students Have Limited Exposure to Other Points of View
Sure, your belief system will likely remain unchallenged when you attend a faith-based school, you will also not have many opportunities to converse or mingle with those who have opposite or different opinions and beliefs. It is important to accept and understand that there are other faiths and religions out there, and not everyone will agree with your point of view. Therefore, mingling with students of other backgrounds, beliefs, and faiths may be easier at secular colleges with more diverse student bodies.
Pro: Students Benefit From a More Intimate Learning Environment
Compared to public universities, class sizes are often smaller at Christian colleges. Therefore, students can expect to have more opportunities to interact with their classmates and gain personal, individualized attention from their professors. With lower student-to-faculty ratios and smaller classes, courses that focus mainly on lectures often allow for interactive, lively group activities and classroom discussions, which produces a more intimate, well-rounded learning environment.
Con: Students Pay More For a Better Learning Atmosphere
Since most Christian colleges are private institutions of higher learning, it makes sense that they will cost more than one’s public state university. Although the small class sizes and intimate learning environments are beneficial, it is important to prepare for this expense with investments, savings, and/or a substantial financial aid package. The average student, however, might need to take out student loans in order to attend a private Christian college, so it is worth considering if the value of this learning atmosphere is worth the additional debt.
Pro: Students Gain a Strong Sense of Belonging
Surrounding oneself by others who share the same value and faith system can be reassuring and comforting. It allows students to share something they have in common, thus creating a sense of belonging and community that is difficult to find at larger, non-religious colleges. While some faith-based institutions require that all students identify with a specific denomination, others allow students of all religions to attend as well as those who are not religious at all. Regardless of the denominations accepted, all religious colleges maintain a certain faith at the core of their system.
Con: Students Might Find More Cliques
Although such is not the case at every institution, one downfall to Christian colleges is that the potential for cliques to form is strong. When everyone shares the same beliefs and values, students may put more effort into discriminating against those with the slightest differences in order to fit into a particular group. In other words, the formation of cliques is less likely to occur in diverse settings in which students have the opportunity to pursue their own academic, social, and extracurricular interests in order to find the friends and groups that best fit them.
Pro: Students Find Faith at Every Turn
Does your religion play a significant role in your life? If so, you will enjoy how religion and faith are interwoven throughout multiple aspects of campus rather than relegated to a synagogue or chapel on one corner of the campus. Keep in mind, however, that different institutions might integrate religion and faith differently on their campuses. For example, one school might conduct a Bible study in a residence hall once per week, while another may offer a prayer session each day before classes begin. Still, another may require students to complete certain courses on faith and religion.
Con: Students Experience More Regulations and Stricter Rules
Because schools interweave religion throughout the college campus, many Christian colleges are known for having strict rules and regulations. For instance, some institutions provide separate dormitories for female and male students, implement dress codes, have strict curfews, forbid alcohol, and outline specific visitation rules. While this is great for students looking to get away from the party atmosphere, those who are venturing out on their own for the first time may find that living and studying in such a highly regulated atmosphere can hamper the “college experience” and limit their ability to learn and live independently. Of course, not all faith-based colleges are strict. It does depend on the campus, but it is certainly something to consider.
Pro: Students Have Access to Christian Majors
Students who are considering a religious-focused major will have plenty of options at a Christian college. For example, Christian counseling and pastoral studies are two majors that are typically only found at religious institutions. However, even with popular and common majors that are offered at secular schools, students should expect to study these fields through a Christian worldview, even if the major itself is not focused specifically on religion. Those studying education at a faith-based school might find a curriculum based on traditional education techniques, while similar majors at liberal colleges or state universities focus on progressive ideology.
Con: Students Have a Limited Choice of Majors
On the other hand, some students may find that the limited choice of majors offered at religious institutions will make or break their decision to attend. In other words, large state universities are known for offering a broad range of majors that one would be hard-pressed to find at a smaller Christian institution. If you are looking for an unusual combination of programs or a less commonly-offered major, you may need to prepare for the fact that a Christian school might not be the best option in terms of the education and opportunities available at these institutions. Ultimately, you are forced to either forego the faith-based option completely or compromise on your desired plan of study.
