Are Christian Schools Second Best?


A Christian college dean addresses a common misconception about a Christian college education.

Q. My guidance counselor doesn't understand why I'd like to go to a Christian college. I've always worked hard, and I'm a good student. I think I have a pretty good chance to get accepted at most schools I apply to. He seems to think I should be "aiming higher." It's like he thinks that Christian colleges are sort of second best. Is he right?

A. Since I work at a Christian college, I have to admit that I'm biased. Still, I think your guidance counselor has some pretty serious misconceptions about Christian colleges. Some guidance counselors don't know about the academic rigor and excellence found on many Christian campuses. These counselors often view Christian colleges as too small and too narrowly focused, due to their commitment to integrate faith into academic programs, to be worth considering.

The reality is that stronger and weaker schools exist in every category of higher education: Public or private, religiously affiliated or nonsectarian. So don't write off a school because of its Christian focus. Instead, ask yourself: What type of school do I want to attend? Then, ask: Which schools of that type seem like a good fit for me? Thinking this way will help you decide if a Christian college is right for you.

And if you decide a Christian education is right for you, you can then identify some schools to research and visit. If growing spiritually and having the opportunity to apply your faith within your academic program are important to you, then a Christian campus is a great place to accomplish these goals. There are ways for you to compare colleges in terms of academic strength. For example, US News and World Report issues an America's Best Colleges issue each year.

This publication ranks colleges and universities on a host of educational issues and provides useful information in comparing them. Interestingly, this report and most others don't use faith commitments as one of their distinguishing characteristics. Instead, these reports rely on categories that transcend institutional type. Many Christian campuses are ranked at or near the top of these lists each year.

But a word of caution: Don't let these rankings keep you from researching a school that didn't "make the list." If you've heard good things about a particular school, or if you're simply interested in that school, then do some research and find out more about it. Don't let rankings —which often come with certain biases—keep you from looking into a school that could really be a great fit for you.

During your search, pay attention to parts of a school's academic profile like the average GPAs and standardized test scores of the most recent freshman class. You can also get information on other statistics like retention rates and graduation rates, graduate school acceptance rates and graduate career information that will give you a good sense of a school's academic strengths.

You can find this information in admissions materials, school websites or by e-mailing an admissions counselor. Hopefully, this kind of information will help you choose a strong college that integrates spiritual growth with serious academics. There are many, many Christian colleges where your experience will be far from second best.

Written by Skip Trudeau

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