What does it mean to be Religiously Affiliated?

Colleges and universities with religious affiliations offer unique learning environments for students. Is one right for you?

What does it mean to be Religiously Affiliated?

When it comes to college-picking criteria, did you know that “religious affiliation” can be part of your choices? Religiously affiliated colleges come in all sizes, and most offer all kinds of degree programs.

Start by reviewing a school’s mission statement. This can clue you in on how much emphasis the school puts on the academic, social and spiritual aspects of college.

What’s the difference between a Catholic university and a divinity school? A Christian college and a Bible institute or seminary? A Jewish college, a rabbinical college and a Talmudical institute?

Divinity schools, seminaries, institutes and rabbinical colleges prepare students for careers in missions or for full-time ministry. At these schools, you can focus almost completely on the particular religion to prepare yourself for religious service.

For instance, a rabbinical college is for those becoming ordained rabbis, just as a Catholic seminary is for those pursuing the calling of ordained priest. A Bible institute focuses on the Bible and missions.

Interested in religion, but leaning toward a public university? Many public schools offer a major or minor in religious studies, for which you’ll take classes in the history, practices and literature of a variety of world religions. You may be surprised to learn that no matter the faith tradition, most religiously affiliated schools accept people of all religions.

We asked students at various religiously affiliated schools about their educational experiences. Here are their answers.

Name: Andy Allen

School: University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio

Religious affiliation: Catholic, Marianist

Major: Electrical engineering

Grad year: 2004

How can people tell it’s religiously affiliated? Other than the six Sunday mass times and daily noon mass, religiously affiliated universities often are devoted to service and community projects. Often, part of the university’s budget is sanctioned toward service-related programs. That means there’s tons of opportunity to be involved in the greater university community with student-run service organizations. At first it may not be obvious that the school is religiously affiliated, but when living at the university, it is obvious that there are more people here to care about you than you would typically expect.

What are the differences between yours and a public university? The religion department is run by people not only studying religion but also living it.

Is there an honor code? Nope. You get to make your own decisions and mistakes.

Coolest religiously affiliated feature: Christmas on Campus, when the university hosts more than 2,000 underprivledged children in grades K through four. Students adopt a child for the night and take them to hundreds of stations and booths for games, crafts and candy.

Why did you choose a religiously affiliated college? I didn’t plan on choosing a Catholic school, but I’m certainly happy with my decision. Not only do you get the education provided by a private school with the diversity of a university, but you also get to learn about your own faith from people who live it.


Name: Gregory Carnrick

School: Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass.

Religious affiliation: Roman Catholic, sponsored by the Order of Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas of Villanova Province

Major: Political science

How can people tell it’s religiously affiliated? The most noticeable is that in each of the residence halls, there is a small but purposeful chapel. We also have a presence of Augustinian Friars who are administrators and professors. Embodied within our Statement of Community Standards, we acknowledge the creation of Merrimack College by the Augustinians and hope to use the spirit of Saint Augustine throughout our learning.

What are the differences between yours and a public university? The main one is the separation of church and state. The second is the feeling of community. Here, students are not numbers but individuals who are part of a family and one of a community. They are allowed to express they opinions openly, are able to ask questions, and know where to go when they need strength and support.

Coolest religiously affiliated feature: The Campus Ministry Team is one of the most important aspects within the college community. They are able to offer many different services throughout the year. These range from liturgical life opportunities, spiritual development and pastoral care, volunteering, global services and retreat opportunities.


Name: Joralyn Echols

School: Bryn Athyn College of the New Church in Bryn Athyn, Penn.

Religious affiliation: The New Church, Swedenborgian

Graduation year: 2006

Major: Religion/education

How can people tell it’s religiously affiliated? The full name, Bryn Athyn College of the New Church; the required core religion courses; weekly chapel; and the religious ideas teachers integrate into their courses in all areas of study.

What are the differences between yours and a public university? High moral and social standards. Academics are a true focus without being the only focus. Personal and spiritual growth, development and exploration are highly encouraged and expected.

Is there an honor code? There is no official honor code to sign, though that has been considered. Although New Church ideas are taught in the classroom, students are encouraged to think for themselves, question and pursue how New Church ideas apply to their life.

Coolest religiously affiliated feature: The many different religion courses offered, such as an evangelization course and an in-depth study and personal growth course that uses the Ten Commandments. But unless it is part of the assignment, there is complete freedom as to the level that we integrate religion into our work—even the option of not including it at all.

Why did you choose a religiously affiliated college? My dad is a minister in the New Church, so I grew up with the teachings of the New Church as the foundation for everything. I wanted to learn more about what the Church teaches. On a social level, I didn’t want to deal with some of the negative things that I’ve heard can go on at larger universities and public schools, such as drinking and premarital sex. I knew I wanted to learn how to integrate my faith more into life and be with others who were actively doing the same.


Name: Debbie Harper, director of the Christian services program

School: College of Biblical Studies in Houston, Texas

Religious affiliation: Nondenominational

Major: Biblical studies

How can people tell it’s religiously affiliated? We have Old Testament, new Testament, theology—those types of classes.

Coolest religiously affiliated feature: The relationships that you have from the classroom, with each other as well as the instructor. They get real personal with you. If you have problems, you can go to them. We have a great variety of churches represented here.

Why did you choose a religiously affiliated college? I wanted to be able to teach the youth that I’m teaching at my church more effectively. I wanted to go a little deeper.


Name: Jessica Robbins

School: Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, N.C.

Religious affiliation: Baptist

Grad year: 2004

Major: Music education

How can people tell it’s religiously affiliated? Every Tuesday morning, students have to attend a chapel service called Dimensions. We have to attend 10 services in a semester to get credit. We have speakers come who talk about various subjects.

What are the differences between yours and a public university? I believe it is the family atmosphere that makes this different from public universities. It makes a difference knowing that the professors hold many of the same beliefs as you do. I find it easy to sit down with many of my professors and talk about issues that may be troubling me because I know that the advice they give is wise, godly counsel.

Is there an honor code? We did not have to sign a statement of faith or an honor code when we came in, but a few years ago, the Student Government Association started an honor code program. An honor code was placed in each classroom calling each student to a higher standard concerning academics.

Why did you choose a religiously affiliated college? My mom works here, my sister graduated from here, and I have grown to love it! I love the relationships I have with my professors and other students here. I have gained another family who cares about every aspect of my life.



Web sites

www.cccu.org: Council for Christian Colleges and Universities

www.elca.org/dhes/colleges/college.html: Evangelical Lutheran Church of America Colleges and Universities


www.ajcunet.edu/areas/ji/members.asp: Association of Jesuit Catholic Colleges and Universities

www.hillel.org: Hillel guide to Jewish life on campus



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