Choosing a College? Beware a Short-Sighted View

When I was a high school senior, I focused on finding the best college that would benefit me and my future. It was an individualistic approach, paying attention to the best scholarships offered, how nice the admissions counselor was, and how many complimented me for being accepted to the school.

I didn’t really consider or give weight to how my college would shape me, and how the campus culture might influence me with a broader vision of God’s kingdom.

I paid little attention to the people who would inevitably influence my character in profound ways. It was a big mistake on my part—and I see college-bound students and their parents make the same mistake year after year.

It’s the great American fallacy that the individual is far more important than the institution. But make no mistake: the individual is far more likely to be shaped by the institution, than the other way around. We become the company we keep.

Education for God’s Kingdom

This is along the lines of what Cornelius Plantinga suggests in his book Engaging God’s World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living. In a work that seeks to counter the consumerist mentality of higher education today, Plantinga writes: “Thinking of college as no more than job training is a narrow-minded impoverishment of the kingdom of God.”

So in this season of college decision-making, what additional things should families consider?

First, what’s the reputation of the institution and its students? If you don’t have a sense yourself, ask friends in your church and community, “What kind of kids attend X university?” And don’t write off a school simply because it’s not as well known. Some of the best schools at shaping student character are lesser known among the general public.

Second, look at the tenured faculty (those who are practically guaranteed to be there for many years to come) and see what you can determine about their moral fiber from online searches. You’d be amazed how much you can learn online about the personality of an institution’s faculty and their approach to mentoring students.

Third, pay attention to the college’s marketing materials. Institutions of higher learning spend hundreds of millions of dollars trying to tell a certain story about themselves. You can be assured the admissions materials have been carefully curated. So what is the school saying about its ethos in these materials, and does its marketing message contribute, in one way or another, to a vision for the world that aligns with God’s kingdom?

Finally, too many Christians think about the college decision in a truncated, individualistic, short-sighted manner. Pray that God will give you eyes to see the institution as he does. By expanding our view of college, we invite the Lord to work on us in ways for our good and his glory.

Complete View of College

Though Christian education is by no means feasible or right for everyone, I am passionate about it, because I believe it’s where we have the best opportunity to develop students fully. Christian colleges should labor, therefore, to combine an exceptional education with an informed faith.

In this, we develop extraordinary students able to tackle hard questions through the lens of faith. Without this perspective, we have an incomplete view of college.

This article was first published on April 12, 2018 for The Gospel Coalition and is being re-printed by CACE with the permission of The Gospel Coalition and Dr. Michael Lindsay.