How to Choose a Program

Selecting from among the best Christian colleges can be challenging, as there are many great schools available. This guide outlines some of the most important factors you should consider as you explore Christian college programs.

Finding a school and program that's right for you is only the beginning of your academic journey. In your decision-making process, you should consider the following questions: Do you want to attend college online or on campus? What type of degree should you earn? What are your career options? And perhaps most importantly, how much do the best Christian colleges cost? Read on to learn more about the different kinds of program delivery, accreditation, types of degrees, and program costs.

Program Delivery: Online vs. On-Campus

Making the choice to study online or on-campus is perhaps the first step in your higher education journey, and each have their challenges and their advantages. One of the biggest advantages of online learning is that students are not bound by their location. If they find a program of interest in another state or across the country, they can still attend without having to relocate. Online programs are also convenient; the asynchronous coursework means assignments can be completed when it is best for the student's schedule. This is flexibility may be important for students who plan to work while in college, or those who have families. Additionally, students attending online programs don't have to pay for transportation, and some colleges even offer in-state tuition rates or other tuition discounts to distance learning students.

One of the biggest advantages of online learning is that students are not bound by their location.

Online programs are just as rigorous as their on-campus counterparts, therefore online students need to be self-disciplined and organized. Distance learners must be willing to reach out to the instructor if they have questions or need additional help. Motivation is also important: Online courses are expected to require the same number of hours as on-campus courses, but students must learn on their own time and at their own discretion.

Factors to Consider When Choosing an Online Program

Hybrid/Blended Learning

Not all online programs are offered entirely online; some are structured as hybrids, which means they blend online and on-campus components. However, this can mean many different things, and programs can range from being offered mostly online to those that are offered mostly on-campus. For example, one hybrid program might only require students to come to campus once or twice while completing the degree, while another hybrid program might include multiple courses that take place on-campus. It's important to understand a hybrid program's expectations prior to enrolling. If a student lives far from campus, travel expenses may accumulate, and working students will have to take time off from their job to complete on-campus classes. However, on-campus requirements provide students a chance to connect with faculty and classmates, and may offer specialized training that is essential for career success. Additionally, even fully online programs may require students to attend an on-campus orientation.

Synchronous or Asynchronous

Online programs can be offered in synchronous or asynchronous learning formats. Synchronous learning means that students are required to log in at certain times each week to watch a lecture or participate in a discussion. Students should think of it as a scheduled class time, but one that can be attended virtually. This is a common feature if a program is offered both online and on-campus; often online students watch and participate in the live lecture that is taking place on campus. Asynchronous learning, on the other hand, is the most flexible of the two. Students can log in at any time during the week to read the materials and complete their assignments, such as participating in online discussions with their classmates. While both formats offer location flexibility, students who work and have multiple commitments should ensure that synchronous courses do not conflict with their schedules.

Class Size

Students often consider average class size when investigating on-campus programs, but it is also a key factor with online learning. Class size may be described in terms of student-to-faculty ratio, which is the number of students per faculty members, often in the overall program. Just as a lecture class of 200 students and one faculty will provide little individual interaction with the faculty, the same can be said of an online course with 200 students. A larger class size may mean less contact with faculty, and it can also indicate that faculty will have less time to respond to questions, comment on papers, or interact in class discussions. Great online programs can provide students with quality learning from highly experienced faculty, but that won't be possible if faculty are overwhelmed. Before choosing a program, check a college's student-to-faculty ratio and average class size. Many colleges have different ratios and class sizes for online and on-campus programs, so be sure that the numbers provided are for online programs.

Personal Learning Style

Every student has their own learning style. Some students learn best by watching videos, others prefer readings, and some need hands-on activities to absorb the material. While some online programs have made an effort to include educational activities and delivery methods that appeal to a variety of learning styles, others may only include video lectures or assigned readings. It's important to ask a prospective online program what types of activities to expect, as they may not suit all learning styles. For example, if a student learns best by reading but most course activities include watching recorded lectures or listening to podcasts, the student may need to put in extra time to learn the material. Ideally any prospective program, whether online or on-campus, will include a variety of activities in order to support different types of learners.

Clinical Rotations or Internships

When learning about online programs, it's essential to know whether any required components must be completed in-person. This could involve coming to campus for certain classes, but it can also include completing practicums, internships, or clinical rotations. These experiences are often valuable for students because they provide hands-on education and expose students to prospective job environments related to their degree. Many online programs allow students to complete these in-person requirements in their own localities, rather than having to travel to campus. Some even allow students who are currently employed to use their current workplace as an internship or clinical site, providing they work in a different department and their responsibilities are unlike their typical job-related tasks. Online schools are less likely to have placement sites near every one of its online students, therefore students may be responsible for finding their own placements. Students will also need to be ready for the time commitment required to complete these curricular components.

