Misconceptions of a Christian College Education

Interview with Sarah Weber, Licensed Professional Counselor, Christian Colleges Coach, and Olivet Nazarene University Alumnae

Choosing the right college is hard for anyone to do, but Sarah Weber knows it’s that much harder to choose the right Christian college. Weber attended Christian grade school and thought that attending a Christian college would be similar. But she found that each Christian college is unique and incorporates each students’ individual faith differently—quite an important factor to consider when making such an important life decision.

Sarah Weber, Licensed Professional Counselor

Sarah Weber attended the Christian college Olivet Nazarene University to earn both her Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology and her Master of Arts in Professional Psychology degree. She is now a Licensed Professional Counselor (IL) who works as a Spiritual Development and Christian Colleges Coach with, among others, high-school aged individuals who are deciding where to go to school and how to maintain their Christian faith during their time possibly spent far from their church and family.

Weber finds that many people have misconceptions about what it will be like to attend a Christian college and part of her job is to encourage prospective students to prepare themselves with all the knowledge they can to make an informed decision about their futures. Having worked as the Associate Director of Admissions at the Olivet admissions office while she was a matriculating student helped her to see and hear just want prospective students were worried about.

Enjoy our full interview with Sarah Weber, an experienced counselor and coach who knows just what and what not to expect from enrolling at a Christian college.

Tell us more about your education and background. What led you to pursue a Christian education at Olivet Nazarene University and then go into the counseling profession?

Ever since I was a child, I felt a call to pursue Christian ministry in some way; however, I struggled in high school knowing what major or profession to choose in order to fulfill that calling. I chose the counseling profession after dedicating a significant amount of time to prayer and reflection. I prayed for God to reveal any specific direction He had for my life. In addition, I reflected on my personal interests, skills, and personality. As part of that process, I created a mission statement for my life. All of those things combined helped me to narrow my options and identify counseling (especially Christian counseling) as a good professional fit for me.

So, I looked for a Christian college that would allow me not only to earn an undergraduate degree in Psychology, but also one that would allow me to become qualified for professional counseling licensure. I wanted to attend a Christian college for several reasons. Primarily, I wanted my professors to intentionally incorporate a Christian perspective into my classes. That way I would have help integrating secular theories and philosophies within a Christian worldview. I wanted the freedom to use a biblical perspective in class discussions and assignments. Last but not least, I loved the idea of being able to easily connect and form relationships with other people of faith.

When you decided to enroll at a Christian college, did you face any opposition or negativity from friends or family? If so, how did you deal with it?

Thankfully, my friends and family were supportive emotionally and financially with my decision to attend a Christian school. I was very blessed.

You earned both your Bachelors and Master’s degree from the same Christian college, Olivet Nazarene University. How did attending a Christian college benefit you?

On top of helping me reach my professional goal of becoming a licensed professional counselor, attending a Christian college helped me become a more knowledgeable, mature Christian. I furthered my understanding of scripture and scripture interpretation through my Bible classes. I explored spiritual themes or integrated spiritual themes into almost every one of my assigned essays. For my senior project, my research professor even helped me develop an assessment to study the relationship between spiritual beliefs and length of attendance at a Christian school. I also developed Christian friends that have remained some of my best friends since graduation.

What were some of the challenges of studying at a Christian college?

One of the first challenges of attending a Christian college was financial. As I mentioned earlier, my parents were very supportive and helped me pay for college. In addition, I was able to qualify for scholarships and other student aid that helped me pay for Olivet.

Christian schools such as Olivet do have some rules that can seem limiting or annoying at times. For example, I couldn’t wear ripped or paint splashed jeans to class. This rule was a little annoying to me at the time because of course, worn, paint-stained jeans were in style! I also remember a few occasions where I did not want to attend chapel because I was tired or wanted to study, etc. Chapel was mandatory at Olivet (as at many Christian colleges), and attendance was monitored. So, there was no getting out of it! However these issues were so minor especially in light all the other great things about my college experience.

One spiritual challenge I faced (and one I believe faces many attending a Christian college) was to make sure I truly took advantage of the opportunities available to grow deeper in my faith and not just to spend my time enjoying the comfort of being in a Christian environment. Studying at a Christian college provided me with an opportunity to develop deep faith roots that would help me stand firm when I was tested later in life. However, my spiritual growth was not an inevitable part of attending a Christian college. It would have been possible for me to be spiritual stagnate even at a Christian college. This is true especially because it would have been easy for me to trick myself into believing I was growing just because I was surrounded by Christian people and teaching.

