Saturday, January 15, 2011

The College Hunt

I don't know how many of you have ever had to hunt down a college for your child, but if you haven't yet -- you have no IDEA.  I think it would be easier just to find her husband instead.
At first, we thought it would be easy:  she picks a school, we got visit, they put together some sort of financial package, and she goes off to join the ranks of academia.

Not so.

Our son Philip fell in love with his college at first sight, got a fabulous scholarship (because he's a brainiac), and it was easy.

But Anna -- oh, Anna!  She has made me do The College Hunt.

(And the whole time I'm hunting, the clock is ticking away;  we're running out of time. They pressure you to decide, to give a housing deposit to hold your room. "Choose us!" they say.)

Anna's not gonna get $20-25,000 a year in scholarship from anywhere. Because we're a mite poor, she'll get some good government Pell Grant money. And her grades and SAT score will probably get her a dab of scholarship money at any school.  So far, she's been offered anything from $2000 to $7000.

But here are Anna's criteria: 

1) She doesn't want to live in a co-ed dorm.  Period. She doesn't want strange 20-year-old males living in the next room, and I can't blame her. And if you don't know, just about all state universities have co-ed dorms now.  It's normal, and the kids are used to it.  But it's not the dorm life I loved, and it's not the one Anna wants.  She wants a group of like-minded young women to spend a few years with, making friendships to last a life-time. If you were in a girls or boys dorm 25 years ago, you know the kind of friendships I'm talking about.  Now, imagine those dorm scenarios, but with mixed genders.  The flirtation/dating dynamics would totally ruin the comradery.

2) She wants a Christian college.  Not just a Christian-in-name-only college.  Not a "we-used-to-be-Christian-in-1879-but-we're-liberal-now" college.  We want a school with a solid Christian atmosphere, devoted Christian students, a faculty who will integrate Christian teaching in the classroom and relate their disciplines to the Scriptures, and a campus culture that will nourish her relationship with Jesus and teach her how to live her life to serve the Lord.

3) It can't cost much. Schools that are over $25,000/year are basically out of her price range.  We can't afford to pay for her college.  We can't afford to take out loans either. She'll have to pay for college herself, whether with grants/scholarships/work study, or with loans that she'll have to pay off after graduation.  They all know that this is the family rule, and are fine with it.  Man, does it make your kid more careful about picking a school, when they know they'll pay for it :) We don't want her to have $50,000 of debt at graduation.  $20,000 would be better.  Less would be great!

4) She doesn't want a Christian prison.  No wearing skirts 24/7.  No gates around the campus to keep the kids in. No supervised dating stuff.

5)  We don't want her to be TOO far away.  I'd like it to be a day's drive (reasonably) to go there and get her home if we need to. So, 3-6 hours away at the most.

#1 eliminates the state schools and their lower tuitions.
#2 eliminates schools like Berea College. I looked into it; I was told there is a small core of Christians there who "have each other's back" against the rather prevalent and hard-core alcohol/drug use/homosexual promiscuity going on. There are lots of colleges that were founded as Christian schools decades ago, which aren't now.  Erskine College, our own denomination's college, has drifted this way and is having a horrible time getting back to its evangelical roots. A lack of Christian teaching in the classroom.  And it's 30K/year! I have heard the Bible Dept. is solid, but that other departments are not.  I wouldn't say this if I hadn't heard it from a faculty member herself, that she was horrified at the idea of professors integrating Christian worldview into their classroom teaching and disciplines. She thought it was "brain washing." 'Nuff said. Dordt College would probably fall into this category as well.
#3 eliminates so many good schools:  Covenant, Grove City (which doesn't accept gov't money, so her Pell Grant would be lost), Geneva, Wheaton, and on and on.  I got very adept at going to a college's website, finding the "tuition and fees" page, and checking out the total. I don't even recall all the colleges I eliminated this way.
#4 eliminates schools like Pensecola Christian, Bob Jones, and others that are a bit too, um, controlling. There's a difference between being Christian and being legalistic.  Although I know great students who've come from these schools, it's not for Anna.
#5 eliminates two schools that we've been looking hard at:  Belhaven and Mississippi College.  Belhaven is a GREAT school.  Not as fabulous as Covenant, but almost :) It barely fits in the financial category, at just below $25,000/year. Mississippi College right now is just under $20,000/year.  Belhaven is the superior Christian school.  Adam and I both attended M.C., and would fee pretty good about her being there. But they're both so far away!  It helps a lot that Adam's mom lives nearby, but still -- we would probably see Anna only once or twice each year.  I'm sorry to sound like a clingy mom, but that's rather hard on us. I enjoy Anna's company.

