Thursday, May 26, 2016

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F.A.Q.s About This Guide

Can I choose any college in this Guide and get the same kind of Catholic experience as at another?

No! Just as individuals are all different, so are the colleges and universities listed in this Guide. Each campus is unique and has its own charisms and strengths—and depending on what you are seeking, weaknesses. Some offer a complete immersion in Catholicism that permeates every aspect of campus life. These colleges tend to attract students who are already strong in their faith or are looking for an environment where that is the case. On the other hand, some of the colleges recommended in this Guide tend to attract more non-Catholic students looking to take advantage of the superior education a faithful Catholic college offers. At this type of institution, the campus culture will be a little different than the type of campus where most if not all students share a passion for Catholic identity.  It is important to know which type of campus you will be most comfortable at.

What is the special value of a Catholic college education?

A faithful Catholic college provides an open and healthy environment for serious consideration of ideas without the tyranny of harassment, political correctness, or enforced relativism. The same cannot be said for many secular institutions. At the colleges featured in this

Guide, students will also find a vibrant Catholic culture on campus that respects Catholic moral teaching and offers numerous opportunities for spiritual development. Although every campus varies, differences from the typical secularized Catholic campus might include a more active Catholic campus ministry, respect for Catholic values in areas including residential life and campus programs, active pro-life and social justice efforts, community outreach programs, Catholic study groups, etc.

Can I get a good education at Catholic colleges and universities that are not included in this Guide?

This Guide represents the Catholic colleges that we recommend as placing a premium on their Catholic identity in all aspects of campus life. They also provide a good education. Among those colleges not included in the Guide are some with strong academic credentials but that do not have, in our opinion, the same commitment to Catholic identity. The opportunity for strengthening spiritual formation during the college years is enhanced where Catholic teachings are constantly reinforced. We believe that the best combination of spiritual and academic commitment is reflected in the colleges recommended in this Guide.

What is Ex corde Ecclesiae?

It is the Apostolic Constitution on Catholic higher education issued by Pope John Paul II in 1990. The document identifies what constitutes Catholic identity at Catholic colleges and universities and specifies General Norms to achieve a Catholic mission. These Norms are binding on Catholic colleges as an application of Canon Law. In 1999 the U.S. bishops approved guidelines to implement Ex corde Ecclesiae in the United States; these became effective in 2001. Compliance by the U.S. Catholic colleges and universities varies widely. Clearly, a Catholic institution that minimizes or subverts Ex corde Ecclesiae, which has the force of Canon Law, has serious problems with its Catholic identity. All colleges recommended in this Guide enthusiastically support and abide by Ex corde Ecclesiae.

What is a core curriculum?

General education requirements typically help ensure a foundation in the traditional liberal arts; at a Catholic college, these should include theology and philosophy. It is the mark of a good college that students learn not only specialized skills, but also how to think and communicate clearly, how to organize knowledge and thought, and how to apply the truths of the Catholic Faith in their lives. There are two common types of general education. A core curriculum is a set of particular courses that every student must take. It reflects a college’s conviction that particular knowledge and subjects ought to be considered and shared by all students. What is labeled a “core,” however, may be more properly described as a “distribution” curriculum. This allows for some flexibility in choosing electives within required disciplines, so that not every student takes the precise same courses. Interdisciplinary study, which helps students relate truth across disciplines and is encouraged in Ex corde Ecclesiae, is most po
ssible in a core curriculum but may also occur within any well-designed course.

I consider myself more a “doer” rather than a “thinker.” Should I avoid colleges that place a premium on theology and philosophy courses?

No, that would be a mistake. Everyone should be concerned with “First Things”—the natural and supernatural truths that lie at the root of all knowledge and activity—and the best way to do so is to understand what they are and how to address them. You would shortchange yourself by avoiding these academic areas. For a fuller discussion of the importance of philosophy and theology, please read Professor Kreeft’s essay at the beginning of this Guide.

How important is accreditation?

