How to Choose a College
What follows is a set of questions that will hopefully be helpful as you determine which colleges to apply to. The options you choose are just that—choices that you believe will best provide the academic environment and culture necessary for you to pursue your collegiate studies. There is no set of “right answers” that these questions presume. What is best for one family and student is not necessarily best for another. With that being said, however, the importance of a strong Christian fellowship group on campus and a student-friendly, biblically sound local church that is easily accessible should be high on your priority list.
- In-state public versus in- or out-of-state private: Here the main issue is cost, but a corollary tends to be size.
- Large versus small: Small is something under 4–5,000. Large can be up to 50,000. Other things to think about are class size, accountability, who does the teaching (TAs or professors), breadth of majors, and research options.
- Christian versus non-Christian: The definition of terms here presupposes that Christian is evangelical, grace driven, and historically orthodox. “Denominational” schools may or may not actually be Christian schools. Each one needs to be individually considered. Many denominational schools are so loosely affiliated with the church that founded them that they in essence have lost all their Christian heritage, values, and commitments. Other denominational schools still maintain their founding vision, goals, and biblical foundation. A secular institution is one that does not adhere to any religious affiliation or commitment.
- Within about 50o miles versus a more distant location: Many people consider the 500-mile radius a comfortable drive in less than a full day (8 hours). This allows a much greater participation in the student’s life on campus for Parent’s Weekend, Homecoming, plays, concerts, birthdays, and for travel back and forth between semesters. Beyond that, the cost and delays of airline travel become a necessity.
- Scholarship versus non-scholarship expectations: Scholarship may mean either merit (based on academic achievement) or need. Some schools are simply better endowed than others, and the realistic prospect of financial assistance needs to be known in advance. Remember that financial aid packages often include a healthy expectation of student work hours each week, and much of the money given in aid needs to be repaid. The terms of the assistance are generally very favorable, but don’t be fooled into thinking that financial aid is all “free” money given to attract your student.
- Christian fellowship groups on campus versus no fellowship groups: All campus situations have Christian fellowship groups actively participating in student life. Not all are equal in the goals, objectives, and theologies they represent. Some are considerably more helpful in building a distinctly Christian world-and-life view that integrates what is being learned in the classroom into a biblical and theological framework.
- Academic versus less academic: Educational institutions vary significantly as to their reputations, workload expectations, entrance requirements, and graduation requirements. Not all students can get into all colleges or universities, and a reality factor must be accounted for early on in the process.
- On-campus versus off-campus housing: The issue to be decided, usually beginning in the sophomore year, is what lifestyle your student will have while away from home. Essentially, this is a freedom issue, coupled with some economic considerations. Some recent studies would indicate that off-campus housing contributes to a lack of engagement with the campus as a whole and to academic performance issues. Others would indicate that these same issues could lead to greater responsibility, maturity, and independence.
- Technical versus liberal arts: Obviously, some institutions are oriented more toward one or the other. Choosing one track or the other, if known in the junior/senior year of high school with sufficient assurance, could better accommodate certain majors.
- Greek versus non-Greek: The fraternity and sorority option is on virtually every campus with the exception of some Christian schools. Knowing in advance what hopes and expectations there are will help in the decision making process when “rush” starts in the freshman year.
- Local church versus no local church: The distinction here is between knowing prior to committing to a college whether there is a church that is going to meet the needs of your student. College is infamous for killing church attendance. Many otherwise strong Christian students choose to neglect worship. Many churches in college towns have little to offer college students. Consequently, college students are not pastored. The college decision may need to involve both church and school.
Robert F. Ingram