What Should I Think About Before I Choose a Religious College?
When it comes to evaluating the colleges you are thinking of attending, the process closely resembles balancing a scale. The goal is to have the pros on one side of the scale outweigh the cons on the other side. Therefore, there are a few things to consider before you choose to attend a religious college.
1. Exposure to New Ideas
For many, changing and growing, both personally and intellectually, is one of the best things about their college experience. One of the biggest components of this is gaining exposure to new people and new ideas — something some students would never have the opportunity to experience if it were not for college. While you will certainly be exposed to different ideas and meet new people if you attend a religious college, students who attend these institutions may find that they do not challenge their existing beliefs and ideas. It all comes down to personal preference, so consider what you are looking to get out of your college experience.
2. Academic Influence
Ask yourself whether you prefer to keep your academic and religious lives separate. At many religious institutions, students have no trouble doing just that as these schools hire faculty members of all backgrounds and faiths to set standard curriculum requirements for students. However, some non-secular schools allow, and even promote, faith in their academic curricula. For example, the school may require its students to complete rigorous, religious-focused classes that are not designed to present a balanced, objective view of other ideas or world religions. Therefore, it is important to research your prospective schools to determine if they let religion influence what their students learn.
3. Religious Influence
There are many religious colleges that are loosely affiliated with a specific denomination, meaning that they mostly run independently of religion. However, other schools are heavily influenced by religion, with everything from curriculum requirements to dormitories filtered through a faith-based lens. Loosely affiliated religious colleges are more likely to have a diverse student body, while colleges focused strongly on religion may not have students from different faiths. Depending on your priorities, these factors may be a benefit or a drawback.
4. LGBT Rights
Some of the strongest and loudest voices in the fight for LGBT rights are religious. While not all religious individuals disapprove of the gay rights movement, if you identify as an LGBT student, you may wish to carefully consider your options when researching religions institutions. Although more schools are focusing on inclusion and welcoming students of all races, backgrounds, religions, and identities, there is no guarantee that you will be treated fairly as a student. In other words, while some religious universities have thrown out policies that call for the expulsion or punishment of gay students, others still forbid homosexual behavior. Even if you do not identify as LGBT but still rally for equal rights, you might find it tough to enroll at a school with policies that many deem discriminatory.
Do I Have to Be Religious to Go to a Religious College?
No. If you are wondering what is the difference between a Catholic university and a regular university, it all boils down to the fact that the separation of Church and state does not apply to religious colleges since they are private institutions. A religious school might require a certain number of “religious” courses such as God in Rock Music or Women in Christianity or encourage students to participate in religious services. However, this does not mean that it can force its beliefs on a student. While some schools are strictly devoted to one specific denomination and only accept students of that particular religious background, most are only loosely affiliated with their religion, enrolling students and employing professors with varying religious worldviews.
Since college is one of the most significant investments you will make in your life, you need to make the right choice. In order to save yourself the cost and anxiety of applying to many schools, we would like to wrap up this article by encouraging you to ask yourself the following questions to find the schools that truly fit you:
- Are you looking to enhance your spiritual maturity?
- Are you looking for opportunities to serve others?
- Are you looking to meet new people who share your core values and beliefs?
- Do the opportunity, environment, and structure of a Christian community appeal to you?
- Are you intrigued by the idea of Christian mentors in the classroom?
If you answered “yes” to most or all of these questions, then a religious college might be in your future. Before selecting one, make sure you research the school’s statement of faith, places of worship, the size of the institution, faith-based student clubs and organizations, opportunities to grow your faith, its published code of conduct, and the types of discipleship opportunities, missions, and service that are available.
Whether you are a secular student thinking about the appeal of a religious school or you are a religious student considering colleges for the first time, there are many colleges and universities in the U.S. with various religious affiliations to choose from. Some are influenced heavily by faith, while others are only loosely guided by religion. As more students are choosing a faith-based education, enrollment is steadily rising at large Christian colleges, according to U.S. News & World Report. Before you decide to attend a faith vs non-faith-based university, think carefully about what you are hoping to gain from your college experience and narrow down the schools on your list to those with the right social, academic, and spiritual fit.
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