What Are You Looking For? The Crossroads of Classical Education and College

By Wade Ortego, Guest Author

Whether it is the numerous startups launching, charter schools clamoring to copy the model with state approval, or mainstream Christian schools seeking to boost enrollment with transitions to the classical curriculum, the classical model is on the rise.

After the past two years of lockdowns, online learning, and teacher strikes, families seek something new for their child’s education. While many classical schools are excited to add new families to their rosters, school administrators should also be helping these families sort out what they are looking for in an education. Misalignment of goals and objectives for a student’s education is detrimental to the family and can wreak havoc on a school. Families seeking an improvement to their child’s education situation have many options. Helping those families decide if a classical Christian school is the right fit for them should be a chief concern.

Classical Christian schools seek to partner with families and churches to educate children in the Lord’s paideia. Most classical Christian schools operate with some deference to the philosophy of “en loco parentis.” This phrase is loosely translated as “in place of the parents.” This phrase doesn’t mean replacing parents, but rather, in place of the parents, as in their stead. Our schools seek to help the family educate their children, and to do that, the family and the school must be aligned on their educational objectives.

While many families have been convinced of the worthlessness of government education and have moved onto the understanding that children need virtue formation along with academics, many families seeking admittance into a classical school will desire “a good college option” for their child when the parochial years end. Most families want both thorough academics and worldview formation. But when a child enters the end of their junior year, most parents start pacing outside of the administrator’s office, wanting to discuss college scholarships to secular schools.

Secular colleges and universities have varying perspectives on how they view classical Christian education. In my 14 years as a Head of School, I can’t recall when a student from an ACCS-accredited school was denied admittance. On the other hand, I know of several students who have not qualified for scholarships due to those students not attending government primary and secondary schools. The flightiness of college admissions, as witnessed by the pay-for-entry scandals, the demographic profiling as defended by Harvard, and the College Board adding an “adversity score” to SAT tests should be a concern for all families interested in higher education for their Christian students. In my history as an administrator, our students have interviewed very well at state and private secular institutions and therefore get accepted, but I hope we are graduating students who think through the implications of what higher education institutions will do with them and their family’s tuition dollars. I hope we are partnering with families who are particular about who they are sending their children to for higher education. When we ask our students, “Where do you want to go to college?” the answer shouldn’t be, “Wherever I can get in” or “Whoever gives me the most financial aid.”  I hope it would be “the place God has prepared for me” or “Where I have evaluated the culture and climate and know what I’m getting into” at least.

 On the other hand, almost all Christian colleges and universities are happy to have classical school graduates.  Almost all of them are looking for students who are prepared for the perceived rigors of higher education. The Good Soil study outlined some of the trends for ACCS grads compared to their peers in other institutions and shows ACCS graduates tend to score better on entrance exams. Our grads were well prepared for college studies and had a higher commitment to family, values, and church. Unfortunately, the Christian colleges that are holding true to the Word of God in our culture are few, but those few are seeing record enrollment.

There are many preconceived ideas about what a college education will provide. In reality “man plans, but the Lord makes the way.” (Proverbs 16:9). Our desire for a higher education institute should be balanced with seeking a place where our children can grow and thrive spiritually, not just academically.

We don’t limit our children’s options by choosing a classical Christian education in grammar and high school, as many have now discovered, but we do them an injustice by seeking secular higher education simply because that’s what we have known to do in the past. Consider what your tuition dollars are supporting and do your research—even with Christian colleges.  Read the handbook with your graduate, watch chapel services online, look at their club options. Talk about these things and observe those years of logic and rhetoric at work in your student’s college decision.


Pay to play admissions https://www.forbes.com/sites/susanpaterno/2021/05/16/pay-to-play-admissions-is-a-scandal-its-also-sop/

Harvard Admissions Quota https://www.forbes.com/sites/evangerstmann/2019/10/01/why-the-asian-american-students-lost-their-case-against-vharvard-but-should-have-won/?sh=30dc5bb763c1

Adversity score https://www.wsj.com/articles/sat-to-give-students-adversity-score-to-capture-social-and-economic-background-11557999000

Wade Ortego has served as a head of classical Christian schools for 15 years. He currently serves at The Ambrose School in Meridian, Idaho. He took the scenic route to college himself and hopes to see more students rejecting the status quo when it comes to education. He is a husband and father of three boys, who keep he and his wife constantly entertained.

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