How Catholic Do You Want Your Catholic College to Be?
Growing up Jewish in Central New Jersey, I admittedly did not know much about the traditions of other faiths. I take full blame as an adult. I could have taken religion courses at Rutgers or read more on my own. It would have given me a better perspective to understand the Catholic college experience.
Catholic colleges come from different orders within the church. Villanova, for example is Augustinian. Fordham is Jesuit. Siena, a smaller school in New York State, is Franciscan. Each takes a different approach to educating its students.
When I visited each of those schools, I asked the admissions officers if prospective students were seeking a “Catholic college experience” or cross shopping against secular schools.
The answer I got was: “Both.” I also heard that a student can be “as Catholic as they want to be.”
None of these schools had a mandatory mass for all students though they imposed different course requirements when it came to religion and philosophy classes. All welcome students of other faiths, though the majority are Catholic. These schools all do well at retaining most of their freshman class and graduating their students on time.
If you are cross-shopping religiously-affliated colleges versus each other as well as secular schools, it is useful to know:
- The liberal arts core requirements for each school. Most private colleges ask all of their students to complete a year of mathematics, humanities, natural science, social science and possibly a foreign language. Other schools add a freshman seminar which can run for a semester or a year as well as English composition. However, other schools require between three and 12 credits of philosophy or religion courses in addition to the core. The more requirements outside of the major, the more difficult it is to complete a second major or multiple minors.
- How observant is your student? If you believe that the relationship with clergy is important to daily life, you should visit the chaplain at the colleges you are considering. In this case you might be evaluating the college as a congregation as well as a set of academic and student services. At some schools mass may be well attended; this might be less the case at other schools.
- How are religious beliefs or values (these are not the same thing) blend into courses that are taught outside of philosophy or religion. It’s common, for example, for a business program at a religiously affliated school to require business ethics. In fact, it’s a good idea for all students to take that, regardless of their religion. But I have also heard questions from parents and students about the inclusion/exclusion of evolution in biology classes. There’s no worry here for prospective doctors who are considering the three schools I visited.
- Does the school help members of all faiths to be part of the campus community? Fordham has a Hillel on campus. Neither Villanova nor Siena have a Hillel, but their student affairs staff will help Jewish students find synagogues near campus as well as host families for the holidays. All students who want to worship should be able to do so in their own way, even if the choice is not to worship at all.
College is many things. For students it should be the sum of several experiences academic, developmental and social.
The Catholic college experience, from my limited observations, is different from a secular private college experience as well as a public college experience. It is worthwhile to consider differences between Catholic colleges as well how they compare to secular and public institutions.
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