Latter-day Saint Life

Is a Church college right for your child? 3 things to consider from a college counselor

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Choosing a college can be extra challenging for Latter-day Saints, thanks to some unique factors Church members need to consider.

If you are a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with a child of high-school age, this is the time of year when you may be wondering, “Where should I send my child to college? Should they attend a Church school? Will they be able to serve a mission if they start college now? Will there be other members of the Church for them to hang out with—and date?”

As a professional college counselor, I reached out to college reps, alumni, current students, and parents to try to answer these questions and more.

The Church’s schools—Brigham Young University (BYU, located in Provo, Utah), BYU–Idaho, BYU–Hawaii, and Ensign College (formerly LDS Business College, located in Salt Lake City)—provide excellent post-secondary education options for members of the Church. They each provide incredible educational opportunities and have strong reputations.

BYU is currently ranked no. 89 in national universities, and BYU–Hawaii and BYU–Idaho are ranked no. 7 and no. 14 respectively in Regional Colleges West, according to the U.S. News and World Report. Not to mention that BYU–Hawaii is located in the beautiful setting of, well, Hawaii! Ensign College offers bachelor’s degrees but is mostly known for its job-ready certificates and associate’s degree programs.

Top-notch universities can easily cost $60,000 to $80,000 per year, but I laughed out loud when I recently looked at a Cost of Attendance (COA) spreadsheet and saw BYU listed at $19,000 while the schools above and below it were listed at $76,000 and $80,000 per year, respectively. Generally speaking, in terms of bang-for-your-buck, the Church’s schools are second to none.

Church schools are also conducive to living the gospel of Jesus Christ, as they have honor codes that require students to live the law of chastity, Word of Wisdom, and observe the Sabbath day. Plentiful young single adult wards ensure that there are wholesome activities in abundance.

So, is a Church school right for your student? In college planning there are rarely definitive answers—so as my colleague Evelyn commonly says, “It depends!” There are many factors to consider when choosing a college, and only you can determine which aspects of a college are more important than others.

The two most common factors that determine where a student goes to college are (1) cost and (2) proximity to home (most students attend college relatively close to home). In addition to these factors, one must also consider the quality of academic programs and opportunities in the student’s desired major, the size of the school (which heavily correlates with the student-to-faculty ratio and, in turn, access to professors), how “rah-rah” the school is (big-time sports and school spirit—think UCLA or Ohio State), and even the weather, among many, many other factors.

Factor in special attributes that members of the Church may seek in a college, and there is quite a lot to think about when choosing a college. If it sounds like choosing a college is a lot of work, that’s because it is; but if you are going to invest $300,000 into your child’s college education (or $80,000 if they go to BYU!) then it also seems reasonable to invest some time into the selection process.

You may wish for a comprehensive list of Latter-day Saint–friendly colleges, but I’ve come to realize that Latter-day Saint students can thrive at any institution. Instead of a list of colleges to look at, here are a few vital questions that can guide you as you consider college options for your child.

Is your child comfortable being one of a few members of the Church at their college?

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Rachel, an alum from Georgia State University, says, “I loved the idea of being unique in my religion.” She describes how Latter-day Saints from her school got together with other Church members from Kennesaw State, Emory, Georgia Tech, and local community colleges to form a very active young single adult (YSA) ward, replete with activities.

She recalls with fondness how she and some friends started the “Girl House” where at various times 15 Latter-day Saint roommates had an absolute blast. I asked if she would consider sending her kids to a non-Church school. Her response: “I wouldn’t bat an eye.”

Glen, who went to the University of Victoria in Canada, enjoyed his experience at a non-Church school. “I loved the idea of meeting different people, not just a homogeneous population,” he says. His school had a prominent marijuana culture, but Glen’s take is that “the world is what it is,” and he said he had no problems finding Latter-day Saint-friendly activities to do with his friends.

Mischelle, who graduated from Colorado State University, appreciated that her classmates that attended church did so of their own choice and did not feel social pressure to do so.

On the other hand, if you feel like your student would do better being surrounded by other Latter-day Saints, a Church school might be the right option for them. In addition, there are plenty of non-Church universities who still have high numbers of students who are members of the Church.

I looked in more depth at universities in the “Book of Mormon Belt” (Utah, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming, and Idaho), and my assumptions were confirmed that many universities in these states have multiple YSA wards, robust Latter-day Saint Institute of Religion offerings, or both.

The Church does not track the number of Latter-day Saint students at various universities; however, by using the Church’s Meetinghouse Locator and Institute Class Locator, one can see the number of YSA wards near any university as well as institute courses offered at any particular college, which correlates with the number of active members of the Church at the school.

▶ You may also like: The 6-step guide to thrive, not just survive, in your YSA ward

Is your child planning to serve a mission?

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Many colleges will allow for a two-year deferment, but some will not. Ethan had no issues serving a full-time mission and then returning to Colorado State University—but in contrast, a rep from Washington State University told me they would not allow for a two-year deferment. Check out this list for schools that will allow for deferments of longer than a one year.

While this list can be helpful to give you an idea of what schools allow, you will need to check with an admissions officer at any school you are considering to verify whether an 18-month or two-year deferment is permitted.

What are your biggest priorities?

Here are a few hypothetical questions that illustrate the types of considerations that go into making a college decision:

  • Is it better to stay closer to home or to study politics in the nation’s capital?
  • Go to the college that has a program to study abroad in Rome, or look to graduate from the same college your parents went to?
  • Take the full-tuition scholarship at the school with the oppressive heat, or finally get to watch your favorite college basketball team from the student section?
  • Be one of a dozen members of the Church, or one of 33,000?

Only you and your child can answer these questions, but the most important thing you can do is to start asking them now. Look at cost and proximity to home, and then consider the other things that are important to you. Tour campuses, apply broadly, wait for financial aid offers, and prayerfully consider your options. While searching the internet will produce lists upon lists of the “best” colleges, remember that the true best colleges are the ones that have what your child is looking for. Find that, and you will find a terrific college experience.

If you need more help in the college selection process, contact the author, Chris Savage, at Magellan College Counseling.

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