Choosing an Accredited Program

When choosing among the best Christian colleges, it's important to make sure that the institution is accredited. A school's accreditation means that it has been evaluated by its peers and has met or exceeded certain regional or national standards. If an institution is approved, they are accredited for a certain number of years before they undergo another review.

Not only does institutional accreditation ensure that students receive a strong education, it is also important for financial aid purposes. Students must attend an accredited college to qualify for federal financial aid. Students interested in a certain college can search for the institution to ensure it is accredited, or students can search for specific programs to find an accredited institution that offers that program. If an institution is accredited, that applies to both their online and on-campus programs. Some programs that are online-only may be nationally accredited by an agency specifically for distance education.

National vs. Regional Accreditation

There are two main types of institutional accreditation: regional and national. Regional accreditation is determined by geographic location, and is considered the highest form of accreditation. National accreditation is more specific to types of schools, such as those related to certain trades or careers. There are also national faith-related accrediting organizations that accredit schools who focus on certain religious studies.

Attending either a regionally or nationally accredited institution allows a student to qualify for federal financial aid. Students interested in transferring should note that many regionally accredited colleges only accept transfer credit from other regionally accredited institutions, and many require graduate applicants to hold a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited college. All colleges should note their accrediting body on their website. Students can also search for an institution to learn what type of accreditation it holds and then review the list of accreditors to see if it is regional or national.

Programmatic Accreditation

Most schools receive institution-wide accreditation. However, individual programs and schools can also receive a specific, industry-focused accreditation. Programmatic accreditation ensures that a program meets certain industry standards and their curriculum is current and up-to-date. Individual programs can also be accredited without institutional accreditation, such as a medical-related program offered at a hospital. Students interested in a career that requires licensing or certification should note that some licensing requirements will require a degree from an accredited program.

These programmatic -- or specialized -- accreditors are generally advocates for their type of specialized accreditation, and work to advance the related industry or profession. Other specialized accreditors might be professional organizations. Some examples of programmatic accrediting agencies are the Council for Interior Design Accreditation, the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, ABET, and the Commission of Collegiate Nursing Education. Generally, programs will state their specialized accreditation, and students can often search for programs on a specialized accreditor's website.

Career Goals

If a student knows their future career prior to entering college, they will have a better idea of the academic path that they need to pursue to reach that career. However, many undergraduate students enter college undecided on their careers plans, and may only know that they want to attend one of the best Christian colleges in the country. Below are a few program factors -- such as degree level and careers -- that may help determine the path to a student's ideal job.

Degree Level

Students choosing the best on-campus and best online Christian colleges need to consider the degree level they plan to pursue, as not all degrees are available at every college. Many careers have minimum degree requirements, especially those that mandate licensure or certification. Degrees vary in terms of time commitment, ranging from two years for an associate degree to up to eight years for a Ph.D. Costs vary as well, with longer programs necessitating higher costs. However, as students earn subsequent degrees, their career opportunities also increase.

Associate Degree
An associate degree typically requires two years of full-time study, and students earn an associate of arts or an associate of science. Associate degree holders may choose to transfer into a four-year program or pursue careers in hospitality, nursing, or business administration.
Bachelor's Degree
A bachelor's degree often takes four years of full-time study. Students interested in graduate study must first complete a bachelor's degree. Common careers of bachelor's degree holders include software engineer, social media manager, and account manager.
Master's Degree
A master's degree is a type of graduate degree, and typically takes one and a half to two years of full-time study. A master's degree may be required for certain careers and may also lead to increased income. Master's degree holders might pursue careers in business administration, education, engineering, and counseling.
Doctorate Degree
Doctorate degrees include research degrees (Ph.D. or Ed.D.) and professional doctorates (JD or Pharm.D.). Many times, professional doctorates relate to specific careers, while most Ph.D. graduates work in academia. Applied or professional doctorates can be completed in three or four years, but a Ph.D. may require eight years to complete.

Explore Careers

Many of the best Christian colleges can prepare students for careers in community and social service. Several of these careers are listed below, along with the requirements and median salaries for each.

Common Careers and Salary
Occupation Minimum Degree Required License/Certification Required? Median Salary
Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors Bachelor's State license may be required $43,300
Marriage and Family Therapists Master's State licensure required $48,790
Mental Health Counselors Master's State licensure required $43,300
Rehabilitation Counselors Master's State licensure may be required $34,860
Child, Family, and School Social Workers Master's State licensure required $44,380
Healthcare Social Workers Master's State licensure required $54,870
Social and Human Service Assistants High School Diploma or Associate Degree None required $33,120
Clergy Bachelor's N/A $47,100
Directors, Religious Activities and Education Bachelor's N/A $39,980

Cost and Financial Aid

When exploring a Christian program or college, tuition is a major factor. Program costs can vary based on the type of degree, the time needed to complete the program, program fees, and room and board. One of the main factors in tuition cost is the type of college the student is attending. Below is an overview of the different types of schools, and how their costs and aid offerings may differ.

