Should I Consider a Religious College?

Is a religious college right for you? Many students and families steer clear of colleges that have a religious affiliation.  But all colleges that are connected with a religious sect are not the same – the vibe on campus, the level of religious involvement and what will be required of you as a student will be different.

For example, there are a good number of well-known Catholic universities in the United States.  Georgetown University is Catholic, and they affiliate with the Jesuit order.  Similarly, Loyola Marymount, Loyola Chicago, Boston College, Santa Clara University and several dozen other colleges are affiliated with this same branch of Catholicism, which is seen as generally more liberal and accepting.  The first time I visited Gonzaga University, in Spokane, Washington, it was National Coming Out Day, and the LGBTQ+ group, an officially-recognized group on campus, was displaying rainbow flags all over campus.  

There are other Catholic colleges that associate with different orders:  St. Mary’s College of California, for example, identifies as LaSallian.  This social justice-focused order will tell you that their goal for students is “enter to learn; leave to serve.”  Notre Dame University is affiliated with the Order of the Holy Cross, generally viewed as a bit more conservative than the Jesuits.  However, St. Edward’s University, in Austin, TX, is also affiliated with the Order of the Holy Cross; their campus is bursting with community service and social justice volunteering opportunities, and is welcoming to students of all faiths and identities.  

Most of the Catholic-affiliated colleges require students to take some religion courses during their four years, but most offer a wide variety of courses, many of them grounded in history or literature, that fulfill this requirement.  Check out the options the University of San Francisco, a Jesuit college, gives their students:  Islam in America; Greek & Roman Religion; Judaism and Jewish Identity; Filipino Music & Theology, and literally dozens of other class choices – most of them pretty interesting!

There are also over 150 colleges in the U.S. affiliated with different Christian denomination churches.  Magellan counselors have visited many of them, including Point Loma Nazarene University and Westmont College in California.  You can read more about the Christian-based colleges through their association, Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, here.  

Pepperdine University, located in Malibu, California, is one of the more well-known Christian universities.  I had the pleasure of interviewing Pepperdine admission counselor Gianna Mack (who is also one of my former clients) recently, to chat with her about the religious vibe on campus, and the academic and co-curricular requirements for Pepperdine students.  The short video of our conversation is above.

Do you have to be Catholic to attend a Catholic university, or Christian to attend a Christian one?  The answer is no – but different colleges will have different levels of religious involvement.  As Gianna noted, about 70% of Pepperdine students are members of the Church of Christ, so 30% are either other religions or they don’t identify with a religion at all.  At most Jesuit/Catholic colleges, about half the students consider themselves practicing Catholics – which means the other half do not!

So should you consider a religious college in your application process?  Are you looking for a school where you’ll be actively involved in conversations about faith, ethics, similarities and differences among religions?  Do you want to learn in an environment where your professors know you and take an interest in your educational journey, and you can develop meaningful relationships with your classmates and peers?  Do some digging into just how involved the religious academic requirements are, what percentage of students on campus identify with their religion, and whether there are gathering options for students of other faiths.  You might be surprised at how welcoming – and interesting – a religious community can be!

As always – if you decide you need some guidance as you decide where to apply and whether applying to a religiously affiliated college is right for you, please reach out to us!  We’re here to support you through all stages of your college admission journey!

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