College Comparison Questions

“Women are like cars, you need to test drive a few before you purchase one.”

“Shut the F… up and listen, you ladies are playing like Bi…. and it stops now.”

“Mary wasn’t a virgin was Jesus was born, conceived yes, but it wouldn’t make cultural sense that Joseph and Mary waited for Jesus’ birth to consummate their marriage.”

It’s Time For A Reality Check

Can we have an honest chat about college? Can we talk honestly while remembering that there is always an exception to the rule? Do you know what these three quotes have in common? They were all said by employees of private Christian colleges. Institutions that require “Statements of Faith” be submitted with resumes and promises of specific living boundaries, often entitled Lifestyle Statements, are signed with W-2’s.

After 2 decades in the private liberal arts college sector, there is a scenario that has repeated itself multiple times each year. It’s best summarized by a dear friend who obtained her bachelor’s degree in her late 30’s. She said,”I feel like I paid a lot of money to go to a Christian institution and it wasn’t any different than a public school.” My friend isn’t the only one asking this question. Millennial students seek authenticity in every aspect of their lives, and that includes their college experience.

Reasons To Choose A Small College

The main reasons I’ve heard for why students have chosen one school over another hasn’t varied that much in 20 years.

  • They want to play sports
  • A friend is also attending
  • There was a specific degree they wanted to study
  • They prefer the small atmosphere
  • They or their parents (usually parents) wanted them to be in an environment where there were fewer chances of peer pressure as well as a spiritual emphasis incorporated into the education and campus experiences

Although there isn’t anything wrong with the list above, the majority of these things aren’t unique to a small college experience. Nor are they unique to a campus that claims to incorporate a Christian emphasis.

The most sensitive subject on this list, in my opinion, is assumption vs. reality surrounding the spiritual emphasis of a campus. Each college campus has a culture which will shift to reflect campus leadership’s priorities. That being said, there are some questions you might consider asking someone familiar with the campus you are considering. You will likely receive the most unbiased and truthful answers from some who aren’t paid to convince you to attend.

Key Questions For Better Insight

  • How many active Bible studies are currently on campus?
  • What is the percentage of the student body which participates in these Bible studies?
  • How are the spiritual tenets of the college’s spiritual formation plan integrated into a typical class, not including chapel (which is often counted)?
  • Whether you are an athlete or not, an important question to ask is what types of spiritual development and leadership development programs the coaches use (Since an athlete spends more time with a coach than anyone else on campus, and are often the largest percentage of the student body this is key)

These questions are meant to dig beyond the surface of what a college’s admissions department is promoting. The most common frustration brought up to me in the last 20 years regarding a small Christian campus is the contradiction between what was presented in an admissions tour or recruiting talk vs. the reality of campus operations.

It’s not uncommon for college campuses to have aspects which align with the college mission and others in the next building which contradict that mission completely. It is those situations which cause students to ask “why am I paying all this extra money for something that doesn’t exist?”

The most recent example that has hit the news is found at Wheaton College, who chose to sweet an incident including successful athletes under the rug. The 5 men involved have all been arrested at the time of this example is included. It is now 9 months past the incident. The college chose to look the other way until the law required a different response.

Another Option

Schools that identify themselves as Christian colleges aren’t the only ones where spiritual support is available.

Interestingly to me, the variety of spiritual support options offered on and around college campuses classified as public colleges and universities is large and varied. FCA, InterVarsity, CRU (Campus Crusade for Christ) YoungLife College, as well as college and career small groups at local churches, offer support and opportunities for students to grow in their faith while in college.

There is a bonus with this option as well. There is no expectation of spiritual development included with the college degree. The frustration element where blame can be placed on the college for lack of Christian focus is eliminated. Legalism is replaced with opportunity. Many students report that since their pursuit of spiritual growth is voluntary as opposed to “forced” by required events or classes it feels more authentic.

Many times the cost of attending these colleges is much less of a financial burden, or at minimum equal to a small college and include many more opportunities.

A Few Additional Items

The divorce rate of our friends and acquaintances is equal. In fact, our circle has been slanted towards those who have graduated from private Christian colleges due to our employment, and the 50% rate of divorce holds true. Meeting and marrying a spouse at a Christian college does not guarantee a marriage until death we do part.

20 years has included hundreds of relationships. We’ve watched just as many people walk away from the church as we have seen run towards it. Their college institution has not been an overall statistical factor. For each personal story of a person who deepened their relationship with Jesus, another decided God wasn’t a necessary part of their life.

At least 80% of those we have interacted with over our service times who have chosen the small college route have graduated deeply in debt. Many then marry someone else deeply in debt and find themselves committing to payment plans extending into their 40’s.

There Is A Place For Small Colleges

For the purposes of this blog post, small colleges will reference colleges that identify with a church denomination, offer chapel services weekly, and require employees to submit a statement of faith upon application.

Small colleges offer a much lower student to professor ratio. Professors are also the ones teaching their classes as opposed to teacher aids which can be common in larger institutions.

A smaller campus atmosphere is one that many students thrive on. Whether a student is coming from a small school or their learning style is one that is strengthened in a more focused atmosphere, fewer students translate to fewer students everywhere. The dorms, classes, and extracurricular activities. Some students bloom in this type of atmosphere.

Finally, many students find that a small college experience offers them a space to explore their faith in a different way than their previous school experiences allowed. The freedom to speak openly about God in a setting that encourages and supports the pursuit of God create opportunities for growth and development of an individual personal faith.

The intention of this post is to encourage a deeper conversation around the college decision. Choosing a certain collegiate environment does not guarantee a specific outcome. Weighing multiple pros and cons will help you and your child make the best decision about their individual future.

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