Today, we're checking out Toccoa Falls College.  It's only about 3 1/2 hours away.  It's about $21,000/year right now. It's a solid Christian school. Separate dorms.  It seems to be fitting our criteria.  We need to see if they have scholarships to offer.  It's close enough that I could take her down for a day visit. If we do, I'll be sure to make a blog post of it!

If you're still reading, you'll know how exhausted I feel.  For each school, she fills out an online application, sends in references and essays, I go online to have her SAT scores sent, and send a copy of her transcript from homeschooling. Adam pays the application fee and sends in the FAFSA, a federal financial form. It's rather an ordeal.  And you have to do all that, before they can let you know if they'll give you any money for scholarship, to make it affordable.

If you have a 10th or 11th grader, start NOW!  Make a list of criteria, and use it. We didn't know these five points were our criteria, a year ago.  It sure would have helped if we'd thought about it. By your child's last high school semester, it's honestly too late to be making these preliminary decisions.

Anna's taking her 1st college class now, at the local community college -- college algebra. If this college hunt doesn't turn up any good options, she may just end up taking more courses here at the community college for a while. And that's not all bad!


  1. MK, I know it doesn't fit being near you, and I have no idea of the costs, but I went to two schools in British Columbia, Canada, that overwhelmed me as being the schools where I would send my (non-existant, as yet) children to study. They are alongside each other and share some classes. The larger one is Trinity Western University, and the smaller one is Northwestern Baptist College. They are in Langley, BC. Love these schools, especially TWU, but I lived in the dorm at NWBC, took some courses there, and found it nice and cozy. So either would do; maybe one is cheaper than the other. As I said, they share some classes, and I went to the chapel services at TWU. They were amazing! The faculty at TWU has a retreat before the year starts to pray for the school year and students in their classes. What can I say more? It is almost like heaven. They attract very creative, intelligent students. Some of the most wonderful friends I've ever made were from that time there--on a par with yourself!!!

  2. Keep thinking about Covenant College too. I love it too. I went to an InterVarsity 3 week conference there one summer. Maybe the money could come by staying in community college two years and working while living at home...

  3. Thanks much, Mary. Another friend also advised me not to give up on Covenant, so I emailed them again to ask about the finances. We'll see. And I love your description of the Canadian schools -- you are a cheerleader for them! That's the kind of college experience that a kid should have. Like you said though -- far away.

  4. My son went to Briercrest College in Saskatchewan for a year of Bible, when he was planning to go on the mission field. I know it seems far, but you all might like it. He was there so short a time, we didn't even visit.

  5. M.K. I'm alum of and an assistant professor of Business Administration at Toccoa Falls College. Let me encourage you and Anna to continue your investigation into Toccoa Falls College. It will meet all five of your criteria.

    Your criteria #2 is especially important at TFC. All instructors are believers who not only hold to an evangelical statement of faith, but integrate faith and Scripture with their disciples. All students at TFC have a personal Christian testimony. At Toccoa Falls students have the opportunity to integrate a bible and theology core of 30 credit hours, student ministries, and various spiritual formation opportunities with every major.

    TFC is not only regionally accredited with SACS as any state college or university in the southeast, Toccoa Falls College is accredited with the Association for Biblical Higher Education (ABHE), which accredits “higher educational institutions that engage students in biblical, transformational, experiential, and missional higher education.”

    Finally, let me encourage you to visit the campus. The admissions office can arrange for Anna to sit in on some classes, attend chapel, eat in the cafeteria, visit our 186’ waterfall, and maybe even spend a night in the dorm.

    I pray that you and Anna will find the right college for Anna's situation.

  6. I've worked in college admissions for 25 years, mostly at Christian colleges. I'd be glad to dialogue with you about all of this, if you'd like. My email is

  7. Consider Union in Jackson, TN.

    I went to MC and taught there for 23 years. Now, I'm at Union. Best move ever.

    I'll be glad to talk with you about it.

  8. Have you looked into Patrick Henry College? It is very home school friendly.

  9. I go to Toccoa Falls College, and I can personally vouch for the classroom experience. Not only is the Bible department solid, but every department integrates faith and learning. Not only that, but the dorm experience is very very good. Besides all that even, there are ways to get connected on this campus. We do outreach events with the community, and there are various ministries on campus. And we have an awesome waterfall!

  10. Yeah I wouldn't suggest Berea College especially if you consider homosexual activity a bad thing. Berea's not that great about tolerating intolerance, and people who can't find a way to be humane toward their fellow man despite philosophical differences will find themselves quickly outcast.

  11. Sounds like Berea is rather intolerant itself. And "people who can't find a way to be humane toward their fellow man despite philosophical differences" would then mean that exclude Berea's student body itself. Both groups seem to have fiercely held beliefs; rejected on either side would qualify as "intolerance."


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