When I applied to colleges, I built a spreadsheet that weighed the pros and cons of every school I was considering. Out of the 13 categories, not a single category weighed the impact of the school's community on my spiritual well-being. I assumed that I could get my needs met elsewhere.
As a result, when I started my college education, my spiritual and academic communities were separate from each other. I learned about chemistry in one place with one set of people and about how to live the Kingdom life in another setting, with different people. At first, this arrangement seemed to work fine, but halfway through my freshman year, I began to realize the extent to which my peers and my professors were shaping me. I remember sitting in my living room discussing the prison industrial complex or global poverty with my parents (the details escape me at this point) and suddenly realizing that I had been repeating a lecture given by one of my political science professors, almost point by point. The shock didn’t come so much from what I was arguing, but more from where the argument was coming from. I realized that my new environment had molded my way of understanding the world without my acknowledgment or my consent. It turns out that the people you spend the majority of your time with actually do shape you.
This will be true of any community you join, whether it’s a church or a club, a Christian college or a secular one. Any institution that holds strong beliefs, stated or otherwise, will encourage those beliefs in its members. To be aware of this when going to college allows you to have a say in the type of community that will shape you. If you’re unaware of the power of community, you may be surprised at who you become. Proverbs 13:20 says that “whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” Our companions don’t leave our characters alone, but instead have an active role in shaping who we become, what we honor, and how we treat God and the people created in His image. Thankfully, the impact of a community doesn’t always have to be negative--by walking with the wise, we can grow in wisdom--but the fact that its influence is so pervasive should guide our decision-making when it comes to choosing where to spend the next four years of our lives.
Deciding where to go to college is a huge decision for a multitude of reasons--you have to weigh cost, the quality of the education, the majors and programs offered and whether or not a school provides training that will help you to do God’s work. It can be easy to get caught up in all of these other important factors and forget the power of community. But the community that you surround yourself with has the potential to have the most significant influence on the shape your life will take.