How did your experience at ONU shape your current and future aspirations?

Working as a student in Olivet’s admission department helped me discover new areas of interest and strength that led me to pursue full-time work with the school post-graduation. However, completing my counseling internship at Olivet helped me to confirm my desire to work more directly with people to help them grow mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Christian college and spiritual consulting has been a great way for me to marry my professional expertise with my gift and passion for helping others. In the future I plan to expand my areas of consultation.

How do you connect to people who are starting out on a similar faith journey? Do you recommend attending a Christian Education institution?

I connect with college-bound students through the workshops My College Planning Team offers across Chicagoland. I would recommend a Christian school to others who have similar goals such as wanting to grow spiritually and professionally as part of their college experience. However, I would also recommend choosing a Christian college carefully. One size does not fit all. Each Christian college integrates faith a little differently, and it is important to find a school that will really offer what you want.

How did your education help prepare you to be a Christian colleges coach and spiritual development advisor? Can you tell us more about your responsibilities in those roles?

My college education and professional experience combined helped prepare me for being a coach. Working in Olivet admissions for over 7 years helped me develop a wealth of knowledge about colleges and the admission process that can help others. However, my educational training helped me learn how to provide a professional helping relationshipIn my role as a Christian College and Spiritual Development Coach with My College Planning Team, I work with college-bound students to make sure they have a plan to support and feed their faith in college regardless of whether or not they attend a Christian school. This can include goal setting, finding a Christian support system, exploration of spiritual gifts, and more! I also help clients understand the many differences between Christian colleges, create a list of potential Christian colleges, and subsequently assess those colleges to find a good fit.

What part does social media play in spreading the word and message of My College Planning Team?

Social media helps us connect and further develop relationships with parents and their college-bound students. Every member of My College Planning Team contributes to a blog on our website that helps these families prepare for college in every way. We offer additional college prep information on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ including invitations to our free workshops.

Talk about Teen Mania and your time as an intern there. What did you experience there and how does it help you in your position today?

As I mentioned earlier, even as a child I felt called to work in Christian ministry. However, during my junior and senior years in high school I had a difficult time knowing how to match that call with a specific profession or major in college. So, I decided to take a gap year and complete the internship with Teen Mania (a program called the Honor Academy). As part of that program, I worked full-time as an Administrative Assistant to some of the Resident Directors on campus and to well-known author/Christian speaker, Shannon Ethridge. The program also included several spiritual retreats and classes on Christian worldview, leadership, Biblical foundations, and more. As part of the internship training, I was challenged to honor God in every area of my life. I learned ways to assess myself in order to ensure constant spiritual growth. I use these principles when consulting to help students make a plan for feeding their spirit throughout college.

What are some misconceptions people have about Christian colleges? When you’re faced with those misconceptions, what have you done to debunk them?

One of my misconceptions about Christian college was that all the academic curriculum would be distinctly Christian. Having attended Christian grade schools, I assumed the courses would be similar in college. However, I found out that Christian colleges use textbooks that are respected in their given field regardless of Christian authorship. Then, my professors integrated a Christian perspective with the texts through class lectures, discussions, and assignments. So, Christian college education was definitely different than my Christian grade school experiences. In order to help my clients find a good Christian college fit, I help them understand the different ways schools incorporate Christianity and help them learn how to evaluate schools.

While working in admissions for Olivet, I also found that candidates often were concerned that they would feel out of place if they were not a member of the school’s denomination. In the same vein, they were worried that the required religion courses would emphasize specific beliefs of the school’s denominational affiliation. These concerns could not be further from the truth, so when I was an admission counselor I would always let candidates know that Christian colleges want to attract a diverse group of students (including those from other denominations). So, the school’s student body reflects this diversity and welcomes differing perspectives. Any required religious courses focus on general Christian church history and commonly held beliefs. So, no need to worry about fitting in! I am a good example of this fact being from a non-denominational church background and attending a Nazarene school.

What is some advice that you give to students who are considering attending or transferring to a Christian college? How can students prepare themselves for the challenges?

One of the best ways to prepare for attending a Christian college is to really get to know the school you plan to attend. Read all you can on the school’s website, talk to your admission counselor, and visit the school. When you are on campus, take time to talk to students and professors. Do all you can to prepare financially as well by researching and applying for scholarships that may be available to qualified students. And of course, consider working with a college admission coach in order to help make the whole preparation process smoother for you! 

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