I just want to go to the school God wants me to go to. How can I figure out which one that is?
Here's how: By being faithful in gathering data about each school that interests you and by praying for guidance as you evaluate that information. Research each school as thoroughly as possible by checking out Web sites and reading their brochures. And if possible, visit every campus in which you have a strong interest.
You can trust God for this decision. He may use a series of very practical experiences to direct you. For instance, you may be thinking about teaching high school chemistry after college. If one of the colleges you're considering doesn't have a chemistry or a secondary education major, you can cross that one off your list. Or maybe you'd like to major in music; you can eliminate the schools that don't offer a music major. Maybe you're an average student, but some of the schools you're considering have very high admissions standards; you might cross them off your list too. And geographically, some schools may just be too far away from home for your tastes. So, you see, God uses your preferences and circumstances to eliminate many schools from consideration—and to open doors at other schools.
Even when you start applying to schools, it's possible that some won't accept you. If that happens, don't be discouraged; think of it as part of God's answer to your prayers.
Finally, it helps to think of the college search as an adventure into a new and exciting land. You're following your Guide along unmarked trails, not knowing for sure where you will end up until you arrive. By being faithful in prayer and faithful in your process, God will hear your heart and guide your choice.
What About Bible College?
I really want to go to a Bible college, but everybody from my dad to my guidance counselor says it's not "practical," that it won't prepare me for the "real world" as well as a Christian liberal arts college. Are they right?
No one is right or wrong on this one. It's a matter of what's right for you. Both kinds of colleges integrate your fields of study with your faith. Bible colleges exist for their particular mission, which they do very well—to provide intensive study in Bible and theology in order to prepare students for the ministry. Christian liberal arts colleges have a mission to provide an education that prepares students for a broad range of careers in which they can serve God in the world of work.
A year or more of Bible college may be just right for you, no matter what your future career is. I think your dad is concerned that you won't be as "marketable" with only a degree from a Bible college. For some types of jobs, he may have a good point. For example, if you want a job in biochemical engineering, a potential employer won't be impressed that you can write a 40-page thesis on the historical and spiritual significance of the Book of Leviticus. But for other post-college positions—especially in ministry, missions or some other career of Christian service—a Bible degree may be the absolute best degree you can get!
Talk with trusted persons in your life about what you feel you are called to do in the world. Ask them to pray with you for a sense of where God is taking you. Having that sense of direction may be the biggest help in determining where to go to school. A more clear sense of your calling will suggest whether a Bible college is right for you, or whether another option is better.
Break a Family Tradition?
The university I want to attend is kind of a family tradition. My parents and all my brothers and sisters went there. I've never even thought about applying to another school. Is there anything wrong with this?
Family Tradition University—good old FTU—may be the perfect place for you too. But it may not be. It is always a good idea to explore your options and be sure you are making a decision for the right reasons. You are a unique individual for whom God has special plans—and it's quite possible those plans don't include FTU, but some other place. You should choose a college or university that's just right for you, not because it was right for other family members. What do you want in a school? If FTU has it, then by all means apply there. If FTU doesn't have it, then don't apply.
Also, you know what it's like to follow your siblings through high school. Has that been easy or difficult? Are they hard acts to follow for whatever reasons? Would it be better for you to establish yourself in a new university or college without the reputation of your family preceding you? Would it be easier for you to be yourself?
Explore all of your options now. Choose the school that's best for you, even if it's not FTU. That way, when you face challenges at the school you've chosen, you can face them confidently knowing that this seemed to be the best place for you—and without any resentment that you might have chosen it just to continue a family tradition.
Are Virtual Visits Enough?
I keep hearing about people taking college visits, but with all the online virtual tours now, you're practically on the campus anyway. So why waste time and money actually visiting the place?
Think of it this way: If you had the chance to spend spring break on the beaches of the Bahamas or snorkeling off the coast of Cancun, what would you rather do—actually be there in person, or "experience" it through your computer screen? Traveling to those places is expensive, so why not save the money with a virtual trip?
I'm sure you get my point. Virtual reality is amazing technology, but it's still not the full experience. To fully appreciate what a particular college or university offers you personally, you need to actually be there. Think of it as a multi-sensory experience. You'll see things in three dimensions. You'll shake some hands. You'll hear things. You'll taste the cafeteria food. You'll probably even experience some smells—especially if you visit a locker room! You won't get that multi-sensory experience through your computer, that's for sure.
On your visit, attend classes and chapel, if the school offers it. Talk with students in the coffee shop and dorms, not just the ones who give you the official tour, to get a fuller picture of what the place is really like. It's amazing how much you can "feel" about a place by being on campus and picturing yourself as a student there.
You'll have a better sense of what to expect, how you fit, and who you might become by meeting the people who teach and study and live there. Give yourself the advantage of a complete "reality check," rather than merely virtual reality. Take the time, spend the money, visit the campuses of the schools which most interest you. It will be worth the trip!
How Can I Narrow My Choices?
I was having a real hard time deciding between my three top schools, so my guidance counselor encouraged me to make a pro and con list to see which one came out on top. I did that, but the three schools still come out pretty even! Now what?
Using an objective process, as much as possible, is a good idea. That's what your guidance counselor intended.
You probably need to re-examine your pro and con list, and narrow it down to the absolute essentials. I haven't seen your list, but if it includes things like "availability of late-night pizza" or "winning percentage of football team," you haven't zeroed in on the essentials. If you're a district champion swimmer, do you want to continue your competitive swimming? Do you need a strong science background to ultimately get into medical school? Those are the types of items that need to rise to the top of the list, not the size of the dorm rooms or the guy-girl ratio. Prioritize your list by giving some items more "weight" than others.
