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    Fun … and a Whole Lot More

    Choosing a Christian college doesn't mean settling for a second-rate experience.

    Elesha Coffman

    When people around Chicago heard I went to Wheaton College, they often gave the same dismissive response: "Oh, that's the school where you can't dance, isn't it?" Actually, since fall 2003, students can dance at Wheaton, although they still can't drink, smoke or have overnight guests of the opposite sex.

    To some people, moral codes and rules like this are a Very Big Deal. After all, movies and TV shows routinely portray college as one beer-drenched party after another, interspersed with drug use and one-night "hookups." Wheaton, by contrast, always ranks near the top of The Princeton Review's list of "Stone Cold Sober Schools." Who could have fun at a place like that?

    Well, I had fun at a place like that. One night some friends and I had so much perfectly law-abiding fun that we were eyed suspiciously by a police officer at Denny's at 2 a.m. Long story. Anyway, my point is that "stone cold sober" doesn't have to mean "drop dead boring."

    Still, consider this: College costs a bit more than, say, a day at a theme park. So it's got to offer more than just fun. Fortunately, Christian colleges offer more than wholesome entertainment. So instead of thinking of them as places where you can't (fill in the blank), think of them as places where you can …

    Get a great education

    Christian colleges take education seriously, and they attract serious students. Some of my college friends have gone on to law school, medical school, and Ph.D. programs. Some are teachers, journalists, chemists and members of many other interesting professions. I also have friends in full-time ministry and overseas mission work. All of them will tell you that their Christian education opened the doors to where they are today.

    Of course, different Christian colleges have different strengths. Bible colleges stress the subjects that prepare students for ministry—biblical languages, theology, counseling, and so on.

    Likewise, Christian liberal arts colleges usually feature a few areas of strength. For example, one college might have an exceptional art department, while another features highly respected physics professors. Knowing things like this about the schools you're considering can help you make your decision about which places will help you get where you want to go.

    In other words, choosing Christian higher education doesn't mean limiting your future occupation to "pastor" or "pastor's wife," and it certainly doesn't mean settling for second-rate academics.

    Get noticed

    Christian colleges tend to be small. This could be a problem for students who have always dreamed of squinting at a lecturer from a sea of 500 faces, but for everyone else, small has some big advantages.

    For one thing, professors at small colleges almost always teach their own classes. This is not true at large research universities, where professors often focus on their own studies while graduate students pick up the lecturing slack. Who would you rather listen to three times a week: a trained, experienced professional, or a harried, underpaid 24-year-old with three of her own papers to write?

    For another thing, many professors at small colleges make incredible efforts to connect with their students. One of my teachers invited our whole British literature class to her home and baked us cookies. It's always nice when a teacher knows your name (and feeds you cookies), but connecting with professors has even more important advantages. A professor who really knows you can offer sincere guidance as you face questions like, "How am I going to get through this semester?" or "What should I do with my life?" He or she can help you make job contacts or find a graduate school, writing kind recommendation letters to smooth your way. In short, good profs are exactly the type of people you want in your corner as you prepare to head out into the world.

    Speak your mind

    How to get beyond the stats and colorful brochures to discover a college's heart.