Deciding about College

Deciding about College February 1, 2016

The season has arrived when many graduating high-school seniors and their parents begin to make decisions about college for next fall. Certainly, many considerations go into a decision of this magnitude, and no simple formula applies to all. Even so, as someone in the academic world, permit me suggest ten questions that thoughtful Christian (or religiously-inclined) families might ponder as they prepare for this step. Herewith:

-Does the college have a track-record of providing mentoring relationships with students and follow-up contact once they graduate and go into the workforce or graduate school? A life-long faculty “cheerleader” for a young person is one of the most valuable gifts that a college can offer.

-Does the administration at the college have good rapport with the faculty and support their efforts of teaching and scholarship? Put differently, do the school’s leaders genuinely care about the life of the mind or they immoderately oriented to being parent- and donor-pleasers. (Yes, the two can go together, but the relationship is, well, rare and difficult.)

-Is there a quality core curriculum in place that teaches scripture, seminal works of Western civilization and Christian thought while also evincing concern about diversity and broader global perspectives? Related: is their a strong course in writing for freshmen?

-Are there concrete ways in which first-year students might get involved in activities and not wind up a lost “cog” in an overwhelmingly large institution? Hint: smaller schools might be better job in this respect.

-Does the college have accurate or inflated rhetoric about itself? Note: you might have to ask someone not in the administration, and especially not in admissions, to receive a candid answer! A graduating senior or an adjunct professor might in fact provide the most instructive perspective on an institution.

-Is the college financially stable and can it offer students opportunities to fund research, lab work, art projects, and the like once they are in their junior or senior year?

-Are their ample opportunities—and funding support–for students to get involved in service projects, both locally and globally? And do the relevant people on campus have a theologically compelling vision of exactly what “service” means for an 18-21 year old?

-Is there a quality chapel program in place that neither obsequiously caters to “where students are” spiritually nor is indifferent to students’ spiritual whereabouts, but seeks to raise the bar devotionally, so to speak, through sermons, guest speakers, and hymnody?

-Is the college as a whole concerned about questions of virtue, vocation and justice without slipping into the fevered swamps of political correctness that, however well-intentioned, often mistakes zealous action for thoughtful action?

-And, finally, will a student, early on, have opportunities to be smitten by an entirely new interest and take it up as a life vocation? The philosopher Alasdair Macintyre once said that if most students end up majoring in exactly what they thought they would in their first year then the college is probably not doing its job.

For further food for thought about college admissions these days, permit me to suggest an article from the Atlantic entitled “College Admissions Mania,” which is available on-line.

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