I know where I’m going (and why)

Faith drives some Baylor students’ college choice; for others, not so much

By Grace Gaddy

Senior year of high school wraps up between a backpack full of memories and a graduation cap. But for seniors, somewhere between taking the SAT and hearing the bassoons in “Pomp and Circumstance,” a package arrived at the door — and a decision had to be made.

For most, a college acceptance letter spawns long hours of thinking, making plans and weighing options. Those seeking higher education may face a buffet of choices that affect their final decision. Some questions: Do I want a big school or a small one? How important is location?

One option includes seeking a faith-based community. Baylor’s commitment to faith drew mixed reactions from those who considered it as a factor in the application process. While it wasn’t a factor for some, others named it as a priority.

May 2011 alumna Aaryka Matte said the Christian community was the primary reason she chose Baylor.

“It was the only school I applied to because of that, just because it was faith-based,” she said.

Other students shared Matte’s sentiments. Plano freshman Lindsay Larimore said she ultimately decided on Baylor because it was a Christian school.

“All the other schools I was looking at were public,” Larimore said.

Lantana junior Janice Wong said she couldn’t make up her mind between two schools.

“Academically, the other school, the secular school, was ranked higher than Baylor and I was really attracted to that, but then I started to pray about it,” Wong said. “I think as I prayed about it, God was saying, ‘Where are you going to grow more spiritually?’ and I was like, ‘Well, I guess Baylor,’ and I started looking at Baylor [and] how many great organizations there are here that are Christian and service-focused.”

So Wong chose Baylor and got involved in two of those organizations: the Steppin’ Out Steering Committee, which coordinates Baylor’s biannual day of community outreach, and Campus Kitchen at Baylor, which recovers excess food from dining halls to redistribute in the Waco community.

Others say that while the variety of student organizations attracted them to life on campus, the faith aspect did not play a big part.

Houston junior Yalda Ahmadi called Baylor’s faith-based environment the “backbone” of the university, but added that for her, it wasn’t a deciding factor.

“I’m not Baptist or even Christian, but I would say that the faith part of Baylor is really great for Baylor. It definitely offers you something that schools that are unaffiliated with religion tend to lack, like the sense of service,” Ahmadi said. “I mean, at first, I think you have to look deeper than what Baylor comes off as. If you think of it as the really strong conservative Southern Baptist, it can turn a lot of people off.”

For Ahmadi, the size and sense of community felt right. Yet for others, it was all about the books.

“I came here more because of Baylor’s academic reputation,” said Katy freshman Katie Ovak. “I have faith, but that wasn’t very particularly important to me when deciding where to come to school.”

Plano junior J.D. Beeman was also unaffected by the faith-based environment, which he said had zero impact on his final decision. Beeman credits a scholarship as the reason he chose Baylor.

For many, the campus visit made all the difference. Prospective students can experience the Christian atmosphere of Baylor firsthand, which may only confirm their choice

Winter Park, Fla., junior Anna Reiman said she loved the Baylor environment, particularly the faith-based community.

“I’d been praying that the Lord would guide me,” she said, “And I didn’t really know about Baylor until late senior year, so it wasn’t really a contender.”

When a family friend told Reiman about a “good school” in Texas, she decided to see for herself.

“When I came to visit, the students that I met and then the faculty that I met were just really wonderful and friendly and helpful,” she said, “and I could see myself being at Baylor for four years and making good friendships, and just being surrounded by an encouraging community that shared my same values.”

Three years later, Reiman knows she made the right decision.

“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” she said, noting how the Christian faculty was “also a selling point” for her.

“I knew that I would get a great education, but I would also be taught from a Christian perspective,” Reiman said.

Considering all of this, it was “worth being so far from home” for Reiman — a point that junior Nafalya Francis also understood.

Francis traveled roughly 5,000 miles from Leicester, England, to attend Baylor.

And the faith-based community here played a role in her decision — “quite a strong one,” she said.