Does Going to College Kill Your Faith?

Kara Powell | Aug 26, 2009

Photo by Becca Tapert

We launched the College Transition Project at FYI because we wanted to understand how we could better prepare youth group graduates for what awaits them in college. At times, we’ve somewhat used the term “college” loosely to mean life after high school.

It’'s interesting to me how many folks I run into who assume that the college environment is inherently hostile to the Christian faith. Having not been in college for more years than I want to admit in this blog post, I can’t say whether students who attend college have more, or different, challenges to their faith than those who join the workforce or perhaps even the military (and due to the necessarily narrow focus of most all research, we aren’t studying those environments in our current project).

Dr. Christian Smith and his team at the National Study of Youth and Religion have tracked 13-17 year-olds as they become emerging adults. His data can help answer this question: Does going to college— in and of itself—negatively affect a high school graduate’s faith? According to his findings, it doesn’'t. While young adults’ overall level of religiosity declines, it doesn’t decline significantly further for those who attend college. (See Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults for details and more data analysis from this study.)

So let’'s be honest with our students about what they’'ll face in college. Sure, it will be tough and they will certainly face faculty and peers who will challenge their faith. But perhaps it’s not as hostile an environment as we might assume. And that’'s good news.

Kara Powell

Dr. Kara Powell is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Fuller's Chief of Leadership Formation. Named by Christianity Today as one of “50 Women You Should Know,” Kara serves as a Youth and Family Strategist for Orange, and also speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara is the author or coauthor of a number of books, including Growing Young, Growing With, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, Sticky Faith Curriculum, Can I Ask That?, Deep Justice Journeys, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum. Kara lives with her husband Dave and their three children, Nathan, Krista, and Jessica, in Southern California.


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