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Religious Colleges: The Right Fit for You?

Aug 20, 2012 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

While religious colleges most often attract members of their own faiths, people of different religions or no religion at all sometimes have good reason to consider attending a religious college. Maybe it’s close and convenient, provides great value for the money, or offers the best program in your area for the subject you want to study. Still—a religious college may provide something entirely different than the traditional college experience. And it’s not right for everybody, including every religious student. Here are a few questions to ask before choosing a religious college.

Just how religious is it, anyway?

Sometimes, you’d barely know the online distance college you’re attending is religiously affiliated. For instance, Duke University is technically Methodist, but there are about twenty-five different religious life groups represented on campus, including protestant, Catholic, non-denominational Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu faiths. And while religion is part of the Duke community, it’s not the loudest cultural voice on campus—and non-religious students have
an easy time fitting in.  Other times, the religious affiliation comes
through loud and clear—and it’s a huge part of life on campus.

How large is the percentage of faithful at the university?

Woman Praying

To decide whether a religious institution is right for you, you need to ask questions not just of the institution, but of yourself.





You may be able to find this out from the admissions office or from the college’s own literature. There’s a difference in atmosphere between colleges where a large percentage of the student body is religious—but members of many different religions—and where most students are members of one particular religion. If a majority of students belong to a certain religion, expect that religion to have a huge cultural influence on campus.

Do they require you to take classes in the religion?

Some religious colleges require everyone to take online religious studies classes. Other religious schools may require you to do that at the undergraduate level but not as a graduate student, or vice versa. As a student there who does not share the faith—or not as strongly as the college culture promotes—this may or may not be something you can live with.

Do they have any expectations regarding student behavior outside the classroom?

Some online religious colleges have strict expectations for students—both in and out of the classroom. Brigham Young University, for example, expects students not to drink alcohol or even coffee or tea; to avoid sex outside of marriage; and to participate actively in church services. Women cannot wear skirts above the knee or tight-fitting or sleeveless tops, including tank tops; men cannot grow beards or goatees without permission. The behavioral expectations are enforced fairly strictly, and continued violations sometimes result in expulsion.

At Bob Jones University, known as a fundamentalist Christian institution, students are routinely banned from watching TV shows and reading books that don’t conform to the university-approved culture. Women are banned from wearing pants in class—only knee-length skirts or dresses are allowed. Even rock and contemporary Christian music is not allowed on campus.

Other religious colleges may have less-strict behavior codes, and some may not have any at all—although the on-campus culture may encourage some activities and discourage others.

Are you a member of the faith?

If you are, it will definitely be easier for you to fit in at some colleges. However, even if you are a member of the faith, you may not be as engaged and active as the college wants you to be. You may find the college’s encouragement of your religious affiliation to be a positive influence in your life—or you may find it stifling. The answer depends on you, your relationship to your faith, and your religious tendencies.

If not, how much will the religious aspect bother you?

Some people who aren’t religious or who are of a different religion manage to attend religious schools without many issues. Others have more difficulty. If you are either a non-believer or a member of a different religion, you may have a tough time fitting in. In general, you will probably have an easier time if you can be respectful, open-minded, and accepting of others’ beliefs. However, at some schools where the religious culture is very strong, this may be easier said than done.

To decide whether a religious institution is right for you, you need to ask questions not just of the institution, but of yourself. Many religious institutions have behavioral expectations outside of class that many non-religious or nominally religious students would find difficult to conform to. However, not all do—and for some students, the compromise is worth it.


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