What Goes Into Choosing a College?

Students share advice about the decision process.

Ariel Aguilar, above, from Ave Maria University, who is shown in front of the campus oratory, says she trusted God throughout her school-choice process. Below, Dolores Mihaliak from the University of Dallas chose
her school after much consideration and prayer; ample prayer time is available at the adoration chapel at Franciscan University of Steubenville.
Ariel Aguilar, above, from Ave Maria University, who is shown in front of the campus oratory, says she trusted God throughout her school-choice process. Below, Dolores Mihaliak from the University of Dallas chose her school after much consideration and prayer; ample prayer time is available at the adoration chapel at Franciscan University of Steubenville. (photo: Courtesy of Ariel Aguilar, Dolores Mihaliak and Jocie Pavia)

Read the Catholic Identity College Guide 2019 here. It features the schools included in the story and many more.

“My process of choosing a college taught me a lot about God’s plan for my life,” said Jocie Pavia, who is from Stratford, Connecticut, and has been studying at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, for the past two years. “It taught me,” Pavia continued, “that if I use my best efforts and try to follow what I believe God has put in my path, he will bless my decision.”

For young men and women seeking to choose the college that will best form them spiritually, intellectually and professionally, Pavia and other current college students stand as examples and sources of both practical and spiritual wisdom.

In fact, the Catholic college students that the Register spoke with all emphasized these three components of a Catholic college — the spiritual, intellectual and professional — as important touchstones in the discernment process.

“First and foremost,” advises Pavia, “pray about your college-decision process. God will make it clear which school he has in mind for you. Start with what is right in front of you, and don’t worry if the process seems simpler than it should be.”

Similarly, Ariel Aguilar, a senior business major from New Orleans who is attending Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, Florida, urges students: “Try not to be anxious. Trust that God is going to reveal his plan when it is time.”

Dolores Mihaliak, of Avon, Connecticut, will graduate from the University of Dallas this year with degrees in theater and business. She emphasizes the importance of considering the practical along with the spiritual in the decision process:

“I think it is very important to start from a practical side, as well. Though we are called to not live of the world, we are called to live in the world.”

Knowing that she wanted to end up working in theater made Mihaliak’s decision clear.

“The University of Dallas offered a solid curriculum and variety of degrees which would enable me to be more competitive for jobs after college. This, alongside the opportunity to be around people of a similar faith and moral background, made it a perfect fit for me.”

Zachary Mercugliano, an engineering student from Durham, Connecticut, who is enrolled in Franciscan’s four- to five-year dual-degree engineering program, says that his selection of schools to apply to “was rooted initially in major availability.” After deciding his course of study, Mercugliano quickly narrowed down his list of schools to the three that offered his desired degree. 

A native of Croydon, New Hampshire, Maria Kepler is a junior nursing student attending the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota. She said that her discernment process focused mainly on her faith.

“When I decided I wanted to go to school for nursing, I knew I wanted to go to a Catholic school,” she told the Register. “I knew I wanted to get the ethical Catholic Church teaching.” While acknowledging that practical concerns and major availability are important factors, Pavia also urged students, “Don’t decide on a school solely for a major, because attending an authentically Catholic university can and will be so much more than a degree, as important as it is.” 

Students express similar opinions that an education from an authentically Catholic university is not just about a degree and a job. It is about the overall character of the school, and, ultimately, about growing closer to Christ as a student.

Caroline Christie, a sophomore from Hamden, Connecticut, attending Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, describes the important characteristics she found at Benedictine.

“Three qualities of Benedictine College that really attracted me were the community, the academic excellence (including the professors), and the abbey on campus. Having the monastery on campus is a huge plus. The monks are all great friends of the campus.”

Students’ stories of their college visits are inspiring reminders of the role faith plays in choosing a college.

“I remember seeing from a distance the oratory. It was the first thing I saw, and from the second I saw it, something changed within me a little bit. There was something inside of me that was calmed for the first time in a long time,” recalled Sam Cimaglio, a senior history major at Ave Maria University who is from Chicago.

Cimaglio had been struggling in his faith for a time leading up to his visit to Ave Maria, and his experience visiting that day inspired him to have hope.

“I went into the adoration chapel,” he continued, “and I said the first prayer I had actually said in my heart in months: ‘Lord, I really like it here — you’ve got to make this happen, because this is just where I am supposed to be.’”

Mercugliano also shared his experience of visiting the adoration chapel at Franciscan.

“It was when I visited the chapel at Franciscan that I realized I wanted to go to Franciscan.” He emphasized the importance of seeking out spiritual solitude during a campus visit. “Find a place to pray while you are there.”

When Aguilar visited Ave Maria, she also had a moment in which she felt strongly that God was calling her to go to school there.

When she and her mother walked into the Mother Teresa Museum at Ave Maria, she saw a photograph “of young Mother Teresa. Her birth name was Agnes, and that is my confirmation saint, and when I saw that, I just knew that I was going to go there.”

Reflecting on this moment, Aguilar advises: “If there is something that really sticks with you that is a big discernment point, don’t be skeptical of it. Be practical, but also have faith.”

Kepler did not visit the University of Mary before deciding to attend, but she came to know that God was calling her to go there through quiet prayer, journaling in adoration and conversation with faith-filled people.

“Once I knew that was where he wanted me,” she said, “I felt so much peace in knowing that it didn’t matter how far I was going to be from home. I knew it was going to feel like home.”

Paulina Hoeing is a student at Ave Maria University.

She was the Register’s intern this summer.


Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito says of discerning one’s college choice, ‘There has to be something that tugs at you and makes you want to investigate it further. And then the personal encounter comes in the form of a visit or a chat with a student or alumnus who communicates with the same enthusiasm or energy about the place. And then that love of a place can be a seed which germinates in your own heart through prayer.’

Choose a College With a Discerning Mind and Heart

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito, assistant professor of theology at the University of Dallas (UD) and subprior (and former vocations director) of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas, drew from his experience as both a student and now monastic religious to help those discerning understand the parallels between religious and college discernment.