Ask Richard: My Younger Brother is Planning to Attend Bible College. May 2, 2011

Ask Richard: My Younger Brother is Planning to Attend Bible College.

Note: Letter writers’ names are changed to protect their privacy.

One of my little brothers is graduating high school this year and has been trying to figure out which school to attend. I’ve been trying to persuade him to leave this small town and go experience college life somewhere else. I just heard from my Mom that he is planning on going to a small non-accredited bible college in California. Obviously I think this is a terrible idea, not only because I disagree with what they will be “teaching” him, but because it is such a waste of money and time.

I’ve always had a lot of hope for this brother, he is very open to discussions of faith, and he seems to be a lot more level headed than the rest of my family, even more than I was at his age. I can’t help but feel like my parents are pressuring him into this to try to keep him “walking with god” or something. When my wife and I have talked to him about these things he has expressed some doubts about religion. Because of this I think that with a persuasive enough argument he might change his mind. The thought of him spending 2 years at this “college” is just devastating to me, especially if it is mostly due to parental influence rather than his personal beliefs.

How can I get through to him and convince him that this is a terrible idea? He is such a bright/nice kid with a ton of potential and I would hate to see him waste it like this.


Dear Evan, The main thing is to keep that dialogue with your brother open, positive and respectful. Your love for each other over your lifetimes is far more important than what classes he’ll be taking for the next two years, and is far more important than differing opinions about spooks in the sky. Don’t risk the treasure for the trifles. If you want to persuade him to consider a different college, focus on the practicalities of his starting a career, rather than on your objections to reinforcing his religion. A few people are able to get higher education for its own sake, but most people attend college for the purpose of starting a career. The often-asked question “What are you going to do with it?” usually refers to job prospects in a profession. Arm yourself with actual facts that you can show your brother, not just tell him. Help him to see that unless he is interested in entering the clergy, an unaccredited college of any kind will seriously limit his options. Professional positions that require college degrees almost always specify that they must be from accredited colleges or universities. If he starts there and then wants to continue studying at an accredited college, he might not get credit for his early classes and would have to restart from zero.

However, he might not yet know if he even wants a profession. For many young people, the first two years of college are more about learning about themselves than learning college subjects. Their self image begins to increase, and their concerns about pleasing their parents begin to diminish. They will often begin their studies with a major that is what their parents expect and approve, but after a year or two they will change their major to something that reflects their individual interest.

Find out if he is experiencing monetary pressure, not just emotional pressure to attend that Bible college. Your parents may have told him that they are not willing to fund his attending a secular college, or there might be other conditions they have laid out. If so, help him to be self-assured enough to negotiate with them about the practicalities of accredited vs. unaccredited colleges, rather than secular vs. religious colleges. It would probably be better that you not get directly involved in that discussion, but if you do, be very careful. Your parents might see you as butting in and wanting only to get your bother to stop “walking with God,” and they will become even more uncompromising.

Keep your remarks to him affirmative, asking him what he is for, rather than telling him what he should be against. Encourage him to be true to himself rather than telling him to resist the influence of your parents. Otherwise you’ll run the risk of your motive being more about your own conflict with your parents, and less about him finding whatever is best for him. Instead of countering their pressure with your own pressure, give him confidence that he can make his own decisions, find his own way, and build his own life. Be the person who has always been unconditional in your love and support, while others have been pushing their agendas.

Even if he ends up going to that school, don’t be too upset. If he is already openly expressing some doubts about religion to you and your wife, then I expect that living away from home and attending any college, even a Bible college, will tend to increase that doubt. That process might just be a little slower than at a secular college. Even if the classes he takes there will not count toward further education, it’s not all a waste. Along with the Bible, the English, the Math, and all the rest, he will be taking courses of study called “Who Am I 101,” and “Introduction to Real Life.” Those lessons are never a waste, and will always be applicable to anything he pursues.


You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. Please keep your letters concise. They may be edited. There is a very large number of letters. I am sorry if I am unable to respond in a timely manner.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Mihangel apYrs

    I can only agree Richard. When I went to university decades ago and in the UK I had a grant from the govt, and when I left work wasn’t so circumscribed and specialised. Now unfortunately that is a luxury few can achieve.

    So, my advice to him would be:
    go to the best college/uni you can get into. If you have little idea what you wnat to do afterwards choose courses etc that don’t close doors.