Here's another objective process. Make a chart, listing all the colleges you're considering down the left-hand column. Across the top columns, identify the 3-5 things which are most important to you. Then rate each school in each category. If you're considering three schools, rate each on a scale of 1-to-3. For example, College A may get a 3 for "spiritual life" and a 1 for "affordability." When you've filled out the whole chart, add up the points for each school. It's not an exact science, but it can help you in the decision-making process.
But no matter how many "objective" activities you try, you may find that you just don't like the answer. That's because a lot of what we decide is affected by subjective factors—things we feel. So, you might visit the college that ranked highest on your grid, but not feel comfortable there at all. That's why it's best to use both objective and subjective processes in your decision making.
Whatever your process, think carefully about what's most important to you, and look for that in every institution you consider. Then you're likely to find a college that fits you best!
I've Got a Bad Past
I was a pretty bad kid until my last year of high school. I'd even been in trouble with the law. But this past year, I straightened up my act and am trying hard to live for God. I really want to go to a Christian school, but I wonder if my past will hurt my chances. Should I even tell admissions counselors? I'm afraid if I do, they won't want to have anything to do with me.
Wow! Thank God for the changes in your life. God must be so pleased with your desire to live for him. His forgiveness and grace are great gifts for all of us.
I think most Christian colleges would prefer that you're as honest with them as you were in your question to me. That's best for you too. You don't want to live for four years of college worried about who might discover your past and possibly decide to kick you out of school. You also will need continued support and accountability. No school can provide that for you unless they know you need it.
So, talk with someone at the school you most want to attend. Not on the first visit, not to just anyone, but ask specifically to talk with the director of admissions. That person will probably consult with appropriate colleagues to decide together what's best for you—and for the school.
Remember, the people who work at a Christian college believe in the transforming power of God to change lives and to redeem his people. To participate in giving someone a second chance can be a blessing and a privilege.
Still, your grades and test scores will have to meet the standards set by the colleges you're applying to. And you will need references—adults who can vouch for the changes you've described. Some "troubles with the law" raise more concern than others. Some of those troubles may require more evidence that you've really turned things around. Some simply require time to pass. Finally, and frankly, some schools won't take the risk of having you in their community.
Find some trusted adults who can advise you along the way in this process. Find people who can think with you about whom to tell, what to tell, what not to tell, and when to tell it. They can also encourage you if you encounter some resistance, objections or rejections. And, most importantly, ask for God's help. Ask him to give you wisdom and to help college officials see your full potential. When you find a school that welcomes you, you'll be able to celebrate with the same trusted adults who have helped you get there!
Will My Doubts Disqualify Me?
I've always wanted to go to a Christian college, but I've started having doubts about my faith. I still want to go to a Christian school, but I wonder if I should even try to get accepted at one since I'm struggling with my faith. What do you think?
I think you should apply. A Christian college is a good place for the doubter. Where else can you ask questions of people who have truly studied and lived biblical and theological truths? Your professors will understand the struggle and may be willing to share their own experiences with doubt and struggles.
When you fill out college applications, you will probably be asked questions about your faith. Be honest in your answers. Talk about your Christian faith, and admit your doubts—noting that you believe a Christian college can help you work through those doubts and, in the end, strengthen your faith. Also, be sure to read each college's rules and policies. If you feel like you can attend that school without violating those policies and rules, you will find persons with whom you can be honest about your doubts, seek answers before the Lord, and stay in a context where God's love can reach you. Wrestling with our faith, as many of God's people did in the Bible, can ultimately strengthen our beliefs and bring us closer to God.
One more thing: Don't wait till you get to college to start working through your doubts. Find someone now who has a firm faith and start talking right away. You might be on the road to overcoming your doubts sooner than you think!
Should I Take Time Off?
I know I want to go to college. But lately I've been thinking it might be a good idea to take a year in between high school and college to do some type of missions. Is this a good idea?
It may be a good idea. It may also be a "God idea"! There may be something in particular that God desires to do to you or through you that has brought this possibility into your life right now. The most important part of your decision-making process will be prayer. Ask God to give you clear wisdom and vision as you make this decision. Is there a particular missions project tugging at your heart? If God is drawing you to a specific missions organization or project, it may be right for you to go between high school and college. But if your idea is more generalized, then maybe God is simply giving you a heart for missions. In that case, you wouldn't necessarily have to serve right away.
While you pray about this, continue the college search-and-application process, making sure you're meeting all deadlines and trying to get into schools. You'll probably want to apply to schools that have a reputation for preparing students for missionary work. And keep in mind that at a Christian college, you'll probably have numerous opportunities for short-term missions work throughout your college career—especially on spring and summer breaks. Taking these short-term trips with college friends can be a great time of deepening your friendships as you serve God together. That's a way to do missions without postponing your education!
You also need to know that the longer you're away from school, the harder it may be for you to start college. Also, your friends will move on in school and you may find it hard to see them going off to college if you're not going. These realities are easily counterbalanced if you are determined to get started on your education as soon as you complete your missions assignment, and if you are absolutely convinced that missions is what God wants you to do right now. n
Judy Moseman is Vice President of Student Life and Dean of Students at Bethel College (MN).
Send your questions for this column to: Campus Q&A, Campus Life, 465 Gundersen Drive, Carol Stream, IL 60188. You can also reach Campus Q&A via fax (630/260-0114) or e-mail (CLmag@campuslife.net).