Choosing the Right Catholic College

This article was originally written by Andrew Ellison, VP for Enrollment Management at the University of Dallas.


While all genuinely faithful Catholic colleges share core values, each institution has its unique culture, customs, and strengths. Even with similar fundamental orientations, no two colleges are identical. To find the right Catholic college for you, consider these factors:

First, understand the essence of a college or university. Pope St. John Paul II described a university in Ex Corde Ecclesiae as a place “dedicated to research, to teaching and to the education of students who freely associate with their teachers in a common love of knowledge” (Ex Corde 1). A university is meant to expand knowledge about human, natural, and divine realities. Therefore, the primary consideration should be the academic disciplines most passionately pursued at the institution. Look for a commitment to both a general, liberal education (e.g., a core curriculum) and specialized disciplines. Consider the balance between learning for its own sake and career preparation. The key question is: What can I learn deeply here? Seek an institution that excels in the subjects you are passionate about.



Second, assess the rigor of the colleges and the caliber of fellow students. Examine average standardized test scores, selectivity rates for admission, and qualifications for academic scholarships. Visit each school, sit in on classes, and observe student engagement. Do the students embody the intellectual qualities you admire and aspire to? Determine if the college will challenge you academically and intellectually. Ensure it is a place where you will fit in and grow in the way you desire.

Third, recognize that each faithful Catholic college has its own culture of worship and faith practice. Evaluate the style of Mass celebrated on campus, daily Mass attendance, and the frequency of opportunities for confession, communal rosary, and Adoration. Consider how these align with your own desires for living out the Catholic faith. Look for the presence of priests and religious among the professors and whether a particular period or school of Catholic theology is emphasized in the curriculum. These aspects help define the college’s unique Catholic character.



Finally, visit the colleges in person to get a feel for the student community. Observe how students dress for class, their friendliness, and other unique attributes of student life. Pay attention to how students use personal technology on campus. Are they engaged with their surroundings and each other? Listen to their conversations outside of class to see what topics excite them, whether it’s the spiritual life, academics, or both. Determine if the campus fosters a community where classroom discussions continue in social settings, and if that is something you desire.

There is a Catholic college that is right for you. Spend time in prayer, reflection, and conversations with friends and mentors to discern what you are looking for, heeding Christ’s question, “What do you seek?” (John 1:38). While you can learn a great deal about each institution’s spirit and strengths from a distance, visiting in person is irreplaceable: “Come and see.” (John 1:39).


Andrew Ellison serves as the VP of Enrollment Management at the University of Dallas. He joined UD in 2023 as the Director of the St. Ambrose Center after a long career devoted to primary and secondary liberal education. As a former teacher, high school headmaster and district administrator for the public charter network Great Hearts, Ellison draws from ample experience in connecting young learners and their parents to the right college. He and his wife are also parents to two current UD students. Learn more about UD and apply now at udallas.edu.


John Hanretty serves as a Digital Media Producer for Relevant Radio®. He is a graduate of the Gupta College of Business at the University of Dallas. Besides being passionate about writing, his hobbies include drawing and digital design. You can read more of his daily articles at relevantradio.com and on the Relevant Radio® app.