What It Means When a U.S. College Has a Religious Affiliation

Alan Park wanted to attend a Christian university in the U.S., coming from a Christian family in Paraguay. He researched universities that offered a campus environment where religion was more of a focus and issues like overdrinking were less likely to occur.

“For most international students, all we know about the U.S is what we see in the movies,” says Park, a freshman business major at Dordt College, a Christian school in Iowa.

He says knowing he would be among other Christians at Dordt took a lot of the worries off his and his parents’ shoulders. All classes in all fields of study at Dordt are taught from a Christian perspective, and students are encouraged to attend chapel every Wednesday, says Rebecca Tervo, coordinator of off-campus and multicultural student programs at Dordt.

There are more than 140 Christian colleges and universities in the U.S., part of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, says Greta Hays, a spokeswoman for CCCU.

[Read: Why Enrollment Is Rising at Large Christian Colleges.]

While prospective international students may have varying criteria for their choice of universities, some U.S. colleges have a religious affiliation that doesn’t affect campus life all that much, while at others the affiliation is evident in students’ day-to-day lives.

For international students considering applying to U.S. universities with religious affiliations, here are two things to consider.

The student experience. At some schools with religious affiliations, like Boston University and Georgetown University in the District of Columbia, the student experience is largely unaffected. At other schools, students may have to take a religion class or attend some sort of regular convocation or event during their studies.

Brigham Young University is sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As such, there is a strict code of conduct that is required of all students, as well as certain religion courses that are part of the general curriculum,” says Sam Brown, director of international services at BYU in Utah.

All students must take 14 credit hours of religious courses to graduate, such as Religious Studies in a World Setting and Survey of Eastern Religions. BYU has a dress code and prohibits alcohol, tobacco and drugs; the school also restricts interactions with members of the opposite sex by having single-sex dormitories and curfews.

“I think some students are attracted to a Christian university because they want to know about American culture and they think a Christian school can teach them more about how Americans interact with each other,” says Patrick Kelley, director of graduate, adult degree and international admissions at George Fox University in Oregon, founded as a school for Quakers.

[Read: Connect With a Religious Community as an International Student.]

Kelley says international students at George Fox are required to take two Bible classes, attend a weekly chapel and sign a student lifestyle agreement. Rowan Blake, a student from Australia who says he is not religious, signed the school’s agreement upon enrollment, which he says dictates that students aren’t allowed to drink, do drugs, gamble, watch pornography or participate in sexual activity.

“The student experience for the most part is good, with the university really emphasizing morals and beliefs,” says Blake, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering.

Kelley says the school is very up front with students about what the expectations will be when they come to George Fox “because we don’t want the Christian atmosphere to be a surprise.”

Misconceptions. There may be some misconceptions prospective international students have about religiously affiliated colleges. For example, students usually don’t have to identify with a particular religion to attend a college that is affiliated with it.

Bob Howe, assistant vice president for communications and special adviser to the president at Fordham University, a Jesuit university in New York, says the school welcomes people of all faiths, including those exploring their faith and people of no faith but goodwill.

“I am not Catholic. However, I do not feel uncomfortable in the slightest, nor do I feel any pressure on me to go to mass or any events similar,” says Fordham student Abigail Pratt, a sophomore from New Zealand who is double majoring in mathematics and English.

Pratt says when she was applying to U.S. universities, it did not cross her mind that the schools may have religious affiliations. However, she says those that interested her the most happened to be religiously affiliated universities.

“I think that was largely to do with their missions — many religiously affiliated institutions have very wholesome missions that I related to,” Pratt says.

[Read: How Politics, Religion and Race Influence Campus Culture.]

Michael Galligan-Stierle, president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, says that over the past 10 years, the number of international students enrolled in U.S. Catholic higher education institutions has significantly increased.

“Catholic higher education appeals to students — Catholic and non-Catholic alike — for a variety of reasons: academic, cultural and spiritual. What all our students appreciate is our emphasis on and openness to spiritual development,” Galligan-Stierle says.

At Dordt, Park says students and professors have been very kind and welcoming and the environment has given him a sense of belonging. Quoting the words of one of his fellow Paraguayan friends, he says, “Dordt is not what I wanted, but what I needed.”

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What It Means When a U.S. College Has a Religious Affiliation originally appeared on usnews.com



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