During a recent visit to California, Senior Associate Cara Ray, had the opportunity to go on a tour of Westmont College.
Westmont is a small Christian liberal arts college located in Santa Barbara, California. As you drive a few miles from downtown Santa Barbara you head up winding streets, into the hills behind the city. After driving through a pretty residential neighborhood with large gated homes you end up on a campus that evokes a calm beauty with wonderfully wooded areas, trails, and clusters of buildings. With a free shuttle system that heads to three different beaches, downtown Santa Barbara, a strong Kinesiology program, and some fun traditions like “Spring Sing”, Westmont could easily be confused with other traditional colleges. However, after a closer look – and lots of questions -it is easy to see the important role that religion plays on the campus. From a dry (no alcohol) campus policy, to an open door policy in the dorms for guys and girls, necessary attendance at chapel three times a week, prayers before tests, and required coursework in the New Testament, Old Testament, Christian Doctrine, and Christian History, you will find that religious life takes a central role at Westmont.
This is an important reminder that as you look explore colleges you should ask yourself a lot of questions about whether or not a religiously affiliated college is the right fit for you. Specifically, when looking at religious schools you should take the time to understand the impact that religion plays on the campus, in the classroom, and with the student body. Some colleges, may have a historic religious affliation but it does not play a central role in the teaching or classroom while others may have very specific requirements surrounding religion, like Westmont.
So, as you are considering attending colleges with a religious affiliation it is worth asking these three questions.
1. How big a role does religion play in the classroom? It is worth asking if you will be required to take any religious classes or if teachers will discuss religious doctrine in the classroom or there will be prayers before tests. You should determine your comfort level with this level of religious influence in the classroom.
2. How does religion impact the student body? You may want to consider asking about the religious nature of the student body. Do most students adhere to religious practice or come from a similar religious background? You may want to think about how religion will impact your living arrangements (co-ed floors in dorms vs. single sex), social life, student organizations, etc.
3. Are there religious requirements outside the classroom? While on a tour, exploring the website, or talking to admissions you may want to learn if you will have any requirements outside of the classroom such as required chapel attendance or student worship. If so, how often and are there expectations or repercussions if missed?