Accreditation can be very important. Problems can result down the road if a student graduates from an unaccredited college. In applying to graduate school, for example, they may find that their undergraduate work is not fully acceptable at the college to which they are applying.

A few colleges in this Guide are not yet accredited because the process of accreditation can take several years. There is a standard process that an aspiring college must follow. The good news is that once accreditation is granted, it applies retroactively. We are impressed by the progress that the non-accredited colleges in this Guide have made, and we are confident that the key question is “when” not “if” they will be fully accredited. Nevertheless, students should discuss this matter with the admissions office at each college and feel comfortable with the accreditation status of the college that is finally selected.

What is the mandatum?

According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, “The mandatum is fundamentally an acknowledgement by church authority that a Catholic professor of a theological discipline is teaching within the full communion of the Catholic Church.” According to Canon Law, every Catholic theology professor must receive the mandatum from his local bishop. Sadly many Catholic colleges refuse to identify theology professors who have the mandatum, and they may not require it as a condition of employment. Colleges in The Newman Guide are different; see their policies in the Q&A section for each college on our online Guide website at

How important is it to select a college with a vibrant spiritual life?

It is critical. While most people assume that colleges help provide a good education and prepare young people for careers, it is also a time for them to strengthen their spiritual life as they mature into adulthood. The best way to be so formed is to be in an atmosphere where the spiritual life, inside and outside the classroom, is emphasized and nurtured. A Catholic college that does this is fulfilling its role.

Is there an ideal residence hall arrangement?

In general, yes. The “hook-up culture” is real and can be a danger to students’ spiritual, psychological, and physical health. Single-sex dorms help students avoid this culture and live chaste lives. Of course, the ultimate responsibility falls on the shoulders of the students, but we believe Catholic colleges have a responsibility to have living arrangements and visitation policies which help students live chaste lives.  Residence halls which provide an atmosphere where chastity is expected are to be especially commended. There are some instances where colleges have males and females in the same dormitory but restrict males and females to different wings or even floors. This may reflect a college’s space or financial limitations. Such an arrangement, while not ideal, might be workable provided the college maintains strict and careful supervision. These arrangements bear close inspection by parents and students.

Alcohol consumption seems to be a problem on college campuses, even at good Catholic colleges. What does this mean for a parent?

Underage and binge drinking are widespread problems and seem to reflect a general permissiveness within the broader society. It is imperative that parents discuss the issue candidly with their son or daughter. While colleges can and do address the issue through lectures and strict policies, it is ultimately the responsibility of the individual student to do the right thing.

Why are there so few larger universities in this Guide?

We recommend colleges that actively live their Catholic identity. Sometimes the larger universities, in an attempt to build a national secular reputation as a research university, feel the need to de-emphasize their Catholicism. Some call it academic freedom or even just diversity, but it often unhinges a college from its traditional Catholic moorings. A large Catholic university can be faithful to its identity if it so chooses. We are hopeful that more will begin to recognize that academic excellence, freedom of inquiry, national reputation and Catholic identity are all compatible.

Some of the colleges in this Guide are small, even very small. Should I be concerned about attending a college with a small student body?

Certainly not. Small colleges can provide great individual attention to student needs. They can help students gain confidence in classroom discussions, develop good relationships with faculty members and forge friendships with other students. But small colleges are not for everyone. Some students prefer the opportunity to interact with a wider range of students, participate in more activities and take advantage of broader course offerings. A student needs to evaluate whether he or she is comfortable with the size of the college based on such issues as his or her personality and academic needs.

I have found a few colleges in this Guide that greatly interest me. What do I do next?

You should visit the online site for this Guide at for more information about the colleges, including contact information. Next, thoroughly investigate the college’s website. If you have questions, e-mail them to the appropriate college representative. Read the campus newspapers (many are online) to learn more about what’s happening on campus—what are the issues, what are the problems, what do students seem to care about? When you feel you have enough information to winnow down your list, visit each campus that has made the cut. The campus visit is essential. Talk to students there, wander around the campus, explore the town, attend Mass and campus events, and speak forthrightly with college representatives. May God bless your search!
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