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Christian Student Guide to Choosing a College Scholarships, Resources & Factors to Consider

There are many college options for Christian students that will support both their religious and academic goals. But with so many to choose from, it can be difficult to know which one is right. The following guide takes a look at the differences between Christian and secular colleges, answers common questions students may have about these institutions and offers an interview with a Christian student who attended a secular university. Keep reading to learn about what’s available to strengthen your faith while also advancing your education.

Meet the Expert

Jill McKay Teacher, Creator of Narrow Road Fitness

WRITTEN BY:

Scholarships for Christian Students

In addition to the many general scholarships available to all students regardless of their religious affiliation, Christian students can tap into a separate wellspring of funding especially for them. Some of these scholarships may be denomination-specific, while others simply require students to profess a Christian faith.

Amount: Varies

The American Baptist Home Mission Societies offer this award to undergrads who have a 2.75 GPA and a reference written by their pastor.

Amount: $1,000

Students of Lexington High School in Nebraska can apply for this award by providing a 250-word statement about how Jesus impacted their life.

Amount: Varies

This scholarship is awarded to students enrolled at an accredited theological seminary who are involved in the chaplain candidate program.

Amount: Varies

Children of missionaries can receive this award, provided they plan to attend one of the six approved colleges.

Amount: Up to $4,000

In partnership with the UM Higher Education Foundation, students can receive matching scholarships from their church, the UMHEF, UMC-affiliated scholarships and UMC Conference foundations totaling up to $4,000 annually.

Amount: Up to $2,000

This scholarship is given to college students over the age of 35 at any degree level who are looking to move into a second career. Must be a member of the United Methodist church.

Amount: $20,000 per year

Doctoral students of African descent who are pursuing a Ph.D. or Th.D. in religion, theological studies or biblical studies can apply to this program.

Amount: $1,000

This scholarship is given to American Baptists whose first language is not English, who are enrolled in a D.Min or Ph.D. program, and who have two endorsements pertaining to their potential for ministry.

Amount: $3,500 per semester

Undergraduate and graduate students are eligible for this award that covers tuition, books, fees and other miscellaneous expenses.

Amount: Up to $10,000

This award is given to Native American, American Indian or Alaska Native students who have been members of the UMC at least three years and are pursuing a degree at an approved seminary.

Amount: $2,500

In addition to their application, ministerial students must also submit a paper, sermon or a special project covering an aspect of the Universalist theology.

Amount: Varies

Awarded to members of the Unitarian Universalist church who are entering law school.

Amount: $1,000

The Baptist Foundation of Alabama provides annual awards to Alabama residents who are members of a Southern Baptist Church.

Amount: Up to $11,000 per year

This award is given to undergraduate or graduate students who have lived in Texas at least 12 months and regularly attend church.

Amount: Up to $3,000 per year

This award is available to Christian undergrads from NY, NJ or CT attending any accredited college in America. Students must be active in their church.

College Options for Christian Students

Knowing the types of colleges and universities available to them can help Christian students pick the school that best serves their religious and academic needs.

Secular

Secular schools are colleges and universities that are not affiliated with any religious views – Christian or otherwise. Many of these schools may identify as having a Christian heritage (such as Harvard, Yale or Princeton) but identify as secular. Secular schools also often have Christian groups and clubs on campus. All state/public schools are considered secular.

Nondenominational/
Interdenominational

These types of school are very similar to denominational colleges in their academic and spiritual offerings, but they don’t align themselves with the teachings of one specific denomination. Nondenominational and interdenominational schools you may know of include Azusa Pacific University, Gordon College and Wheaton College.

Bible/Seminary

Unlike other Christian schools that work to bring a religious foundation to traditional courses of study, bible schools and seminaries are uniquely focused on preparing graduates to engage in Christian ministry once they leave school. Some of the common roles for bible school graduates include pastor, missionary and biblical studies teacher.

Denominational

Colleges affiliated with a particular religious denomination can be found throughout the United States. Many are known for combining academic rigor and religious values and are popular with secular and religious students alike. Well-known examples include Baylor University (Baptist), Emory University (Methodist) and Augsburg University (Lutheran).

Factors to Consider When Choosing a College

It can be difficult to decide if a secular or Christian college is right for you. Asking a few questions about prospective schools can help students assess whether the campus environment will be the right fit.

Questions to ask when considering schools

What percentage of the student population is Christian?

Some students may wish to primarily interact with other Christian students in class and during extracurricular activities. But aside from a study via the Pew Research Center that found 76 percent of college students believe in God, students aren’t likely to find much information online about the number of Christians on individual campuses. They can, however, contact prospective institutions to see if this information is available through the Office of Spiritual Life.

What Christian student groups are available on campus?

Christian student clubs and organizations are active on thousands of college campuses, with focuses ranging from mission work and volunteerism to athletic pursuits and bible studies. Students looking to understand how many active Christians are at a school can chat with these organizations to get a sense of what campus life is like.

Organizations such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes has a campus locator, while schools like Lee University offer a list of available clubs and organizations.

