Five Steps for Search Success
The whole process of searching for the right college seems overwhelming. Where do you begin? What do you look for? Do you need to know what you're going to study before you start looking for the school of your dreams? Okay, slow down on the questions and relax a moment. Take a deep breath. Then read these steps to finding the right school for you.
Start with Prayer
When he takes calls from students about his school, Bruce Havens will often ask his callers: "May I pray for you?" As senior admissions counselor for Pennsylvania's Baptist Bible College, Havens and the other admissions counselors gather each morning to pray for the next year's freshman class. He advises students who are making the college choice to pray through each part of the decision process. "Start praying about it," he says. "Prayer is a valuable part of the process." Don't hesitate to ask others, like your parents and your youth group leader, to pray for you too. Choosing a college is a huge decision that will impact you for the rest of your life. So start praying that God will lead you to a campus where you can grow academically and spiritually over the next four years.
Get Some Info
Next, go online to find information about Christian colleges that interest you. These sites can help you get information on schools in a specific region of the country or that offer programs you're interested in. Then, make virtual visits to colleges by spending time on their websites. You can learn a lot about a college by doing some online browsing—everything from the majors available to the highlights from the latest basketball game. Still, if you're really interested in a particular school, nothing's better than an actual campus visit. So put on your walking shoes and get ready to go on some campus tours. And don't settle for the standard tour either. Spend the night and get a feel for the college as a whole. Get a taste of dorm life, the spiritual life on campus, and the academic side. Then ask yourself this question: Is this a place I could see myself for the next four years?
Dig Deeper with Profs
As you tour campuses, you're bound to hear lots of stories about professors. Some of these will be fun, quirky stories about professorial idiosyncrasies, and others will likely be about how well they teach and how tough they grade. Amid the stories, listen for insights about what professors are doing outside of the classroom. "Find out what real-life experience professors can bring to the classroom," says Omar Rashed, director of admissions at Florida's Southeastern University. "Their professional accomplishments will enhance your college experience."
At Southeastern, one music professor is known for writing scores for films and jingles for TV ads. A business professor earned his claim to fame when he invented the first online bookstore, which was later absorbed by amazon.com. Learning with a professor who has experience beyond the classroom can open you up to new possibilities and help you think about how you'd like to use your education. Well-connected profs can often provide career guidance or share connections that can lead to internships or jobs.
Rashed also recommends looking carefully at the credentials of prospective profs. "See how many doctorates and specialists are in the programs. Look at the quality of the professors and the academic programs at the schools you're interested in." Even if you don't know which specific department you'll eventually be studying in, you can still get a broad sense of the kind of professors at each college.
When you visit campuses, look around. Do you see professors with open doors? Are there students sitting in the professors' offices? Do they seem comfortable approaching and talking to their profs? Make a point to talk with some of the professors in the departments that most interest you. "By talking one on one you'll see how much the professors will invest in your life," Rashed says. "It will help you see if these people are going to be really passionate about mentoring you and educating you."
Tour the Career Center
Most colleges don't require you to choose a major until your junior year, so don't feel pressured to start your freshman year with a declared major. But you should make a tour of the career center a top priority during your campus visit. A career counselor won't choose your major or job for you. But at schools like Samford University in Alabama, you can take personality tests and interest inventories to help you get a sense of what career paths might be a good fit for your gifts, personality and interests. Tests are designed to help students gain insights into themselves that can guide them toward a major.
"We try to help the student understand the abilities that God has given them," says Heather Mitchell, a career counselor at Samford. "Then the students can make good decisions and will have the ability to contribute to society professionally." "College is is a time to grow and develop," Mitchell says. "Most colleges have general education requirements, which gives you an opportunity to see how you like lots of different subjects." Whether or not you have an idea of what you'd like to study, make sure you check out the career centers at the colleges you're considering.
Look Beyond the Classroom
As you look at different colleges, find out about off-campus opportunities. Find out if students can spend a semester studying abroad or on other Christian college campuses. See if students are able to find internships and other opportunities to explore different careers—or, if they have a major in mind, to get resumé-building work experience.
"Make sure there are programs where you can get involved and get actual experience while you're studying—and not just sitting in the classroom," says Darren Parker, the director of recruitment at King College in Tennessee. "That's where you'll discover lots of opportunities and skills." In King's Quest for Significance program, freshmen start in the classroom studying the connections between Western civilization and literature.
But the learning experience reaches outside the classroom. The entire class takes a four-day trip to Washington, D.C., or New York City. Students with an interest in political science can tour the Pentagon. Those who are drawn to journalism can head over to the Associated Press for a taste of a day in the life of a journalist. All of this is in the effort to help students discover potential majors and future careers. It's also important to look at internship possibilities that last a summer or a semester.Students from King have interned at places like a NASCAR racetrack, an attorney's office, and even on Capitol Hill.
It's true there are many details to consider when you're choosing a college. But don't let that overwhelm you. Turn to friends and family for wise advice, and strive to keep God's will front and center. As you do—and as you apply these five principles to your search—you can be confident you'll discover the school that's right for you.
Written by Amy Adair
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