Public vs. Private Schools

One of the main factors in tuition is whether a college is private or public. In general, public colleges were founded by state governments for the state's residents, and state governments pay a portion of the university's operating costs. Private colleges don't usually receive funds from the state, so they are funded by tuition and donations. A college's funding model is directly tied to their tuition rates, as money from the state allows public colleges to offer lower tuition, while private colleges require tuition to operate. Both public and private colleges and universities offer financial aid, including federal financial aid such as loans, grants, and work-study. Scholarships are available, as well, and can be granted based on merit or need.

Private and public colleges may also differ on student-to-faculty ratio and degree offerings. Private colleges usually feature less students, so they have a lower student-to-faculty ratio. Conversely, public universities are often very large, which allows them to offer many different types of degrees. While private colleges usually don't have the number of programs and degree offerings found at a public university, private colleges often specialize in certain areas such as technology, liberal arts, or other specific fields.

In-State vs. Out-of-State Schools

While public universities are often much less expensive than private colleges, tuition prices at public colleges depend on a student's residency. As mentioned previously, public colleges were initially intended for state residents, so in-state students pay lower tuition than out-of-state students. As seen in the table below, out-of-state students pay over two and a half times as much as in-state students. State residents may also be eligible for specific resident grants.

It is sometimes easier for residents to be accepted to their state public universities. Public universities are often more selective of their out-of-state students, and out-of-state admissions to public universities can become as competitive as private colleges. While out-of-state students pay higher tuition at public universities than in-state students, tuition is generally still less expensive than at a private college. The table below shows the average in-state, out-of-state, and private college tuition prices.

In-State vs. Out-of-State College Tuition Prices
  2016-2017 2017-2018
Public Four-year In-State College $9,670 $9,970
Public Four-Year Out-of-State College $24,820 $25,620
Private Four-Year Nonprofit College $33,520 $34,740
Source: CollegeBoard

Two-Year vs. Four-Year Schools

When considering public colleges and universities, students can attend a two-year or four-year institution. Two-year colleges -- or community colleges -- generally offer courses that lead to associate degrees, and usually do not offer four-year degrees. A two-year degree is often less expensive than a four-year degree because it takes half the time to complete. However, some four-year colleges and universities also offer associate degrees. Usually an associate degree earned at a four-year college is more expensive than one earned at a two-year college because community colleges are less expensive than four-year colleges. For that reason, students should consider earning an associate degree at a two-year college before transferring to a four-year college.

Much like the out-of-state and in-state tuition differences, community colleges are less expensive for state and district residents. The table below compares the tuition prices of public two-year colleges for district residents to public four-year colleges for state residents.

Two-Year and Four-Year College Tuition Prices
  2016-2017 2017-2018
Public Two-Year In-District College $3,470 $3,570
Public Four-year In-State College $9,670 $9,970
Source: CollegeBoard

Online vs. On-Campus Programs

Students deciding between online or on-campus programs should also note the difference in costs. For example, some public colleges with online programs allow out-of-state students to take advantage of in-state tuition. Online programs at private colleges might charge lower tuition to online students. In addition to tuition, fees are a huge factor in college cost. Traditional college fees have doubled since 2000 , and many online programs charge significantly lower fees than their on-campus counterparts. In most cases, online students are eligible for financial aid, but there may be a minimum number of credit hours required to qualify.

Online programs save students money in many other ways, as well, including on transportation, parking, and room and board. Students who would have to pay for childcare can change their schedule to accommodate their needs, and many online students are able to continue their careers. Room and board is one of the largest expenses -- after tuition -- and below is a chart comparing room and board fees at public and private colleges.

Room and Board Fees
  2016-2017 2017-2018
Public Four-Year In-State/Out-of-State College $10,480 $10,800
Private Nonprofit Four-year College $11,850 $12,210
Source: CollegeBoard

Program Reputation

Students deciding among the best Christian colleges in the U.S. may also consider program reputation. This may be especially pertinent in specialized disciplines that have programmatic accreditors. A program with a good reputation, including strong faculty credentials and high job placement rates, may give program graduates an extra boost in their chosen fields.

Job Placement Rate: If the job placement rate is not listed on a program's website, check with the college's career services. They may have specific placement rates for programs or an overall employment rate for the college's recent graduates.

Teacher Credentials: Most colleges are eager to boast their professors' credentials. Colleges usually list the percentage of faculty with terminal degrees, and programs often have faculty highlights that describe the education and professional background of selected professors.

Accreditation Status: Schools and programs with specialized accreditation may be more well-regarded in the field. Most programs and schools note on their program website if they hold programmatic accreditation, or students can search through the programmatic accreditors.