Will you be able to attend religious services on campus or in the nearby community?

Christian and secular colleges alike typically provide chapel spaces where religious students can come together and worship and/or listen to speakers. The difference, however, is that while most Christian colleges require students to attend chapel, secular schools simply make it available for those who want to take part.

Union University and Morgan State University provide examples. Students interested in finding an off-campus faith community should check with the Office of Spiritual Life to see if they have a list of local churches.

Will there be any conflicts between the course material and your faith?

Some students may be concerned about required course material being in conflict with their religious beliefs, while others may be interested in engaging in intellectual dialog when those conflicts arise. Students should look at the required course material at any prospective college and assess whether they would feel more comfortable taking courses with a Christian perspective or are open to classes that may contradict or question their beliefs.

Christian Colleges vs. Secular Colleges

When deciding whether a Christian or secular college is the best fit for a student’s individual needs, it’s best to consider some of the key differences they may encounter at each. The following table highlights some of the common aspects of college and compares the two types of institutions.

Christian Colleges

Campus rules at Christian colleges tend to be stricter, with special emphasis on ensuring students behave in moral ways. Examples of rules may include separate dorms for different sexes, not allowing students to visit the dorms of other sexes, maintaining a strict no-alcohol policy and mandating a curfew.

Secular Colleges

Outside of ensuring students don’t break the law, secular colleges typically leave it up to students to decide their behavior. Dorms have coed floors and students can visit those of the opposite sex. Underage drinking isn’t permitted, but those who are 21 and over can consume alcohol. They also don’t have to be back to campus at a specific time.

Christian Colleges

Clubs and organizations at Christian colleges often mirror those at secular campuses (e.g. you’ll find clubs that cater to interests like foreign languages, politics and specific majors), but you’ll also find specifically Christian organizations such as Campus Crusade for Christ and Young Life.

Secular Colleges

Secular colleges offer an array of clubs and programs and, while there will likely be a few that cater to Christianity and other religions, they might be in the minority.

Christian Colleges

Extracurricular activities at Christian colleges will again often mirror those at secular colleges in terms of intramural sports and dorm nights, but they’ll also include options to take part in mission trips over school breaks, chapel services, Christian speakers and opportunities to expand your ministry.

Secular Colleges

Extracurriculars may include many of the same activities as Christian colleges, but there are likely more activities that may conflict with the rules and tenants held on Christian campuses. Examples may include campus parties where alcohol is available or a more rambunctious Greek life community. Christian extracurriculars are likely to be available, but things like chapel aren’t mandatory.

Christian Colleges

It’s no surprise that a higher percentage of Christian students than usual can be found at a Christian college. While some areligious students may pick the school for notable academic or athletic programs, you’re likely to find more students who share your beliefs at one of these schools.

Secular Colleges

It’s not uncommon at all to find Christian students at secular campuses, and some Christian students may select schools with a degree or career focus in mind. However, you’ll likely have a lower chance of being paired with a Christian roommate or engage with Christian students in all of your classes.

Christian Colleges

Lots of Christian schools require faculty members to identify as Christians to be employed by the institution. It’s also common for professors at Christian colleges to pray before class.

Secular Colleges

Secular colleges have no requirements for their faculty members in terms of beliefs. While they don’t discriminate against faculty members who identify as Christians, they also work to cultivate a campus community of diverse religious views.

Christian Colleges

As part of general education requirements, it’s not uncommon to find Christian colleges and universities that require students to take at least one theology or bible class in order to graduate. At bible colleges, you can expect even more.

Secular Colleges

Secular colleges have no requirements in terms of taking classes based around Christianity. While these and other world religion classes may be offered, they’re typically not part of the general education requirements.

Keeping the Faith: A Christian Student’s Perspective at a Secular College

Jill McKay is a teacher, coach and the creator of Narrow Road Fitness, a scripture-based fitness and nutrition curriculum that’s used to provide training and support via churches. She attended the University of Delaware and Wilmington University for her undergraduate and graduate degrees, respectively.

Q: What were you looking for in a school and why were those factors important?

Personally, my college choice came down to money.  I was planning to go to a smaller, quainter college in a different state. Then I was offered a scholarship as an in-state student at the University of Delaware. As far as education quality, location and programming, once the money was there, it became an easy choice. However, once on campus, I had to seek out programs that fit my needs.

When looking for a school, you need to decide if you want a purely Christian environment in which all classes are taught with a Christian frame of reference or if you are willing to listen to other points of view. If you plan to pursue a career in a topic that is offered primarily on a Christian campus, then your choice will be easy. If not, it will be a much more challenging decision.

When you build relationships with church leaders and those who share life in Christ, you are likely to make lifelong connections. You may want to check out the College Church Connection to see what Christian organizations are at your potential new school.

Q: How can Christian students choose a college that supports their faith?   

College is often the first of many large decisions a young adult will make. How you respond to the new challenges on and off campus will determine whether you grow in or stray from your faith. While you may seek to get the most out of your college experience with so many choices and options, ultimately you are the only one responsible for nurturing your faith.

