Thursday, June 5, 2014

Demystifying Religiously Affiliated Institutions in the United States

By Amy Arcario
Assistant Director of International Admissions, St. John's University

With over 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States, it can be a challenge to narrow the selection down to a few. Degree programs, cost, and location are major factors that will drive your decision. There are other attributes that you might come across during your search and want to consider. Religiously affiliated institutions are among the many different types of schools from which you’ll be able to choose.

Religiously affiliated schools have a long history within the United States. The U.S. Department of Education states that approximately 900 American colleges and universities describe themselves as being religiously affiliated. These schools were founded by or associated with a religious group or organization, including, but not limited to, Roman Catholic, Christian, Jewish, and Islamic faiths.

Some institutions have governing boards that are appointed by the religious body, while others do not. The degree to which the religious affiliation affects the curriculum can vary. For some schools, the religious connection is more historical than foundational. An institution’s mission statement and biographical section on its website should best display the degree of religious influence on its campus culture, as well as provide information regarding how strongly the beliefs impact the academics and the student body.

In most cases, students do not need to practice the same religion in order to attend. In fact, some of the most diverse campuses in the U.S. are religiously affiliated. You should check with individual institutions about the religious course requirements. If you are not required to study the religion itself, you might be required to participate in community service activities. Religiously affiliated institutions are not seeking to convert or impose their beliefs. Instead, many are focused on empowering their study body to learn about their true selves through academics, spirituality and community service. Many of these schools encourage their students to become socially and ethically responsible global citizens through a value-centered education. You might also choose to attend a religiously affiliated institution due to the alignment it has with your own religious beliefs. Studying at a religiously affiliated school that shares your same core values will allow you to cultivate your intellect and spirituality at the same time. 

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St. John’s University is Vincentian in tradition. We seek to follow the teachings of St. Vincent de Paul, which emphasize respect of and service to those in need. Our students are actively involved with volunteerism and mentorship on campus, off campus, and around the world. Some of our service opportunities include:

  • Working with the Midnight Run Organization: Through the Department of Campus Ministry, St. John’s University feeds and clothes people who are homeless in Manhattan. This experience allows the students to have a direct encounter with men and women who are willing to share their stories. St. John’s University students gather to make sandwiches, sort through donations, and bring the items to people sleeping on the streets.
  • Volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House: The Ronald McDonald House of Long Island is an organization that provides the "comforts of home" for families with seriously ill children undergoing critical medical treatment in area hospitals. Throughout the semester, students participate in the family dinner program where they provide a "home cooked" dinner and share in conversation with families staying at the facility.
  • Engaging in the Plunge Program: Students immerse themselves in Vincentian Service in places like Philadelphia, Panama, Lourdes, New Salem, Denver, and New York City. The service opportunities vary and have included agricultural projects, housing restoration, and assisting pilgrims on their journey.

How do you know if it's right for you? As with any college or university, you’ll need to do your research. Visiting the campus prior to making your decision is certainly helpful, however not everyone has the ability to do so. You should start by looking at the website and taking virtual tours, if available. You should also contact the respective International Admissions staff with questions or see if there is the ability to speak with alumni in your area or current students via Skype. 

If you are looking for the opportunity to potentially mix academics and faith, or are willing to extend past your comfort zone and experience a global community, take a look into religiously affiliated institutions. Your findings might prove to be a life-changing experience.


Amy E. Arcario is currently the Assistant Director of International Admissions at St. John’s University in Queens, New York. She has over 10 years experience with international admissions, recruitment and student services. Amy has worked with ESL, undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral enrollment. She enjoys international travel and specializes in international credential evaluation.

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