By Sarah Wright
1. Depth of Religious Influence
There are a lot of religious colleges in the U.S. that are loosely affiliated with a certain faith, meaning that the school mostly runs independently of religious consideration. Other schools, though, are heavily influenced by faith, with everything from dorm life to class offerings filtered through a religious lens. Strongly religious schools may not have a large population of students of other faith, if any at all, while loosely affiliated schools are likely to have a student body composed of a variety of faiths. These factors may be considered pros or cons, depending on what your priorities are. What you want from a religious school should guide which kind of school you decide to attend.
2. Academic Influence
Do you prefer to keep your religious life and your academic life separate? This isn't an issue at many religious colleges, which hire professors of all faiths and set standard academic curricula for their students. But some religious colleges do allow faith to influence academics. You may be required to take intensive religious education courses that have no intention of presenting an objective, balanced view of world religions or other ideas. If you'd rather have a more religiously objective education, you should do careful research to find out if the school you want to attend will let faith influence what you learn.
3. LGBT Rights
Religious voices are some of the loudest and strongest in the fight against LGBT rights. Of course, not all religious people are hostile to the gay rights movement, but if you're an LGBT student, you might want to think carefully before deciding to attend a religious college. There's no guarantee that you'll be treated badly as a student, and some religious schools, like Brigham Young University, have recently overturned policies calling for punishment or expulsion of gay students. Still, some of these schools still have policies banning homosexual behavior, which seems like a serious hurdle to have to contend with as a college student. Plus, if you're a straight LGBT ally, it might be difficult to attend a school with discriminatory policies.
4. Exposure to New Ideas
Growing and changing, both intellectually and personally, is a main feature of the college experience for many students. A big part of this process is being exposed to new ideas and new people, something some people would never experience if they didn't go to college. We're not trying to say that you won't meet new and different people or be exposed to new and different ideas if you attend a religious college, but attending such a school may make it easier to avoid challenging your existing ideas and beliefs. This might be an ideal scenario for some students, but others may want to be exposed to a different set of viewpoints in college.
5. Sexual Politics
Sex on college campuses is a topic that can create controversy in certain contexts, but it's generally accepted as a reality in today's society. Few non-religious colleges have rules and regulations that apply specifically to students' sex lives, with the occasional exception relating to rape prevention and other safety concerns. However, sex may be highly regulated at a religious college, and it may in some cases be banned entirely (unless the two sexually active students are legally married). This isn't a big deal for some students, but if you planned on having a physical aspect to your college social life (without having to worry about punitive consequences from your school), a religious college might not be the right choice for you.
This interview with a college chaplain might help change your views on religious colleges.