February 13, 2021
Judson College students attend their first day of spring 2021 classes in the Thomas Choral Room. (Photo by Mary Amelia Taylor)
Students deciding on a college, graduate school or seminary face a daunting task.
“The college experience can vary greatly depending on which school you decide to attend,” said Brian Kennedy, assistant dean in the office of admission at Samford University in Birmingham.
One of the major decisions for students and parents involves the worldview of the college.
“College is no small decision, and there are many factors at play (finances, desire, location, etc.). It should be prayerfully considered,” said Sam Morris, director of admissions for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina.
“We want students at The College at Southeastern to know that they are working toward a greater, shared mission.
“Sometimes that is going to a secular college and using those skills to advance the mission. Other times it is going to a Christian college and using those skills to advance the mission.”
Students also are likely to make their most influential friendships, solidify values and possibly meet their spouse in college.
“Every family is different, and the things they are looking for in higher education vary dramatically,” said Faith Baker, University of Mobile’s assistant director of admissions. “Ask the questions that matter to you and your family the most.
“Whichever way the decision is made, one thing is certain: the chosen school will send ripple-effects through the rest of the student’s life,” Baker said.
College is the first time many will be on their own.
“(It) is a testing ground for many students and their faith,” Morris acknowledged.
He encouraged students to consider local churches as well as “the culture of Christian accountability, mentorship and spiritual formation” when deciding on a school.
Baker said that, while “choosing a college can be scary,” UM assigns a personal enrollment counselor to each student.
“These counselors will help navigate the confusion of the application process and truly work to help each student determine if UM is the place where God is calling them,” she continued.
“We do everything we can to assist families through that process, and the final decision, no matter the decision, is one we celebrate with the families.”
Kennedy believes the college experience means more than taking courses and earning a degree.
“A Christian worldview promotes the development of the whole person,” he explained, “not just academically, but professionally, socially and spiritually as well.
“The irrepressible hope found in Christ is the primary motivational factor for what we do at Samford. The goal is that their college experience would be described as a transformational one.”
All the college leaders said each decision should be made with prayer.
Count the cost
While there are many facets of the process, financial cost weighs on everyone’s mind.
Along with out-of-pocket expenses, students need to find out how much financial help they might receive, whether scholarships, grants, work-study or loans, and consider the cost of fees, housing and food.
“The financial consideration is a major stress point for most families and often the deciding factor for many students in their consideration of a Christian and secular institution,” Morris noted.
Many graduate from college “saddled with debt” and unable to pursue their calling because of it.
“It is always wise to consider the practical implications of costs,” he said.
Many times enrollment counselors work with families to get out-of-pocket cost down to what they would pay for a public, secular school, Baker said.
Students need to think about how much debt they are willing to bear and pray about “what is most appealing and even God-honoring,” said Dustin Bruce, dean of Boyce College, on Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s campus in Louisville, Kentucky.
“Sometimes there are great scholarships at private colleges that make it just as affordable,” he noted, adding that the six Southern Baptist seminaries have discounts for members of Southern Baptist churches.
Michael Wang, director of admissions for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, added, “If a student is called to the ministry and will want to complete a seminary degree, a Christian college will help them be prepared for the seminary education.”
Morris said The College at Southeastern prepares students with a “rigorous liberal arts education” as well as urging them to “think critically and communicate effectively.”
Leavell College and NOBTS offer a bachelor/master of divinity degree combination that can be finished in five years.
“This would save them a lot of money in pursuit of higher education,” Wang noted. “The college students on our campus are propelled through our seminary because of such programs that allow our students to use their undergraduate work towards their graduate degree.”