Are you wondering where your child should go to college? That’s where we are in our family journey, with our oldest in high school. It’s a big, important decision, and one that shouldn’t be made without prayer, wise counsel, and asking some biblical questions.
First of all, I could—and maybe should—have added to the title How to Choose a College “With Your Child” or even “For Your Child.” I do not believe that any 17 year old still living in the home should be given the freedom (read: weighty responsibility) of choosing their own college. College is too much of a life-shaping event. So, parents, while we hopefully have trained our children to make wise, biblical decisions, we still don’t ask them to bear the responsibility of choice in something so heavy, so formative, (and, dare I say, so expensive). That day will come soon enough. Remember, education is discipleship, and you, parent, are given the responsibility by God to disciple your children. That means, when it comes to college, if that decision is being made within your home regarding someone who is still your responsibility, you ultimately delegate that education-discipling process to whomever you think will do the best job. Furthermore, choosing a college requires a good deal of wisdom and biblical discernment and a sound philosophy of education—things you likely have in much larger doses than your 17 year old.
Therefore, here are five biblical considerations for choosing a college—for or with your child.
1. What do you believe is the goal of education (biblically)?
As I discussed here, education, according to Scripture, is a discipleship process. It is part of the sanctification of a believer whereby he or she becomes more like Christ in thought, word, and deed. Thus, education should point students toward Christlikness, help them to gain wisdom for godly, holy, Christlike living in the world, and increase their worship of God in thankfulness for who He is and what He has done. Additionally, education should help the student put on the mind of Christ, which is a humble, servant’s spirit.
Look at college mission statements, goals, and classes offered within a major or program. Will these things accomplish the biblical goal of education?
2. What is the role of the teacher (biblically)?
In Scripture, the teacher is an exemplar. Paul frequently says, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” Christ says, “Be holy, for I am holy.” Luke tells us, “The student is not above his teacher, but everyone, when he is fully trained, will be like his teacher.” Titus tells older men and women to teach by their example.
In Scripture, the teacher (except in the case of Christ) is not only an exemplar but also a fellow disciple of Christ, growing in maturity.
Furthermore, as Psalms reminds us, unbelievers are not “good people” or “nice people.” They may not be nearly as wicked as they could be, but they hate God and have rejected his authority. They shake their fist at God, if not literally (and some professors at liberal schools do profane God openly), then implicitly by refusing to submit their lives and actions to him. They laugh at God in their hearts and daily act as if there is no God.
Look at the professors. (Meet them, if possible.) Are they the kind of people you want your child to become like? Are they following Christ themselves? Or have they rejected the authority of God?
3. What part does culture play in education (biblically)?
In this case, we’re talking mainly about the college campus culture (though, depending on the situation, you may have to apply this principle to the culture of the living situation or city as well). Proverbs is full of admonitions to watch who we hang around. Paul reminds us that “bad company corrupts good morals.” What are the majority of the students like? What are the common practices (liturgies) of the college? What is the atmosphere at these common practices (such as sporting events, parties, etc)? Do they promote godliness?
Also, in accordance with the principles above regarding professors, unbelieving students also hate God and act in opposition to his authority. Whether or not they realize it fully, they are walking away from God. They’re not standing still and acting neutrally.
Don’t forget: Peers are teachers too. We learn from more than formal curriculum or paid professors. The “hidden curriculum” of the school culture may actually be of even stronger sway than the explicit curriculum.
Who do you want your children hanging around for four formative years? People growing in their Christlikeness and trying to honor God or people who are walking away from God? Evaluate the campus culture.
4. What is the curriculum?
In other words, what is being taught, and how is it being taught?
Look at the classes in a given major or program. Visit the classes if at all possible. Do the classes offer up good meat upon which your child can chew for years to come, or is the content pre-digested and watered-down? Are the professors boring, or will their excitement and expertise ignite a love for learning in your child? Will the classes challenge your child to become more wise, more Christlike, a more faithful witness in a dark world?
Moreover, is the content subjective and all about personal feelings and judgments, or does it rest on absolute truths? Is the supernatural being rejected? Is language being deconstructed? Is gender made fluid? Is the content of classes focused on reconstructing knowledge over issues of race, gender, or power structures? These issues are sometimes taught in a very subtle and subversive way and have caused many a college student to walk away from the values of their parents, if not their faith altogether. Are these things the way you want your child to spend their college years, or is their time more valuable than that? Is their education more valuable than that? Is this really what you want your money to fuel?
5. Is there a biblically sound church for your child to attend near the college?
By placing this last, I don’t mean to imply that this is a last consideration. In fact, I could’ve placed it at the top of the list. However, sometimes this is the only consideration parents give to a child’s college decision, assuming that a good church will be the answer to an otherwise secular and liberal college environment. Please hear me say that a good, faithful, doctrinally sound church is vital for your child during his college years (and beyond). But it doesn’t erase all these other considerations. A compelling secular professor, a fun secular roommate, a persuasive group of secular classmates, or simply the temptations of being on one’s own for the first time can easily outweigh the influence of the Sunday sermon and occasional Christian fellowship.
You know your child’s strengths and weaknesses, their sin tendencies, their personality, the strength of their walk with the Lord. Does your child like to go with the flow or stand out against the crowd? Even with faithful church attendance and perhaps a group of faithful Christian friends, is your 18 year old really mature enough to stand firm in the faith, go against the tide, and be a strong witness for Christ in a pervasively secular environment?
Notice that I did not ask: Will this college get my child into a prestigious graduate school? I did not ask: Will this college help my child get a good job? We trust the Lord to open and close those kinds of doors. That does not mean we’re unwise. If we use the criteria above, we will be wisely choosing a college that seeks to make our children more Christlike, wise, and humble, that makes them want to follow the example of their very knowledgeable and Christlike professors, that strengthens their interpersonal skills and sharpens iron with iron, that helps them grow stronger in their faith and witness, and that teaches them not only absolute truth but also challenges them and (further) ignites their love of learning.
Again, if you’re in this place with your young adult, seek wise counsel; pray for wisdom and clear direction. And if you are not in this place, those of you with no children or young children or empty nesters—pray for the families who are facing college decisions. A college education prepares not simply the next generation of workers but the next generation of worshipers.