Like many families, we made a list of colleges to visit when our youngest son was a graduating senior a few years ago. Jeremy had done well in high school but was still unclear on what he wanted to do after college. A couple of Christian Colleges had striking shore-side views. Princeton was interesting, but orange as a school color did not appeal to Jeremy. In the end, Jeremy applied to one Christian college and one Ivy League school. He got accepted to both and visited the campuses as he prayed through what God had for him.
In the end, Jeremy chose the Christian college. Many of his friends, family, and teachers asked, “Why not the Ivy League option?” Was it the money? Was it the weather? Maybe he didn’t like the school color.
Why does it make sense to choose a Christian college over a larger university, even a prestigious one?
Here are several factors to keep in mind. First and foremost, the key to a college education is the person who stands at the chalkboard. When I asked Jeremy about his choice, he talked about how relationships were important. He was looking for Christian role models who could walk with him as he prepared for the real world from a biblical worldview. The Christian character of the professors is as important as their competency. This is not to say that Christian college faculty members are not well-prepared. Many of them have doctoral degrees from the finest universities in the world. The institution I lead recently hired a faculty member with an undergraduate degree from an Ivy League institution as well as a graduate degree from Oxford in England. I asked him why he wanted to come to Crown. His answer, “To mentor and disciple students.” In the end, ask yourself the question, “Who do I want to be like when I grow up?” The answer can help you in choosing the right college.
Large universities are classified as R1 universities, which means they are primarily research institutions not teaching colleges. Faculty members are primarily there to do research not teach. The teaching work is done in huge classes or left to graduate students. When I took Economics 101 at Miami University, there were 800 students in my section – all in the same room! When my brother-in-law studied at Ohio State, most of his general education courses were not taught by real professors. They were taught by Teaching Assistants (TAs). My English instructor at Miami had just started as a grad student, and our class was her first attempt at teaching. Most Christian colleges are teaching institutions with regular professors teaching small classes. At our College the average class size is about 20 with no classes of 50 or more. This not only makes for a great classroom experience, but it also allows faculty members the opportunity to meet life-on-life with students outside of class.
Not only are relationships with faculty members important, but so are friendships and the influence of other students. Today’s secular colleges and universities tend to have high rates of activities and student behavior that are out of sync with God’s standards. My wife and I went with Jeremy to a large university for a scholarship day. In one of the workshops, the college staff assured parents that the behavior of college students is not as bad as some think. They said that not all students were sexually active–only about 60%. They also said that not all students drink alcohol regularly, only 85%. You can see that the Christian student is going to be committed to a much different set of values. Recently, Jeremy’s older brother, Josh, who graduated several years ago from a Christian college, flew from Oregon to the wedding of a college friend in Wisconsin. Those college friendships rooted in Christ proved to be one of the important highlights of his college career.
What are you looking for in a college experience? I would suggest you look at who are going to be your Christian mentors. You might want to also consider the class size at the institution where you plan to attend. Lastly, who would you like to have as a roommate, classmate, or in your wedding? These may be things you won’t find in the Ivy League.
Dr. Rick Mann has served at Crown College in Minnesota as Vice President of Academic Affairs from 2002-2006, and as President since 2006