Religiously-Affiliated Colleges and Universities

Religiously-Affiliated Colleges and Universities

(Reprinted with permission from the National Association for College Admissions Counseling- NACAC)

When it comes to college, you're pretty much aware of all your options, right? You know the difference between large universities and smaller liberal arts colleges. You know what the "Ivy League" represents and you also know what community colleges are all about. But what about religiously-affiliated colleges and universities? What does it mean for an institution to be religiously-affiliated, and how do you know if that type of school is right for you?

A College is Religiously-Affiliated If…
There are a large number of colleges and universities in the country that were formed by religious groups and organizations. Although they are not limited in admission to members of that religious group, they are administered by members of their religious faction and are often organized and run in alignment with their religious principles. Among well-known schools in this category are the University of Notre Dame (IN) and Georgetown University (DC)-both Catholic; Brandeis University (IL) and Yeshiva University (NY)-both Jewish; Brigham Young University (UT)-Mormon; Southern Methodist University (TX)-Methodist; and Earlham College (IN)-Quaker.

To find out just how religiously-affiliated a college is, start by reviewing the school's mission statement. This will indicate how much emphasis the school puts on the academic, social and spiritual aspects of college.

According to Carl Forbes, associate director of admission at Le Moyne College (NY), in some cases, students at a religiously-affiliated school will engage in that particular lifestyle, but, in most cases, they don't.

"Le Moyne was founded in the Jesuit, Catholic tradition. As such, we require a rigorous curriculum in the liberal arts, with emphasis on communication arts, religion and philosophy studies, as the Jesuit tradition suggests," Forbes said. "As a Catholic institution, we follow a Catholic calendar and celebrate most occasions with a mass. Though both are on campus, students are not required to attend the Catholic religious observances."

A religious affiliation may mean a religion requirement of a class or two, perhaps more, depending on the school. Many students attending a religiously-affiliated college will be of that faith, but typically not all.

"Religiously affiliated colleges and universities offer a college experience that invites, integrates and engages students in spiritual values, social responsibilities and the holistic development of their overall being. Our faith tradition is integrated in all aspects-from our theology courses to the Lifecore Program in Student
Development," Christopher Tremblay, director of admissions at Gannon University (PA), said. "To be religiously affiliated means offering a diversity of campus ministries-ranging from retreats, Bible studies, liturgies and service trips. Overall, we encourage the exploration of spirituality through a diverse offering of faith-based programs and opportunities."

The Benefits of Mixing Religion with College
If you're looking forward to college as four years to party and let loose, then a religiously-affiliated school may not be for you. Then again, students at these schools can have fun, too; not only that, these students also have the added benefit of living and learning in an environment that supports their faith.

"For me, the religious affiliation really provides a moral and ethical foundation for not only the students, but also the faculty and staff as well," said Andy Geeter, director of admission at LaGrange College (GA), which is affiliated with the United Methodist Church.

As an added bonus, some religiously-affiliated schools may offer scholarships to those students interested in pursuing an education at their universities, scholarships not offered elsewhere.

"Many religiously-affiliated colleges offer scholarships to reward students for continuing their education at a religiously-affiliated university," Tremblay said. "For example, at Gannon University, we offer more than $1.5 million in four-year scholarships yearly to students at local Catholic high schools and local Diocesan parishes. It demonstrates our commitment to making a Catholic college education available to these students."

You Have to Study Hard Wherever You Go
No matter what college you choose, academics will typically come first. After all, the reason you're choosing a college in the first place is to further your education. That said, the quality of education you'd receive at a religiously-affiliated school is equal to the one you'd receive at a non-religious university.

"These are still liberal arts colleges-students at Christian colleges are doing more than studying the Bible," Dan Crabtree, college and career counselor at the Wheaton Academy (IL), explained. "There are many similarities in the subject matter-after all, there is no such thing as 'Christian calculus' as opposed to 'secular calculus'. But there is a difference in the way subjects are framed."

Crabtree also explained that students who choose to attend a religiously-affiliated school may, in fact, place a higher value on their studies.

"Rather than thinking of college as a place to engage in binge drinking and other kinds of dangerous behavior, most students who choose Christian colleges have a more serious focus. Rates of student satisfaction, retention, etc. are higher for Christian colleges than for secular schools. In fact, there are non-Christian students who choose to attend
Christian colleges because they value the friendliness and focus of the student body, the level of faculty concern and focus on good teaching, and the general campus atmosphere. Christian college campuses are not as homogeneous as some people think."

The "Real" College Experience
Though the experience you might have at a religiously-affiliated school may differ from that of a secular college or university, this doesn't necessarily mean that one experience is more indicative of what the world has to offer you after college.

"A criticism of [religious] colleges is that they shelter students from the real world," Crabtree said. "If we're talking about 'The Real World' as conveyed on MTV, then the criticism is probably valid. But if we're talking about the real, real world, it's not. I'm willing to bet that, on most Christian college campuses, more students are actively involved in volunteer work with AIDS patients, homeless issues (including Habitat for Humanity, but also with the political side), and other kinds of activism than at secular colleges. These students don't live in a bubble. They are encouraged and equipped to engage the world and make a difference."

Religiously-affiliated schools are just one option you have of many. Just because you're religious doesn't mean that a religiously-affiliated school is right for you. Likewise, don't rule out a college simply because it's religiously-affiliated.

"Ultimately, a student should visit the institution or talk to people on campus to get a good feel for the culture of the campus," Forbes said.

Good advice for any college on your list.

For more information on religiously-affiliated colleges and universities, visit the following Web sites:

Written by Julie Bogart.