Here are twelve questions to ask when you are evaluating a Christian college. Are you in the process of making a decision but find the process overwhelming? Is it hard to really tell what type of Christian college you are looking at? My husband and I both attended Christian colleges, he worked at Christian and private colleges for fifteen years, and now two of our kids attend a Christian college. We love Christian higher education. But not every school is worth the tuition or the spiritual cost. I hope you find these twelve questions helpful in determining what kind of Christian college your child is considering and whether or not it will be worth it.
Not every young adult needs to attend college.
We feel there is a lot of value in a college education, but that doesn’t mean every child needs to attend college. If you have raised a child who refuses to put in academic work and study time, then a college education will be wasted. A child who chooses a worthless major wastes their education. If your child is a hands-on person who will excel in a trade school, educate them for a life of success as an electrician, plumber, or machinist. Those are all valuable careers that can provide a good income. Don’t choose an expensive college education as a default option.
Watch out for student loan debt.
No college degree is worth a lifetime of crippling debt, and Christian colleges are expensive schools. In their promotional material the colleges tell you that the education they provide is worth the cost. A “Christian” education is not worth the cost if it destroys your child’s future. Period.
Graduating without any student loans is the best option! If that’s not possible, make sure you and your child are making college and career choices that will allow them to pay off all student loans within one to two years of graduation. Your daughter’s ultimate goal is to be a stay-at-home mom? Wonderful! I think a college education is still valuable, but don’t let her take out a single penny in student loans because she isn’t going to be earning any money (assuming she gets married).
Every college is a mixed bag.
Every college is some mixture of conservative, liberal, Christian, and secular professors and students.
If you know an excellent Christian faculty member at a college, that doesn’t necessarily mean the school as a whole is a great Christian school. We have known outstanding believers who taught at state universities. That clearly doesn’t make a state school a Christian college. The same holds true as you compare one Christian school to another; you may find a solid believer teaching at a liberal Christian school.
Likewise, even the best Christian colleges will have some liberal professors.
The best Christian colleges will have many students who are not genuine believers. Prepare your kids for this reality.
As you are choosing a Christian college, don’t base your decision on a single person – a professor or student. Make sure you focus on the big picture.
There are very, very few excellent Christian colleges to choose from.
There are a multitude of colleges that used to be or claim to be Christian. Few of them have maintained the conservative Christian values on which they were founded. There are only a couple that meet our standards of “excellence,” and we’re not alone in this opinion. (And no, I am not naming them. You should do your own research.) The landscape is pretty bleak.
Be aware that some colleges maintain denominational ties or were founded as Christian colleges, but are not Christian colleges in any sense of the word. You must be able to look beyond the obvious to see where the school stands today.
Of course, you may have other reasons that make a college a good option. Whether it’s academic standards, scholarships offered, or proximity to your home, those factors can influence your decision.
Have your eyes wide open
My point isn’t that our kids can only attend “excellent” Christian schools. My point is that no matter which school your kids attend you need to go in with your eyes open. Don’t be naive. Our world is very dark. Use these questions to help you make an accurate assessment of the Christian college you are considering.
If you’re also considering a state school, you need to ask different questions. Therefore, this post isn’t relevant to that decision. State schools can be a good choice. But the same rule applies: eyes wide open!
Questions for evaluating a Christian college
Let’s get to the questions. Use these to guide your research into the schools your child is considering. You can find some answers online through internet searches. Some answers will require you to make a campus visit. While you’re on campus you will want to ask plenty of questions, but also use your own powers of observation. What do you see? What do you hear? Jot down your answers. Then sit down as a family and talk about each school you are considering. What are you paying for?
Evaluating a Christian college using their website
1. Check the school’s homepage online. The homepage is designed to communicate the top two or three things a college wants to be known for, what are they? If Christian values are important they will be on the homepage, even better if they are prominent and “above the fold.” Does the school call itself Christian? Do they name Christ? Or do they mention “faith” without reference to Christ? (That tells you something very important.) Where on the page do you find it: front and center, in the margin, or at the bottom?
2. Search the school’s website for a Statement of Faith. Read it. What does it say specifically about Jesus Christ and the Scriptures? Does it state anything about Creation or Adam and Eve? Those are the most telling answers; the critical issues of our time. Maybe you can’t find a Statement of Faith or a Doctrinal Statement. Try checking for a Mission Statement or Vision Statement. The absence of anything called a Statement of Faith is also a telling indicator.
