How Faith Factors in When Choosing a College
Students reflect on important aspects of the decision-making process.
As students apply to college this fall, several weighty aspects go into their decision about where to attend: the availability of financial aid, available majors and academic and social life.
For many Catholic students, though, the ability to practice and grow their Catholic faith is a top priority when they consider higher-education options.
Students who attend some of the colleges featured in the Register’s annual “Catholic Identity College Guide” discussed their experience of college decision-making and growing their faith while in college.
“When I first came here, they showed a statistic for the times they have for confession, and it was insane to me,” said David Krymowski, a senior at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. Benedictine has confession times available seven days a week, sometimes multiple times a day.
“The presence of the sacraments, and their availability to students for spiritual nourishment, was incredible,” said Krymowski, “and that was definitely one of the leading factors that caught my attention.”
The colleges featured in the Register’s guide offer daily Mass, adoration and times for confession. For some students, this is an opportunity for growth and expansion of their Catholic practice after high school.
“In my high school we only had Mass once a week, and I don’t think we ever even had adoration,” said María Díaz-Rubín, a rising junior at John Paul the Great Catholic University in Escondido, California.
“But I think the biggest difference between high school for me and college is that in high school I kind of felt like I was going to Mass to please my parents, but when I’m in college, it’s something I’m doing because I want to and because I want to grow my relationship with God.”
Private devotion also flourishes at small Catholic colleges and universities. John Paul the Great students live in shared apartments and townhomes and meet at 8 p.m. for a Rosary.
At Wyoming Catholic College, in Lander, dorms gather in the evening for Evening Prayer and later at night for Night Prayer, according to the Liturgy of the Hours.
Teresa Amorose, a junior at Wyoming Catholic, emphasized the importance to her of “having something public like that, where you realize that the faith is something that should be public and shared.”
Nikolas Von Spakovsky, a senior at Belmont Abbey College, in Belmont, North Carolina, was drawn to Belmont Abbey because of the presence of Benedictine monks there.
Von Spakovsky has found that “having a monastery there helps to ground it and to remember its Catholic identity.”
Students are invited to participate in the daily prayer life of the order, joining the monks’ choirs while they pray the Liturgy of the Hours.
One of the elements that drew Teresa Amorose to Wyoming Catholic was the connection between her faith and her studies. “The classes support the faith — not only are you taking theology, but through humanities and science and all these other things, you’re led to a greater appreciation of God working through nature and human history.” Amorose, who has attended the traditional Latin Mass from childhood, appreciates the emphasis Wyoming Catholic places on the relationship between sacramental life and academic studies: “John Senior … he talks about how all of Christian culture grew out of the Mass.”
For Von Spakovsky, who is in the honors college at Belmont Abbey, the integration of faith with the curriculum was deeply important. He emphasized that the curriculum “does not shy away from that Catholic identity and in fact encourages students to bring that Catholic identity with them, to engage with it.” Von Spakovsky, who was formed in a Catholic home-schooling environment and was involved in his church through high school, found this to be an integrating experience.
He said, “It helped me to ground myself and be secure: ‘Yeah, this is actually what I believe.’ People from all these different backgrounds are coming together at Belmont Abbey, and we all believe the same thing.”
For some students, sharing Catholic values with their college is tremendously important for the field they hope to pursue. John Paul the Great Catholic University, which focuses on the creative arts and business innovation, opened up the possibility for María Díaz-Rubín to pursue a childhood dream without being asked to make moral compromises. “I felt that if I came here I wouldn’t be forced to do anything I wasn’t comfortable with or that I would have to give up my morals to be in film,” she said. “That was really exciting for me because I was always really passionate about it.”
“I knew right away that if I wanted to go to a college, I wanted it to be Catholic. I wanted to have a good community of Catholic students,” Nick Krymowski, a freshman at Benedictine College, told the Register. Many students emphasized the importance of communal life in helping grow their Catholic faith while in college.
When she first visited Wyoming Catholic College, Amorose was struck by “the friendliness and charity of the students,” citing the college’s no-technology policy as a reason the students are present to their peers. “Everybody is a lot more open and happy to talk, and friendly and welcoming.”
The Catholic life of the college flows out into the broader community: Wyoming Catholic celebrates the feast of St. Joseph the Worker (May 1) every year with a street fair, to which the faculty and local townspeople are invited.
Amorose said, “That seems really important to me. The faith is something public. ... If you celebrate it, it’s worth celebrating with your whole self, with your body as well as your soul.”
“The professors [at John Paul the Great Catholic University] genuinely care about their students, and I feel like I have such a personal relationship with a lot of them, and the students here are really kind,” Díaz-Rubín said.
Krymowski, who has been involved in ministry as well as working as a resident assistant at Benedictine, emphasized the impact of these experiences on his personal formation and outlook toward the world. He has learned “how to bring this culture and this community that I’ve experienced here to other people, articulate it in a better way, live it out in circles and groups and places that this Catholic identity is foreign to.”
Some students seek out faith-filled colleges growing out of positive high-school experiences of the faith, like Amorose, who shared that she chose Wyoming Catholic from a short list of Catholic liberal arts schools. Others have found in the process of attending how much the Catholic faith means to them.
“I was already given a pretty solid Catholic education, and I was very involved at my church, but coming to Belmont Abbey has really helped me take my faith to the next level,” said Von Spakovsky.
“Definitely I would say I needed a change,” added Krymowski. “It wasn’t something I realized that I would truly benefit from and that would aid me in not just spiritual, but basic formation as a person, until I came to Benedictine. ... Then I got to see really how much that has impacted and really shaped who I am.”