What should you look for in a Christian college? Common sense suggests you should know what kind of person you are, or aspire to be, and look for the school that aligns with that. But I fear too many students are asking the question in the wrong way and they are looking at the wrong criteria when forming their assessments.

Instead, I suggest you look at your experience in a campus community as a symbiotic relationship, one where you should not only expect to receive but to give. That’s a profoundly Christian vision, not just for college, but for life. Are you actively looking for opportunities where you will be able to serve, to give of yourself for others? Those opportunities are everywhere if you know where to look and are asking the right questions.

Thankfully, there are many excellent options out there for young Christians who want to find a distinctly Christian college or university. Let me suggest three distinctives you should look for in measuring how seriously Christian an institution is.

The Formation of a Biblical Worldview

Every school, including a Christian college, will rightly aim for academic rigor. And every school should understand that education is more than a commodity to be bought and sold, more than the mere transfer of information. But a Christian vision for education frames that aspiration within the broader formation of a Christian worldview.

A Christian college should, shaped by its confessional identity, mobilize its curriculum, faculty, and programming to help students develop the skill of thinking critically according to God’s revelation.

Your worldview includes your conscious intellectual commitments; those propositions you believe to be true. But it also extends much more broadly into your heart and mind, encompassing those deep beliefs and assumptions you carry about yourself, others, the world, and the God who made it all. You’re likely aware of many of these beliefs, but there are many others you carry around of which you may not always be aware. And to be human means you also carry around a contradicting mix of these in your worldview.

So the question isn’t whether you have a worldview, but whether it’s true. And while many colleges and universities would be reluctant to assert that there can be any singularly authoritatively true worldview, a Christian college should be driven to ensure that the entire institution teaches God’s truth and upholds the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture.

This affects what happens in the classroom, for sure. But it shapes what happens in chapel. It informs the structuring of curriculum and the hiring of faculty. It means that every major helps students understand how biblical truth collides with the values and systems of this world and calls them to be transformed by the renewing of their minds (Rom 12:2). At Boyce College, this shapes every degree program we launch and the substance of our core curriculum. It’s why our new program in Communication looks the way it does, with a classical theological core of classes as well as courses that introduce students to the most current scholarship in the field.

The Pursuit of a Life of Discipleship

While a Christian worldview is essential, it isn’t enough. A Christian college isn’t about less than your worldview, but it should aim for far more.

Let me explain. The Christian life is not fundamentally about getting the “right worldview.” It’s about loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind and loving your neighbor as yourself. It’s about living in a manner worthy of the gospel (Philippians 1).

Being a disciple of Jesus involves daily picking up our cross and following him. That means we call ourselves, and one another, to repent of our sins and to lay claim by grace to the promises of the gospel every single day. It calls on us to be peacemakers in our relationships, to kill the pride that distorts our own hearts and lives, and to pursue purity and holiness in our public and private lives. And a Christian college campus should be a wonderful place to do this.

You can discern something about how a Christian college approaches this by how they speak of and relate to the local church. God did not design your Christian college to be a church. In his perfect wisdom, the community he has ordained to be the human instrument in your growth as a disciple is the local church. So if a college presents itself as a one-stop-shop for your Christian life, run the other way. You need a church family, which you not only attend, but where you are a covenant member. You need a church where you not only fill up a seat on Sundays, but you give of yourself in service. You need a church where you not only go to be fed God’s Word, but you are mobilized to reach out to your community with the saving news of the gospel. And you need this during your college years!

The Call to the Nations

A Christian whose worldview is reshaped and conformed to biblical truth will, by the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit, grow in their discipleship and devotion to Jesus Christ. And when that happens, they will grow passionate about the things that matter most to God.

From the Bible, we understand that God’s great mission in the world is to magnify his glory among all peoples as men and women from every tribe are reconciled to him through the saving work of Jesus Christ.

That means that every single degree program, every major, must be leveraged for the Great Commission (Matt 28:28). You will either be called to go, or you will be called to stay, send, and support. Every single Christian has a part to play in this global cause.

So if at a Christian college global missions is only talked about in one major, if the urgency of getting the gospel to unreached people groups is only felt in one department, if the universal calling we all share to participate in God’s mission in the world is only articulated in one corner of campus, then we are missing it.

So What To Do?

Without question, the best way for you to assess the culture and commitments of a Christian college or university is by visiting the campus. You can learn a lot by reputation and word of mouth. You can gather immensely useful information from the school’s web site. But there’s no substitute for being on the campus, seeing firsthand what they are all about, sitting in on classes, meeting faculty and staff, and getting a small taste of the community. Schools like mine regularly host Preview Days for this very purpose. Make attending one a priority.

The college decision can feel overwhelming at times. So pray about it. Seek wise counsel. Ask yourself what values and aspirations are shaping your decision and then test those by God’s Word. But if you’re a Christian, you can also rest in the assurance that your Heavenly Father’s providential care for you is trustworthy and good. He has wonderful plans for you, including where you’ll spend your college years.