You’ve embarked on four (or more) years of study. What will you do with your years in college?
Should I transfer to a Christian college?
“I’m at a secular school, but am considering transferring to a Christian college. What’s your advice?” Christian schools are attractive to college students for many reasons. But large state schools and small liberal arts schools have advantages as well, even if they aren’t always friendly to your faith. Should you transfer or not?
For the purposes of this “Good Question” response, we’ll assume that by a Christian college you mean the kind of school that clearly emphasizes a biblical, evangelical world view and promotes (or sometimes enforces) a Christian lifestyle on campus. In other words, we are not talking about small liberal arts colleges with denominational roots that are now merely historical or that don’t emphasize the above.
For starters, attending a Christian college can be a tremendous boost to your spiritual life. The courses are generally taught by Christian professors who have a Christian world view. Other students are likely to share many of your beliefs and lifestyle. But there are many other factors to consider.
Are there good reasons to transfer?
Michelle Perrigo, InterVarsity staff at Western Michigan University, is well aware of the value of both secular and Christian schools. She asks, “What field of study are you in? What is that program like at your current university versus the Christian college you would consider? What made you originally choose the school you now attend?” Christian colleges are often great training grounds for specific fields and majors, but there may be a couple of assumptions at work in your thinking. “If you are hoping to go to a Christian school for the integration of faith within your studies, that’s a good reason,” says Michelle. “At a secular university, you have to do that work more yourself, figuring out how your faith interacts with your studies (a great pursuit to engage in at a secular university). If you are hoping to go to a Christian school because you’ll be ‘safe’ from the typical temptations of secular university life, that’s at least a partial myth. Because of the nature of college, students at your age and stage are making choices about who they are and what they will do with their lives. For some people being in a Christian college atmosphere doesn’t encourage them to take personally or seriously their own faith any more than growing up going to church automatically makes someone a Christian.”
Availability of classes
You’re in college to get a good education in a particular field of study, so it’s important to find out if the school you’re considering transferring to will provide the programs you want to study. Will there be enough choices in your course selections and electives? Smaller class sizes may be appealing, but restricted options may not give you the education you want. (This is true for any small liberal arts school. A larger state school will usually have a greater depth of academic options.) On the other hand, you may find that some Christian colleges specialize in areas that have a special interest to you, such as music and other arts, youth ministry or communications. Does the school you’re considering have a well-respected faculty, as well as academic rigor?
To be sure, for the Christian there are challenges in being at a secular university. Michelle points out that “you have to think carefully about how you’ll engage a professor or classmate who is openly hostile or demeaning of your faith in Jesus. You have to do extra personal research to make sense of where God’s truth is amid all you’re learning in a field of study.”
There is another thing that Christian colleges don’t always offer — a lot of nonbelievers who are likely to sharpen and hone your faith the most. Being a Christ-follower is not just about what you believe in your head. It’s about how you live. At your current campus, non-Christian students are watching you. They are watching how you handle tough classes, what you do on the weekends, and how you treat other people. They are watching how you treat them. Michelle adds, “People need to see your light as a follower of Christ (Matthew 5:16) and need to hear that Jesus makes a radical difference in people’s lives today. You have the chance to be a redemptive influence on the university itself.”
There are usually options for you to participate in a Christian fellowship on a secular campus and still grow significantly in your own spiritual life. There are also clear, ready-made opportunities for you to be “in the world and not of it,” distinctively offering people life and hope by calling them to also follow Jesus. Nonbelievers certainly do exist at Christian colleges too, but the culture of the school itself often makes witness more difficult as it tends to assume people are Christians. Wherever you are, says Michelle, “engage folks in the world around you as much as possible. College is a great place to begin doing that. Build a strong practice of both growing with other believers and faithfully engaging not-yet-believers with the good news of Christ.”
There are other factors to consider in choosing a Christian school. Just as with any large or small secular school, not all Christian schools are created equal. You may find yourself on a campus with very little diversity of opinion, where classroom arguments are one-sided, and where there is little exposure to a variety of people, viewpoints, and cultures. If you know any students at the school you’re considering, talk to them honestly about what they like and don’t like about the school so you have the information you need before you make a decision. It’s possible that the image you have of the school may not be accurate. Many schools set standards for student behavior, such as no alcohol, but you may find that extensive partying exists — it’s just undercover and hidden.
A recent graduate of a Christian college suggested something else to think about: “At a Christian school, you’re not as likely to find as many students pursuing drinking, sex and wild behavior, but what is the campus atmosphere like when it comes to sins of self-righteousness, gossip, and pride? Is there too much emphasis on finding a mate and becoming engaged as soon as possible (a ring by spring)?” Be bold in examining some of the underlying values of the school’s culture.
Let’s say you’ve done your homework and it’s time for a decision. Once again ask yourself why you want to transfer to a Christian school. Don’t transfer if you’re looking for an escape hatch from the real world. Jesus didn’t do that, and neither should we. So what’s the next step? As Michelle says, “If your major is feasible in either place, and other practical concerns such as money and location are not an issue, ask the Lord what would be the best decision and choose well.” Blessings on your decision.