Tips to Choosing a College

Although I've worked with Christian higher education in one way or another for about 17 years, having our oldest looking at colleges has given me new insight, and a new appreciation, for the college selection process.

In this quarter's edition of our newsletter, I'd like to share a couple of tips that I hope will be helpful based on some of the experiences we've had so far in my son's college selection process.

My wife and I have four children and our oldest will be enrolling at a college or university next fall. For me, the decision to send him to a Christian college was an easy one. My experience, the statistics of what happens to Christian students at secular campuses, the spiritual growth opportunities at Christian colleges, etc. have helped establish that a Christian college is the best option for my son early in the process.

Tip #1: Figure out what your "thing" is. How's that for profound? Here's what I mean - is God leading you to become a nurse? If so, what schools have the best nursing programs, which have a professionally accredited nursing program? What percentage of students from the school pass the nursing boards on their first attempt? Perhaps you want to be a nurse in the mission field. Now you have an additional set of questions. What mission opportunities does the school offer? Does the school offer a missions major or minor, and if so, can it be done in conjunction with the nursing program?

Maybe you're an artist, perhaps you'd like to teach special education. Perhaps your passion is the clarinet, violin, football, or study abroad opportunities. Maybe what's most important to you is the location of the school - near home, near the ocean, the mountains, or near your Aunt Sally in Michigan. Whatever your "thing" is, that is where you should begin.

Tip #2: Once you establish the "thing" that is most important to you, invest the time to figure out which colleges offer the most in that area. You should learn all you can about the schools that offer the strongest opportunities related to your primary interest. Don't just rely on the viewbooks, materials or even the website for the school. While these items certainly can help you narrow the field, they may not be able to adequately address the questions about the specific area that is most important to you.

Allow me to use my son's situation as an example. First, we are only looking at Christian colleges and universities. Second...his passion, or "thing", is cross country and track, and his area of study is business...for now. Before the school year began this fall, I sent an initial email to a variety of cross country coaches at Christian colleges and universities. It was fairly easy to track down their email addresses on the schools' websites. We were able to narrow the list down to primarily NCAA Division II and NAIA schools, as we are hoping he can receive some type of athletic scholarship. Next, he is wanting to go to a school that has a "competitive" cross country program, but one where he still has a good chance to make the team his first year.

Going through this process, I discovered something that initially surprised me. The coaches from the schools that met the above criteria, were the ones that seemed to best respond. My initial impression was that schools with weaker cross country programs would be more likely to respond as they would "value" my son's running ability more than those that already had strong teams. However, a "light bulb" eventually went on with me, and now the fact that schools with stronger programs were the first, and best to respond, makes sense for a variety of reasons:

  • Those schools that were more competitive in cross country, likely want to continue to be competitive and become even stronger programs.
  • The schools/coaches that have a strong cross country program are probably strong for a reason. These are schools/coaches that are particularly committed to excellence in this area.
  • The fact that some of the schools/coaches with weaker programs did not respond at all, or responded and then did not follow up, I believe is an indication of why those schools are not as strong in this area. There simply may not be an emphasis, or interest, at that school in regards to cross country.

Please don't misinterpret my point. There certainly is nothing wrong with a school that does not place an emphasis on cross country, or biology, or music, or on whatever area may be of greatest interest to you. That school may have greater emphasis and strength in other areas. However, if a school does not have an emphasis in the area that is your passion, there are other schools which are probably a much better fit for you.

Whether it is cross country, theater, accounting, or any other area of interest, spending time via telephone and/or email to ask questions directly of those most familiar with these areas may quickly move schools toward the top or bottom of your list.

After some emails and calls, we now have a short list of Christian colleges and universities who have strong cross country programs with coaches who have an interest in my son. We still have some work to do in terms of uncovering information about business programs, campus environment, etc. but we have the advantage of now only looking at a few schools, versus dozens of possibilities.

Ask questions directly of the admissions office, academic department, coach, or faculty member that specifically relate to your area of interest. By focusing on the one or two things that are most critical to you, or your student, you may learn quickly which schools should and should not be considered.

As you look at the myriad of college and university options, please remember that you will need to invest time and effort in the process. However, the end result of being at the school that is the absolute best fit for you is well worth the effort.

Thom Seagren
The Christian Connector, Inc.
Christian College Grad - Class of 1987