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What We Gained from Our Christian College Experiences

What We Gained from Our Christian College Experiences
When making a life-defining decision, what's better than testimonials from those who have walked the path ahead of you?

And when you're a student whose family is weighing the benefits of certain types of schools for your education, there is so much to consider. Every Christian school is, by definition, a private school, and by definition, a private college carries higher expenses. Will they be worth it for you?

To help you gather information, we've canvassed several of our friends and colleagues working in Christian media to discuss what made their time in Christian higher education special.

Here are: 10 Crosswalk staffers (and family members) past and present weighing in on the value of their experiences at Christian colleges and universities around the country.

Article image credit: Ryan Jacobson on Unsplash

Lauren Sanchez, Gardner-Webb University (Boiling Springs, NC)

Lauren Sanchez, Gardner-Webb University (Boiling Springs, NC)

Going to a Christian college wasn’t necessarily what I expected. I expected to be in a Christian bubble. Instead, I was given the freedom to question and think about my beliefs and the world in a safe, loving environment. I met many different people at college who grew up in environments that differ from mine. Some grew up in different countries, some came from a different region of the U.S., and some grew up in a different Christian denomination. I also learned that not everyone who goes to a Christian college is a Christian, either. Doing life with diverse people enabled me to see different perspectives and examine my own life.

As I took religion classes and learned more about the Bible and my Christian faith, I grew as a Christian. I had the support from my believing professors to ask questions in the classroom about what I was learning. They never treated any question as insignificant and answered each one with care, sometimes opening it up to the class for a group discussion. We were given the ability, as students, to think for ourselves, with our professors guiding us along the way.

What I gained from my Christian university experience was a stronger foundation in my Christian faith. When I graduated, I felt more equipped to go out into the world, knowing what I believed, with the desire to express it and grow more in it.

For more information: gardner-webb.edu

Image credit: Gardner-Webb University

James Wiersma, Calvin College (Grand Rapids, MI)

James Wiersma, Calvin College (Grand Rapids, MI)

Moving into the adult years is one of the biggest transitions anyone makes in their lives and attending university is, oftentimes, a component of that transition. My Christian university experience was a catalyst to earn not only my degree, but also a greater understanding of the Gospel and how it affects every area of the world around me.

I had a great experience at Calvin, being immersed in a Christ-centered learning environment and gaining lifelong friendships. Calvin's liberal arts format allowed me to gain perspective on subjects I normally wouldn't have pursued. I was not only gaining knowledge but also wisdom from God to operate as a light in our world and in my spheres of influence.

It wasn't until years later that I realized how formative my years at Calvin had been. It shaped my understanding, matured my faith and propelled me to be a faithful husband, father, and leader today.

For more information: calvin.edu

Image credit: Calvin College

Debbie Holloway, Regent University (Virginia Beach, VA)

Debbie Holloway, Regent University (Virginia Beach, VA)

I count myself lucky and blessed in the way my education took shape: I started off homeschooled, then transitioned to a public community college, and finished off at Regent University, a small Christian college in Virginia Beach. Even though the school is more known for its award-winning law programs or its online degree opportunities, I chose Regent for two quite different reasons. First, I knew I wanted small class sizes, and a reasonable hope of being able to develop personal relationships with my professors. Second, I wanted to study theatre arts in a way that looped in and helped inform my faith and worldview. Art has always been incredibly spiritually significant to me, and at the time, Regent boasted a robust and acclaimed program helmed by A-level theatre faculty with whom I instantly fell in love, and who changed my life in positive, lasting ways.

I certainly gained those two things from my Regent experience, as I hoped I would. But I think the unexpected insight that I gained from attending a small, faith-based University was the knowledge that my education (like my career, my family, and my relationships) largely depends on what I make of it. I could have spent my time partying, doing drugs, or obsessing over academics at any school - including Regent. And just as folks do at large public colleges, I faced peer pressure, faith challenges, and a sometimes-disappointing administration. I couldn't rely on a "Christian bubble" to keep me safe from universal challenges, and I would caution anyone who thinks they can!

I think when it comes to choosing a college, what matters most is not whether the place is private, public, Christian, or secular (I’ve seen it all!) - but rather, that you pursue what you love, and use every opportunity for growth, relationship, learning, and faith building.

For more information: www.regent.edu

Image credit: Regent University

Shawn McEvoy, Oklahoma Baptist University (Shawnee, OK)

Shawn McEvoy, Oklahoma Baptist University (Shawnee, OK)

Though I grew up Christian, I never intended to do anything educationally but attend the large, local public university, whose athletic teams I still pull for. And then I visited a few Christian campuses one summer on tour with the youth group from my large church. There's not much better for learning what's great about a place more than staying there a few nights, meeting the people, and learning what kind of programs they’re known for.

