National Catholic Register


College Selection 101

Practical advice for Catholic families making the big decision


August 6-12, 2006 Issue | Posted 8/7/06 at 10:00 AM


This fall, as college students descend upon campuses across the country, 18-year-old Jim Tibble will join the ranks of freshmen at the University of Dayton.

Tibble, who graduated in May from St. Francis High School in his hometown of Wheaton, Ill., is ready to go.

“I’m really excited to get out to Dayton, to start everything and get involved,” he says.

Tibble says he chose Dayton for several reasons.

“I was looking for a small school and continuing my Catholic education,” he says. “My older brother and sister graduated from there, so I had a feel for it. It has a really nice campus and I liked the admissions process — the people were friendly and made it easy. It just seemed right.”

His mother, Kathy Tibble, helped guide Jim’s decision. “You know your children,” she says. “Putting out options you think they might want to pursue will help them decide.”

Catholic families like the Tibbles help their teenage children make this important decision every year.

The Tibble family is accustomed to this process. Five of their children have graduated from Catholic universities, while one is currently attending the University of Notre Dame, and Jim is off to Dayton this fall. Two other children will soon make the decision.

Family support is vital in choosing wisely, notes Art Bennett, director of the Alpha Omega Clinic, a Catholic counseling center in Maryland and Virginia. “Some parents think that children should apply and decide all on their own,” he says. “Others say that the child can only choose from two or three schools. A team approach is needed. Everyone should be excited and enthusiastic about the situation.”

Trudy Rigney, director of guidance at Tibble’s high school, St. Francis, agrees. “Be a really good coach and cheerleader,” she advises. “Parents need to let the child take responsibility for going through the process. With the student about to be going off to college on his own, where he’ll have to do things himself, this serves as a lifestyle learning process.”

Road Trip

Jim Tibble says touring schools helped him decide. “Campus tours gave me a good feel for how I’d fit in at the school.”

Rigney recommends visits to students. “The college visit is one of the most important factors in the decision,” she says. “When they go visit, they can see if it really is the right match for them — or if it’s not quite what they expected.”

Evaluating the teen’s personality and goals can help narrow down a student’s school choices, Rigney says. “I help them to identify their interests and other things that are critical to their college decision — geographical location, size, and other requirements, such as playing a sport,” she says.

Adds Bennett, who co-wrote The Temperament God Gave You (Sophia Press, 2005) with his wife, Laraine, “Help them realize their strengths and weaknesses. Ask, ‘What do you see yourself doing?’”

Rick Sarkisian, PhD, author of Life Work: Finding Your Purpose in Life (Ignatius, 1997), recommends an introduction to the working world through jobs or volunteerism.

“All of that helps a young man or woman test and apply their skills in the real world,” he says. “That has a direct link to making a wise college choice.”

Faith Factor

Many Catholic families send their children to non-Catholic schools. According to the Cincinnati-based Catholic Campus Ministry Association, 90% of Catholic college students — a head count of roughly 4.5 million — attend non-Catholic schools and are ministered to at about 700 Catholic campus ministries across the country.

According to the ministry association, St. Mary’s Catholic Center at Texas A&M University is the nation’s largest Catholic ministry on a non-Catholic campus. Each weekend, 4,000 students attend Mass there.

“Sending your child to a good secular, state school with a good Catholic ministry will give your child the opportunity to grow in faith while in college,” says Father David Konderla, pastor of St. Mary’s. “We have lots of programs students can get involved in, to make good friendships and grow in faith.”

St. John’s Catholic Newman Center at the University of Illinois is also well-respected, with numerous activities at St. John’s Catholic Chapel and an expansion project underway for its dormitory, Newman Hall.

Father Thomas Holloway, assistant chaplain at St. John’s, says sharing the faith in a meaningful way is key when ministering to college students.

“When the message of the Gospel is something challenging, they respond,” he says.

He also says the community atmosphere is important. “We have a full-time community with the hall. It’s not just a building you come to for activities, but a built-in faith community,” he says. “That attracts young people.”

The Fellowship of Catholic University Students is also a positive force at colleges, present on nearly 30 secular and Catholic campuses in 15 states.

The bottom line for Catholic families? Always discern God’s will.

“Don’t put college first,” Sarkisian says. “By having an eternal perspective, with our sights on God’s will, not ours, we’ll make wise choices.”

Amy Smith writes from

Geneva, Illinois.