I suggest these three tips for choosing a college to support your faith journey:

  • Inquire about Bible Study groups on or off campus. If none exist, there are online Bible study groups these days that make it easier to connect with others.
  • Join or build a sense of community. Connect with a network of fellow believers so you can support each other along your journey.
  • Engage in classes with a Christian point of view. 

Q: How can Christian students balance a college social life with their faith?

College is notoriously a time of young adults trying on different attitudes and actions to test their freedom and have a plethora of new life experiences. At some point, those decisions can have a huge impact on the rest of their lives. It’s often a place where we make life-long friends, find our spouse and choose our career path. Having Biblical guidance on these decisions is crucial. Having a supportive network of fellow Christians that will help keep you on the narrow road to life.

If possible, find a social group with Christian values. It’s great to have those people in your life to rely on in the event you feel pressured to be socially involved in an event where you may not feel comfortable. Try to develop an understanding with that group of friends where you can always count on them for socializing.

It’s also important to have social support to help you meet people with similar interests. It’s not uncommon to be placed in a dorm with someone from a completely different background. Sometimes, this can be eye-opening in a good way; other times, it’s important to remove yourself from the situation. There are campus staff ranging from resident assistants to housing staff that can help you in those situations.

Having a strong Christian network can help you navigate these new challenges. A pastor, especially one geared toward working with young adults, can also be especially helpful in navigating these situations.

Q: What resources helped support your faith on campus? 

Even the smallest of college campuses have support for the Christian faith. I used the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship that met on my campus. I also joined a local church to feel connected to the larger community. It was within walking distance and many like-minded college students also attended. Young Life, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the World Student Christian Federation, Campus Outreach and the Navigators were also great resources.

Many of the huge churches these days started in a garage, apartment or basement. Don’t be afraid to use the internet to find a church service that keeps you connected to other Christians and in the Word.

Spotlight on Christian Colleges

Christian students have many colleges with a biblical foundation to choose from, making it easy to find a school that prioritizes faith but also meets other social, intellectual and financial needs. The following list takes a look at some of the best known Christian schools in the nation.

Campus Groups & Support

At both secular and Christian college, there are a variety of student organizations and support groups on campus that can guide them in their faith and help strengthen their beliefs. Here are a few popular options:

  • Campus Ministry International

    CMI has thousands of chapters throughout the world, including hundreds dotted across America. The mission of the group is to work with churches to engage college students with the gospel of Jesus.

  • Young Life

    Though Young Life initially was for younger children, this vibrant ministry program has been increasingly present and active on college campuses in recent years.

  • Office of Spiritual Life

    Many colleges have departments focused on edifying the spiritual lives of students through chapel, guest speakers, mission trips, and regular events. Check out the program at Samford University to get a sense of what to look for.

  • CRU

    CRU maintains a significant presence on college campuses by encouraging summer and global missions programs, hosting an annual conference and offering regularly scheduled events for students on campus.

  • Ratio Christi: Campus Apologetics Alliance

    This organization works to build campus chapters where students and faculty come together and discuss Christianity and teachings of the bible.

  • Delight Ministries

    With a focus on creating a community where female Christian college students can share support, Delight is constantly expanding to more and more schools.

  • Reformed University Fellowship

    Known colloquially as RUF, this national program is committed to providing campus ministers at schools across the country who support students in their faith, get them involved in local Christian communities and guide them on their walk.

  • InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

    With locations on nearly 700 campuses, InterVarsity is a national college ministry program that works to connect Christian students and faculty and help them live out their faith.

Christian Student Resources

In addition to the many resources available on college campuses, there are a number of supportive organizations and groups off-campus and online. Check out some of the best ones below.

  • 7 Good Prayers for College Students

    What Christians Want to Know provides a list of daily prayers college students can use to strengthen their faith.

  • Church ministries

    Programs like the College-Age Ministry group offered at Crossroads Christian Church are common throughout the country. Students can research churches near their campus to find one that meets their needs.

  • How Attending a Christian College Can Change Your Life

    Gordon College provides this helpful discussion about the benefits of being surrounded by likeminded students and faculty.

  • How to Stay Christian in College

    John Piper provides an interview with Desiring God for Christian students who are concerned that college will shake their faith.

  • Is It Okay to Attend a Secular College?

    Lies Young Women Believe makes the case for attending a secular college as a Christian in this insightful article.

  • Short Term Missions

    This organization helps arrange short-term mission trips for college students who want to make a difference in the world with their limited amount of free time.

  • Surviving Secular College

    Answers in Genesis shares this thoughtful piece about what it looks like to be a Christian student on a secular campus.

  • Youth with A Mission

    Though YWAM isn’t active on college campuses, there are plenty of ministry opportunities specifically tailored to college students. A popular option is attending one of the many Discipleship Training Schools scattered throughout the world.

  • Why You Should Attend a Christian College – and Why You Should Not

    Patheos offers this insightful article for future college students trying to figure out which type of school is best for them.