    Prove you can THINK and ANALYSE, and put heart soal and imagination into your work

  • Silent Service

    Just keep asking him how he plans to pay back his student loans working at McDonalds. It’s hard enough to find a job but virtually impossible to do so if your school isn’t accredited.

  • Hugh

    Going to a bible college pretty much locks you into a career in the ministry. Ask the brother if that is what he has his heart set on.

  • We persuaded a Christian student to go to a secular college, but we didn’t do it alone. She started taking voice lessons from a professor at the college she now attends. He told her that her degree from the Christian college would be worth nothing. Since we’d told her the same thing, the message eventually sunk in. However, I almost attended a Christian college even though I was already an atheist. It just seemed like another option. It would be great if you could take this kid to a few cool secular colleges for campus visits, he might fall in love with one of those colleges.

  • Marie T

    My youngest brother in law attended this sort of a college and he married a woman who was also attending. They have tens of thousands of dollars worth of student loans now and she can’t get any sort of a job, he is stuck working minimum wage. They’ve resorted to living with her parents because they can’t afford anything after their monthly loan payment. This is a problem I have seen with people attending accredited state universities as well, although to a lesser degree. Before attending any college, people should have at least some idea of what they want to do once they are out and plan their education accordingly. Going just for the sake of going to college is not a good idea unless financial concerns are nonexistent.

  • JenV

    Encourage him to be true to himself

    This. Every single time.

  • Lauren S.

    If he wants to go to religious school, the most important thing is to encourage him to go to a school that is accredited. then if he changes his mind about being at a religious school, at least his credits will transfer!

  • Lizzy

    I think that the best course of action in this situation may be to point out Christian Universities that are accredited and known for being academically rigorous. That may not be the option that you desire, but it is certainly superior to getting a useless piece of paper. I know several people who did their undergraduate work at Christian colleges and went on to successful non-ministry type careers, granted none of them are biologists or geologists… There are many majors at most quality Christian schools that don’t rely heavily on the Bible. Sure they’ll take crap classes like “prayer in nursing” but that seems like a small price to pay for a worthwhile degree. There are several well known Catholic schools that are nearly secular for all practical purposes. Notre Dame and Gonzaga being two of them.

  • ACN


    Everything Richard said was spot on.

    I may be off base, but if your brother is going to a small bible college in Cali, I might guess that he is presently living in Cali. If so, something specific you could mention is the strength of the California system of junior/community colleges. I have a few friends who used this system to transfer into big name places like UC Berkeley and UCLA! If your brother isn’t sure what he wants to do, and wants to keep his options open, it could be a great plan to attend one of these schools and use it as a springboard to further academic choices.

    The best part? Whether he does or doesn’t want to continue, he is only out a relatively trivial amount of money compared with the large sunk costs associated with attending a private (or even some public!) 4-yr institutions.

  • Parse

    I was going to write a long rant here about unaccredited schools, but Richard said it better than I could:

    Help him to see that unless he is interested in entering the clergy, an unaccredited college of any kind will seriously limit his options. Professional positions that require college degrees almost always specify that they must be from accredited colleges or universities. If he starts there and then wants to continue studying at an accredited college, he might not get credit for his early classes and would have to restart from zero.

    If money is an issue, you should check out the local community colleges. It’s a legitimate, affordable, and smart plan to take two years of classes at a community college, and then transfer those to a four-year college.

  • It may be the case that he simply finds Christianity (or perhaps the origins of Christianity) fascinating and wants to learn more about it. He therefore is receptive to the idea of going to this particular “bible college” to gain this understanding.

    If this is the case, you could let him know that there are alternative ways to learn about Christianity (and its origins) other than going to this particular “bible college”. One excellent (free) opportunity is to download and listen to a really good “Open course” provided by Yale University:
    Introduction to New Testament History and Literature.

    You can listen to it either from this iTunes U link or individually download the mp3 files from this link.

    I personally recently downloaded all the mp3 files and loaded them on my iPhone to listen to while on vacation. It was a very interesting course. If he is a bible-thumper before scholarly looking at the bible, he won’t be after he does. Once you understand how, why, when, and by whom to the different parts of the bible were written, you will be forced to let go of much of what you were taught in Sunday school.

    I would encourage you to get him to listen to this course and then consider getting a more secular education that better prepares him for life.

