Many private colleges were founded by religious groups, and while a lot of these schools are secular institutions today, religious affiliation is a factor for students to consider as they choose a college.
The largest group of religiously affiliated colleges is Catholic, with more than 200 schools in the United States. Some of the most well-known are Jesuit institutions, including Georgetown University and Boston College, highly selective schools that draw top students of all religious backgrounds. Loyola Marymount University and Santa Clara University are popular choices for California students who like the fact that these schools are bigger than small liberal arts colleges but smaller than most of our public universities. Jesuit schools aspire to educate the whole person and value service and social justice. While these colleges do require courses in religion as part of their core curriculum, students can often satisfy the requirements by studying the history of world religions. Nobody is trying to convert students to Catholicism, and my Jewish students who have attended these schools have had terrific experiences.
Brandeis University is a nonsectarian Jewish-sponsored school. The college is popular with students of many backgrounds who want to attend a small, highly selective school in the Boston area. Brandeis has three chapels, Jewish, Catholic and Protestant, as well as a Muslim prayer room and resource center on campus. Student organizations include Christian Fellowship, Brandeis Muslim Student Association, Catholic Student Organization as well as Hillel.
Students who value a strong sense of community, as well as a commitment to tolerance, social justice and peace, might be drawn to Haverford College, the oldest school founded by the Quakers. The strong honor code, administered by students and emphasizing personal integrity and trust, is another way the school is connected to its Quaker roots. Academic competition is frowned upon, and students at the school told me they never discuss grades.
According to Pepperdine University’s website, Christian values infuse all aspects of student life and administrative policy, and while the school welcomes members of all faiths, nonbelievers should think about whether they are comfortable with the requirement that students attend convocation events.
While religion can be an important factor in choosing a college, sharing the same faith may not be enough to ensure a good match. One of my transfer students began her college career at Westmont College, which encourages students to learn more about the Christian faith and to develop Christian commitments. Even though this student is Christian, she felt out of place at the college. In a few weeks, she will be starting her junior year at an Ivy League school with a large Jewish population that will be a better overall match for her.
Many religiously affiliated schools welcome students of all faiths. But if you choose to attend a school with a strong religious life, where the majority of students practice a faith that is different than your own, you may feel like an outsider. You may also find limits on academic freedom and standards of behavior that are challenging for nonbelievers to accept.
For students raised in religious homes, attending a college that supports those values can be important. Parents may feel more comfortable sending their children to a school where they will meet others who share their beliefs.
Clarifying your values and making sure they are compatible with prospective colleges is one more way you can make sure to find the right college.