Marvin Olasky: Choosing colleges


MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Tuesday, September 18th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from member-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. It’s that time of year for college-bound high school seniors. Time for taking standardized tests, writing personal essays, and filling out college applications.

WORLD Editor in Chief Marvin Olasky spent 25 years as a professor at the University of Texas at Austin. And he has a few words of wisdom for students and their parents as they think about where to apply.

REICHARD: Marvin first wrote this essay in 1999 for WORLD Magazine. It’s part of a 2017 book of his columns called World View.

MARVIN OLASKY, EDITOR IN CHIEF: This fall, high school seniors are deciding where to apply to college. Some ambitious students ask one main question: “Which college has the most prestige? They pin their hopes for future success on the brand name on their diploma.

For such students, Yale is automatically better than Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt is better than Auburn. Auburn is better than just about any Christian college, since only a few of the latter are well respected in law school halls or corporate corridors.

Some wealthy parents pay upwards of $200,000 for four years of a designer-label school, even though their children will be lonely sheep among wolves. Parents borrow heavily to provide sons and daughters with a crutch that may encourage laziness when it comes to using talents.

That’s right, a crutch. Students at elite universities can slouch toward graduation and still gain good placements afterwards. A student with the same talent at a less prestigious school has to achieve an excellent grade point average to get to the same place.

The student with a designer-label degree is able to do childish things after graduation and still reenter the fast track. Other students don’t have that luxury. But is that a bad thing? The United States is still a country where intelligence and hard work matter. It’s good for students to know their economic future depends on their efforts.

Serious students may say I don’t care about the label. I want access to the best professors. They should realize that many leading universities practice “bait and switch.” They advertise their famous professors, but assign many undergraduate teaching duties to graduate students.

Students need to ask deeper questions: Where am I most likely to grow spiritually and intellectually? Where am I most likely to find a calling and become well- prepared for it? Where am I most likely to find a godly mate?

After considering those questions, many students will head to a good Christian college that values brains as well as hearts. At a good school professors encourage students to rebel against America’s leading religion—secular liberalism—not Christ.

Some spiritually strong students want the challenge of study at a secular university–but they should be realistic about campus culture. It’s hard to stand up against drugs, alcohol abuse, and secular liberal politics if everyone around is indulging.

Being a missionary at age 18 is not for everyone. But with God’s grace and a biblically orthodox campus ministry and church, students can do well and develop deep friendships. They can also gain needed toughness as they respond to anti-Christian attacks.

The biggest mistake in college-picking comes in demanding bread alone. A woman who searches for a rich suitor is called a gold-digger. The same should be said of a student who selects a college for its designer label.

Bright students don’t need the designer-label crutch. The right college for a Christian is not one that will merely strengthen his resume. It is one that will go the furthest in strengthening heart, soul, and mind.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Marvin Olasky.


(AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File) Yale University graduates in 2013.

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