  • Dan

    A few years before my deconversion I went to Bob Jones University, the infamous unaccredited school, for a year and I wholeheartedly agree that the most important thing to stress is that an unaccredited college severely limits a person’s chances to get a really good job or go to graduate school. My year was a complete waste of time and money, I had to redo all the classes when I transferred to my state school, and it cluttered up my transcripts and made my application to medical school look highly suspicious. I could tell the admission committee was fishing to see if my going to an extremely conservative, unaccredited Christian school was indicative of me being too closed minded to be a compassionate doctor (although I was still accepted to a great medical school).

    When I was at Bob Jones I heard numerous horror stories, a nurse was forced to get a second Bachelor’s degree in nursing because Nurse Practitioner schools wouldn’t recognize her unaccredited undergrad degree, there was only one medical school in the nation that would even regularly consider Bob Jones graduates, pre-law students pretty much only got into Christian law schools, the few graduates who worked in high-powered positions almost exclusively were working at Christian companies, and many people who wanted to go on to graduate school had to remain at Bob Jones because no secular school would take them.

    I agree that a couple years at a good community college near home would be a much better choice than an unaccredited college, if he doesn’t want to go to start at a secular university. Although it might not be ideal from a nontheistic point of view, there are a number of fairly conservative protestant Christian colleges that are regionally accredited and will still leave open a lot of doors for graduate programs and decent jobs (I assume that he is a protestant, if not I can list some good Catholic schools). Tell him to look into Wheaten, Crown College, Calvin College, Loma-Linda, Azusa Pacific University, Seattle Pacific University, Baylor, Gordon College, and Pepperdine.

  • Jon Peterson

    The irony of all this is that Google’s ad delivery system decided it would be smart to put an ad for Mid-America Christian University at the top of this page. 😛

    Oh, automated systems… how inhuman you are. <3

  • walkamungus

    Totally agree with Richard & others that you should help your brother focus the discussion with Mom & Dad on accredited vs. non-accredited colleges. Even if he is interested in entering the clergy (at this point in his life, anyway), he should study at an accredited school.

  • Carlie

    He also doesn’t have to worry that a state college is some den of iniquity that will strip his faith away – pretty much all public colleges do have several religious student groups on campus to choose from.

  • Trace

    I agree with Dan, Parse and Carlie: Community colleges have a lot to offer and overall are more “affordable” than other options.

    Don’t antagonize him though, if he decides to follow his own path.

    Good luck to your sibling!

  • I had a classmate in college who had gone to a “College of Evangelism” essentially a similar type two year Bible college, and not accreditied. Since he wanted to be a pastor he had to start all over to get a degree from an accredited school, especially so he was able to enroll in the MDiv program at the seminary.

    Even in that highly religious environment, five years of studying theology (between undergrad and graduate study) was enough to turn me into an atheist.

    My brother challenged my choice of major and career path, all that did was piss me off and further my otherwise weak resolve. Don’t make his mistake.

  • Kan

    Ditto on the accreditation, and the atmosphere may take care of the rest. I had a student who graduated from our small conservative high school and town, having received the standard indoctrination, went to an albeit accredited christian school – then left because of the constant pressure to go to chapel and the judgment of her peers as to who was more “christian” in knowledge and behavior. She hated it and transferred to a secular school in Dallas and is happy as a clam.

  • todwith1d

    O Brother, Where Art Thou ?

  • this is a sore topic for me. as a former admissions officer for a top 20 college, i have many stories, personal and poignant, about applicants who chose bible camp over real college. there are many reasons why students choose to go to these places. so don’t be too harsh on the ones who make a poor choice. standing up to family and community is hard.

    the hardest for me is the one i fought to bring out of his family’s jeebus world. he was gifted. special. and so very wasted in the intellectual wasteland of super-puritan fundie belief. his dad was a bigtime pastor, his mom a robot, his siblings ordinary and conformist. but he almost understood why he could escape all that, and join the community of civilized people. oh, i tried so hard with him, to gently break him out of his shell. he was like a young hawkings, or edison. just, wrapped inside a religious veil. in the end i failed, and he went to podunk not accredited bible vacation camp school and threw his life away. i have always been sad about that, even as i have “success” stories with other students.

  • P.

    If it’s the religion that’s important for your parents, you could always suggest some accredited YET Christian-affiliated colleges. There are quite a few nice little liberal arts colleges in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, for one, that are mostly religious-affiliated in some way yet still good schools. St. Olaf, for example, requires that you take a religion class and has optional church services every day… but also a really, really strong academic atmosphere (not to mention a strong GSA/PFLAG group… :D). There’s a lot of others in the area, although they tend to vary in… Bibleness? Bibleocity? Whatever.

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