Soon, there was a pipeline from our church to this school a couple states away, and it made that transition much easier. I chose this school to study ministry vocationally, but even after changing my major to English with a Business minor, I was so pleased with the access to my teachers, quality of education, smaller class sizes, engagement, and campus opportunities. I thrived, coming out of my shell due to the well-rounded, liberal arts experience I had. I was able to explore interests and talents I hadn't even known I'd had coming out of high school, such as theater. I found volunteer and internship opportunities. And there was always room for spiritual growth, encouragement, and deep questions.

There is a sense of belonging and a greenhouse atmosphere on a beautiful campus inhabited by 2,000 faithful people who don't shy away from seeking truth and making the world a better place. I highly recommend any student of faith considers at least one private school, one out-of-state school, one smaller school, one highly-ranked school, and one religiously-affiliated school in their college search. I just happened to find all this - and a full-tuition scholarship - in the same place. Which is partly why I eventually spent three years of my career working in the OBU Admissions office!

For more information: www.okbu.edu

Image credit: Oklahoma Baptist University

Katherine Britton, Grove City College (Grove City, PA)

Katherine Britton, Grove City College (Grove City, PA)

I think Grove City gave me a safe place to start exploring what my Christian identity meant as a young adult. I was a sheltered homeschooler through high school, and I think I would have crawled into my shell if I had faced the magnitude of foreign ideas, cultural differences, and overt secularism at a state university. I would have been totally overwhelmed.

As it was, I was confronted with ideas that differed from my own narrow understanding, but were presented by people whose faith was clearly genuine and had the same foundation as mine. I didn't have to feel like I was always "guarding against the world." This freed up a lot of mental and emotional energy to grow, and I think it would have taken me a lot longer to do this in any other context given my background.

I met incredible people that are still close friends years later, and I learned that faith doesn't have to be afraid of interacting with different ideas. Strangely, I think I'm a more open-minded person because of my experience at a Christian school, but again, that's compared with my childhood background. It was the right place for that time in my life, and I'm thankful for the experience.

For more information: www.gcc.edu

Image credit: Grove City College

Ryan Duncan, Taylor University (Upland, IN)

Ryan Duncan, Taylor University (Upland, IN)

Originally, I had no intention of attending Taylor. It was the school where my parents had met, and several cousins of mine were already enrolled there when the time came for me to attend college. I wanted a university experience that was completely my own, and I worried that by choosing Taylor I wouldn't be able to carve out my own identity.

Thankfully, one weekend visit was all it took to change my mind. Taylor's greatest attribute is its community. Everyone makes friends in college, but here I was able to grow, study, and explore my faith alongside some truly incredible people. We challenged and encouraged one another in everything we did, and I became a better person for it. In a way, Taylor showed me what the Christian walk should really look like; we may be seeking God as individuals, but we'll only succeed in maturing by working together.

Taylor also had a wealth of overseas programs which radically altered my worldview. By stripping myself of familiar surroundings, I was able to reflect on my lessons in an entirely new light. Being able to view the world through a different culture also helped me see what parts of my faith had come from Jesus, and what parts had simply been my privileged American upbringing. Studying abroad may be uncomfortable in some ways, but given the choice, I'd do it all again in a heartbeat!

For more information: www.taylor.edu

Image credit: Taylor University

Emily Hall, Liberty University (Lynchburg, VA)

Emily Hall, Liberty University (Lynchburg, VA)

From my Christian university experience, I gained a group of great friends.

Great friends aren't exclusively gained only at Christian universities, and it may not even be the most important thing you hope to gain at college. But before embarking on my college journey, what I prayed for the most were deep and meaningful friendships. God graciously answered those prayers abundantly.

I learned important things about interpersonal skills in psychology classes, about faith in (so many!) religion classes, and storytelling in my journalism classes, but I got to practice many of these things in my friendships. Ideas and principles I learned in class were deepened, sharpened, or even discarded after hashing it out with my friends. Each of us were focused on different areas of study, and we had a blast discussing it all and learning together.

In your Christian college experience, God will use teachers, speakers, and authors to help you learn and grow; he will also use your friends.

For more information: www.liberty.edu

Image credit: Liberty University

Jayson Brown, Messiah College (Mechanicsburg, PA)

Jayson Brown, Messiah College (Mechanicsburg, PA)

Overall, my Christian College experience was very positive and some of the best years of my life. The reasons I chose a private Christian school span from the usual hooks such as smaller class sizes, to various ministry opportunities, and of course, having my studies relate (most of the time) to my faith in Jesus Christ. What I feel I've gained out of that time, or what I treasured most, however, were the relationships... those lasting friendships that were cultivated due to that very environment.

