For many high school students, picking a college can be the first big, stressful and life-changing decision that they have to make in their life. With thousands to choose from, how in the world can one ever decide on a college, let alone make the right decision? 

This is the topic of Dr. John Jackson’s new book, The Right Choice: Choosing a College and Why it Matters. Dr. Jackson, a former pastor and current president of William Jessup University has a Ph.D. in Educational Administration and Organizational Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara. He has a heart for higher education, organizational leadership and students.

In an interview with The Daily Citizen, Dr. Jackson gave several great pieces of wisdom for high school students as they begin to make large life decisions, such as choosing a college. 

First, Dr. Jackson emphasized the importance of making a good, thoughtful college decision. He said, “Your faith is your most important decision, and then marriage is probably second, but where you go to school, where you live, who your friends are, those are massive and life-altering decisions.”

When making important decisions, sometimes too much of a good thing can hinder you in your decision making. Dr. Jackson stated that, “I’ve seen some people have 10 or 15 choices and that’s just too much. It’s too confusing. At some point you have to narrow it down, so I think you make a very thoughtful, careful decision, clarify your values, and I encourage people not to consider more than 3 to 5 college options.”

Another piece of wisdom Dr. Jackson provided is to consider college options that are closer to home, and not clear across the country. “I think a lot of people think they have to go across the country if they’re really going to be grown up. They think they have to go somewhere 2,000 miles away. 80% of college students within America go to school within 400 miles of their home. You want to be within the rough geography of your family.”

An additional factor is what style of school the student wants to go to since there are good arguments for attending a public university, a private university or a faith-based school. What factors should families take into account when deciding between these three options?

As a private, faith-based university president, Dr. Jackson favors that path. “If you can go to a faith-based school, it can help shape your worldview, help sow into your spiritual life and if you can do that maximizing scholarships and minimizing debt, then I’m 1000% for it,” Dr. Jackson said. But there are four reasons why a student might want to choose a public university including, “cost, name-recognition of the university, the degree – since most private and faith-based schools might have fewer degrees, and the diversity of the student body.”

If a student does decide to attend a public university, Dr. Jackson advises students to do three things: “First, make sure you have a super clear biblical worldview. Second, if you’re in a public university or a private university that is not faith-based, you have to connect to a thriving local church, and third, you have to be connected to a vital campus ministry.” 

Dr. Jackson said: “If you decide to go to a public university, you should absolutely make sure your biblical worldview is clear because you’re going to get hammered on a public-school campus. At public universities, there is a level of animus and hostility against people of faith and against your biblical worldview; it’s going to be a full-on assault. Don’t go into battle alone.”

In moving on to what students should be particularly focused on in college, Dr. Jackson provided three helpful goals for students. “First, deepen your spiritual life. Second, cultivate your learning skills. And third, equip yourself for a vocation.”

Lastly, Dr. Jackson added: “If you’re a follower of Jesus, your faith should be the core of the concentric circles that help make your choices. You should pray and say, ‘Jesus, what will this next season of my life be all about?’ Your faith should be the core of everything. You start with your faith, and then that ripples out.”

As a former high school and college student, there is one piece of advice I would add to Dr. Jackson’s great wisdom. I would urge every high school and college student to read and study apologetics. In an increasingly post-Christian country, being able to defend your faith and the reason you believe in God, Jesus and Scripture is just as important as studying Scripture itself. Dr. William Lane Craig, a prominent Christian author, theologian and philosopher, provides great resources for those looking to defend their faith. 

Though making a college decision can be nerve-wracking, it is possible to make an informed, faith-filled decision. We’re grateful for Dr. Jackson’s time to help students navigate that path and to help students thrive on a university campus.

Dr. Jackson’s book, The Right Choice, can be found here.