3. Does the school have a theology department (it may go by a few different names)? Even if your child isn’t planning to major in Bible, theology, or ministry take a look at this page. Then check the courses offered using a link on that page or searching for the course catalog. What do they call the courses they offer? Are there courses in “religion”? That’s a bad sign.
4. Are all students required to take Bible or religion courses? If so, which ones?
5. Now search for the chapel schedule. Who’s speaking? If there aren’t names you recognize, search a few on the internet. What kind of schools or churches are they coming from? What kind of viewpoint do they represent? Remember, seeing one note-worthy name doesn’t seal the deal. You’re looking for the big picture. It’s even more helpful if the chapel schedule also lists the topics that the speakers will address. Are they speaking about Earth Day or on a passage of Scripture?
6. Use the university website to search for student clubs and organizations (you may need to check the Student Life page). These are telling because the school sponsors these clubs – they approve them and put money into them. The question isn’t whether or not your child would join every club, the question is what kind of values are being promoted. Most clubs are innocuous: sports, foreign language, video games, and swing dancing. Are there any clubs that are morally offensive? Does the school sponsor distinctively conservative clubs, such as a pro-life club? Again, remember if you see one club you dislike you don’t need to write the school off. Some of the schools that make our “excellent” list sponsor a few clubs that I wish weren’t on there. These aren’t inconsistent with a Christian world view, just somewhat questionable. Keep looking for the big picture view.
Evaluating a Christian college using an internet search
7. Work together with your teen and brainstorm a few of the hot button issues of the day, the front lines of the culture war. Then do an internet search for the school name and that issue. Or search the school name and a word like “controversy.” What kind of things do you come up with? There’s always controversy of some sort on a college campus. The question is who is upset and why? Which side of the issue do you fall on?
Evaluating a Christian college on a campus visit
8. Ask your admissions counselor about their faith or their church. If your admissions counselor, who is hired to represent the university, doesn’t have faith you’re not likely to find much faith on campus.
9. If you’re on campus during the warmer months, notice how the girls are dressed. This is a little tricky because we all have slightly different standards of modesty. If you need to, go to a state school and figure out a baseline. Then look around at the “Christian” college. There should be some difference. Again, there will always be some girls who do not dress to your standards. Look for the over all picture. Of course, if your daughter dresses no differently than girls in the world at large, this will be a moot point.
10. When you are in the dining hall, do you see kids pray before eating? You will never see this at a school that is Christian in name only.
11. Look around for romantic relationships and public displays of affection. Who’s holding hands? What else do you see? The more conservative the school, the less you should see.
12. What kind of events do you see posted on bulletin boards around campus? Take a few minutes and peruse the bulletin boards.
A dangerous message
In our opinion the mixed message of Christian language and liberal theology may be one of the most dangerous messages for your children to hear. For example, one school we know of requires students to take two Bible classes. But in those classes they teach that the Bible is a myth. At a non-Christian college you know what to expect, and know not to take anything at face value without processing it through your world view. However, once you add the Christian label some kids will let their guard down and think this is what Christianity really is. Help your kids clearly understand what kind of environment they will be in.
Finding great professors
Even the best schools will have some liberal professors. And all schools have professors who can’t teach. It’s best to avoid both of those scenarios, if you can.
If you know someone who attended the college, even a few years ago, ask them which professors they recommend and who they would avoid. Once your child is on campus they can ask an upper classman, who shares their values, for some guidance. Don’t just ask anyone! Most students base their decision solely on how easy a class is. Look for someone with a little more discernment than that.
Two students, at the same college, can have two entirely different college educations. Therefore, teach your kids to ask lots of questions, so that in every class they benefit from the learning of the best possible professor.
I said this above, but I am saying it again. Not every student will be a genuine Christian. Not all students who call themselves Christian will be. Talk to your kids about this in advance. Don’t let them be surprised and disappointed. They’ll need the strength to make their own choices.
Several years ago, our pastor gave our daughter this book as a high school graduation gift. While it is not very deep in some areas and may cover things you have already discussed with your kids, there is a lot of helpful advice in How to Stay Christian in College.