Having spent my K-12 years within the public education system in many states (military brat), and accepting the Lord later in my middle school years, I was at the point in my life where I wanted a more Christian-based education. My first few years as a believer in public school seemed like I was defending my faith more than growing in it. Thus, I was ready for the change.

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After applying and attending orientations at a few local Christian colleges, I opted instead, to attend a private Christian college a few states North of home. This one was nestled in the middle of Pennsylvania and had some of the best offerings for my field of study. The campus was picturesque, the classes and quality of education were as expected and my faith had a chance to grow.

I earned my Bachelor's degree (Praise the Lord!) but, I can also say during those 4 years I gained the following: A multitude of life-long meaningful relationships with fellow believers (one of whom became my wife), a much better grasp of other Christian denominations, invaluable ministry experience through worship teams, campus ministry, and campus church life, real world studies of how to uphold my faith within my profession, and of course, years of cherished memories. All of which I don't think would have been adequately supplied by a non-Christian college/university education.

I am grateful to God for providing that experience as it has made me into the person I am today. Though challenging for many to afford, I would still recommend students of faith reserve at least a portion of their Higher Education for this type of environment.

For more information: www.messiah.edu

Image credit: Messiah College

Rochelle Alberti, Central Christian College of Kansas (McPherson, KS)

Rochelle Alberti, Central Christian College of Kansas (McPherson, KS)

When I hit the campus as freshman that August it was one of the most exciting and terrifying months of my life. I was now over 17 hours away from any of my family, in the middle of a very very flat state (in comparison to the mountains of Colorado) with only one person I knew on campus. The simple answer to what I gained from attending this particular college is of course an education and affirmation of my faith, but there is so much more to it than that.

I arrived a very broken and, in many ways, terrified young woman. Events in the last year of high school had shattered a lot of things for me. But through the loving faith and care of my professors, who had no reason to invest in me, healing was found because they lived the call of serving the Saviour by serving the least of these… me. I found confidence in my Lord and myself, as well as hope and strength. What did I gain from attending a Christian college? I gained my life.

For more information: www.centralchristian.edu

Image credit: Central Christian College of Kansas

Elizabeth Kanoy, Covenant College (Lookout Mountain, GA)

Elizabeth Kanoy, Covenant College (Lookout Mountain, GA)

(and Regent University online... and Liberty University online...)

When I think back on my Christian college experience, both on campus and online, I am very grateful for where it took me. My college experience did not go as expected when I arrived as a transfer student my sophomore year to an on-campus Christian college. I went to this Christian college at the advice of my youth pastor, but I also went to this college thinking that it would "fix" me. I was at a point in my life where I thought I was the only unhappy person who just couldn't get this "Christianity thing" right, and I saw what I thought were all these other happy Christians who seemed to have it together. I wanted to be like them, I wanted to be happy and content, and I thought if I just went to this college the formula would come together and I would magically turn into the person I wanted to be (of course, I later realized I'd been trying to become something on my own without God's help).

God used my time there to break me down so that I could see I was nothing without him and that I needed him to make me whole and new. He also used my time there to surround me with solid Christian friends who spoke truth into my life and encouraged me with grace, really amazing people whom the Holy Spirit is working through, and he brought them into my life when I needed them most. At the end of that year, I was pretty raw and broken, but I finally understood what it meant to be loved by God and I became a new creation with a regenerate heart that year (thank you Jesus).

I took the next year off from school, going back to visit the friends for whom I was so thankful. Eventually, learning about people all over the world — the cultures they lived in and the beliefs they held — sparked an interest in me to continue my college education in the field of religious studies. I wanted to learn about other worldviews and how to communicate with people who believe differently than me. I continued my education online with another Christian university, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to take classes from a Christian perspective — especially when they pertained to theology, Christian living, and worldviews. Taking classes online also helped me make up time from the year I took off.

In the end, though, due to finances, I ended up graduating from a public university, and it worked out well because I got to take in-depth classes in other religions that I would not have been able to elsewhere. Without a doubt, God had his hand over my entire non-traditional college experience; God used every detail to make me into the person I am today. And he'll do the same for you wherever you serve him.

What parents need to remember most when sending a child to college — whether it's a Christian college, online, or public on-campus university — is that God is sovereign over your child's life. He is in control; it's his hand guiding and drawing them closer to himself.

Christian colleges can teach students truth and grace to help them understand what it means to live in the world but not be of it. But if your child chooses a public university, there are still some really great Christian organizations and ministries that can provide a wonderful community in which to grow.

For more information: www.covenant.edu

Image courtesy: Covenant College

This article is part of our larger Higher Education resource library centered around colleges and universities. We hope these articles help you narrow down your search for Christian colleges and seminaries. 

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The Best Online Christian Colleges in America

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The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.