Over the past couple of weeks, Brooke Ternes and I have posted about surviving Bible College/Seminary. Brooke’s post can be found here, while mine is located here. As important as it is for you to be able to survive Bible College or Seminary, it is also important to know how to pick the school that is best for you. Instead of simply focusing on Bible schools, I want to broaden the discussion to simply picking a school. Below are a few steps I recommend everyone take when looking at furthering their education.
Spend time in prayer. I know that some people may feel that this is a bit cliché, but I believe that prayer is an extremely important part of the process of picking a school. Sometimes people may feel that we simply pray because, as Christians, we are supposed to, but I distinctly remember in my process of selecting schools for my masters and doctoral studies, the Lord spoke to me about my pursuits. As I was making final decisions regarding attending the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, I remember one Sunday at church a guest speaker coming and parting a crowd of people—I was at the very back—in order to speak a prophetic word over me and pray for me regarding the formal ministry training to which God had called me. As I was making decisions regarding doctoral studies, God spoke to me through various members of my Christian community simply confirming that it was indeed what He was calling me to do.
Determine what you want to study. When it comes to degree programs, you will quickly learn that every school is different. Two schools might offer degrees in education, but the program experiences may be very different. Investigate what schools have the programs you are interested in. Then find out as much about those particular programs at your schools of interest. If looking at schools for doctoral studies, there are two factors that you must weigh: (1) Does the school offer the program in which you are interested; and (2) Who are the professors at the school working in your desired area?
Talk with current students. Don’t get me wrong; admissions counselors are great! At the same time, they often present the school in the best possible light. When preparing to take the next step in your education career, it’s always good to know the good, the bad, and the ugly. Because of this, I always find it beneficial to speak with a current student or an alumnus. While admissions counselors are paid to do what they do, students don’t have a job on the line and often speak freely regarding their experience. It is true that if you ask to speak with a current student, the institution gets you in contact with them, but it is rare that these individuals will provide you with their honest take on the school they attend.
Consider the structure of the program and location of the school. When looking at schools, program structure and school location are vital components. How much do you plan on changing your life for the sake of your education? If you are young and single, there may not be much to consider, besides how you’re going to pay for school. If you are married, older, and pastoring a congregation, there may be some other issues you need to explore. Raising questions about how much of the program must be completed in residence is usually a good idea. The availability of online and/or modular courses are other features of academic programs that may have positive benefits, while not functioning as life-altering scenarios. Remember, if you are married and/or have children, you don’t want your family to become embittered by YOUR accomplishment. You want your family to rejoice in the achievement made by the FAMILY in seeing you walk across a platform.
Investigate accreditation. Some might say that I have an academic bias toward accredited institutions. I’ll agree that I do. Accreditation is extremely important if you plan to further your education, so ALWAYS look into the accreditation of the schools to which you are applying. If the school is not accredited, please make sure that institutions accepting your courses for further education are schools you are willing to attend.
There’s so much more, but these five tips should serve as a firm foundation on which to build in selecting a university, college, or seminary.