Some students are selecting faith-based colleges as a way to better focus on their studies or delve deeper into exploring their religious beliefs, all while experiencing a top-rate education. There are many reasons to choose a faith-based education, and some of the top schools in the nation provide one. With students, staff and faculty living, learning and praying together, a faith-based campus often fosters a deep sense of community. While the teachings you’ve learned may be challenged or reinforced at many colleges, sticking with them may be easier with the support of like-minded fellow students and an administration with similar beliefs.
Whether you see religion as a vague interest or a meaningful aspect of your life, exploring faith from an academic perspective may be a new and enriching experience. Religious texts serve as the basis for much of the world’s literature, and faith plays a major role in shaping history and culture. Most academics would agree that a well-rounded scholar of any persuasion should have some knowledge of religion. Religious colleges also provide opportunities to explore faith outside of the classroom.
The following are a few schools that offer a faith-based education, while also maintaining highly competitive academics. Many of the students at these schools are religious, and many are not, but all of them have the opportunity to engage in meaningful, diverse interactions.
Pepperdine’s Malibu, California, campus is consistently ranked as one of the most beautiful in the world, and most of the dorms and buildings have a view of the Pacific Ocean. Graduations are held at the picturesque Alumni Park, which sits on a hill overlooking the ocean. However, the excellent academics and a religious affiliation with Churches of Christ are the main draws for many students, half of whom come from out of state. Small class sizes, and suite-style dorms contribute to the feeling of community that most students have here. Students are also encouraged to participate in student-led ministries, and attend the annual Bible Lectures, a conference in its 66th year. Despite its affiliation, the school welcomes faculty and students from many religious backgrounds, and students of all races and faiths are welcomed according to the university. Former graduates include Neil Clark Warren, the chairman and co-founder of eHarmony.com, and Chace Crawford, the breakout actor from Gossip Girl.
Though the university is unaffiliated, the majority of students at this university near Boston, Massachusetts, are Jewish and the university recognizes the ongoing support it receives from the Jewish community. The university welcomes students of all faiths and backgrounds, who may find that they identify with the university’s “Four Pillars,” which include dedication to academic excellence, nonsectarianism, a commitment to social action, and continuous sponsorship by the Jewish community.” Likewise, the environment is very supportive of the Jewish faith, with three majors and four minors available from the Jewish Studies department and a dining hall that features glatt kosher foods. There is also a sizeable non-Jewish population that enhances the diversity of this top-ranked university. Academics are heavily emphasized, and students can cross-register with many other schools in the Boston area, including Wellesley, Boston College and Tufts. Brandeis does not have fraternities or sororities, and students find plenty of other ways to bond, like getting involved with one of the 250 student-run clubs. Brandeis students may be focused on academic excellence, but the university recognizes the need for a bit of fun during stressful times; in the past few years a “Munchie Mobile” distributed free candy and snacks to students in the middle of the night during finals.
Hailed as one of the “New Ivies,” Davidson College is a liberal arts college with a NCAA Division 1 athletics program and a commitment to honor and faith. The college was founded by Presbyterians and many of those tenets still remain, including the venerable honor code that shapes both the academic and social environment at Davidson. Students at this school near Charlotte, NC can take home their timed, closed-book tests, and even self-administer their final exams, but cheating is a serious offense. Davidson has also completely removed loans from its financial aid package, making it one of the best deals in the country. Davidson students know how to have fun too. They overwhelmingly join fraternities and eating houses (a type of non-selective sorority without national affiliation), and much of the nightlife centers around these institutions. For the past few years students have even been able to catch a performances from the Royal Shakespeare Company, which is in residency at the school.
The University of Notre Dame
The founder of Notre Dame, Rev. Edward Sorin, once said that the university would be “one of the most powerful means for doing good in this country.” Students at the Catholic-affiliated Notre Dame have taken this call to heart—around 80% of students get involved with the school’s Center for Social Concerns and engage in community service. Likewise, academics here are paramount, with Newsweek including top-ranked Notre Dame in its “25 New Ivies” list. In keeping with Catholic tenets, all dorms are single-sex and the residence halls are headed by either a priest or nun. Known as “The Fighting Irish,” Notre Dame’s school spirit may be some of the strongest in the country. The marching band, Band of the Fighting Irish, is the oldest in the country, and Notre Dame football is practically its own institution. Perhaps you’ve heard the motivational line, “Win one for the Gipper?” That’s from an inspirational speech given to the team before a pivotal game in 1928. Notre Dame is one school that knows how to show its support.
Students at this independent university in the Jesuit tradition in New York City are following in the footsteps of such great minds as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Rene Descartes, Michel Foucault, David Hume, James Joyce, and Voltaire. That’s right, the Jesuit education system is responsible for turning out some the greatest minds of the past 450 years. Fordham promotes the Jesuit principle of cura personalis, which emphasizes personal attention and a respect for the unique circumstances of the individual student. Students applaud this approach to education and accordingly, Fordham professors get involved and keep class sizes small. With multiple campuses, students enjoy this intimate learning environment in the Bronx, West Harrison or at Lincoln Center, depending on their major. The requirements for fulfilling the undergraduate core curriculum may be rigorous, but Fordham’s location gives students the chance to take a break from academics and explore New York City.
For students who have specific religious goals, schools such as Brigham Young University and Yeshiva University offer tailored educational experiences. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints owns Brigham Young, and over 97% of its students are Mormon, making this school an extremely tight-knit community that adheres to a strict moral code. Yeshiva, on the other hand, integrates Jewish faith-based learning throughout the student’s entire academic career. The school features a unique dual curriculum that combines the study of Torah and Jewish heritage with a university education in the liberal arts, sciences, or pre-professional studies.
A faith-based college can be a great way to deepen your own or explore other faiths and have a unique college experience. There are many options available depending on your interests and priorities. Hopefully we’ve given you some intriguing ideas to ponder and possibly a few options to consider adding to your college list.