Can “fit” be good for an atheist at these Christian religiously-affiliated colleges?

TL/DR: I’m looking for help evaluating fit for my atheist DDs at religious colleges.

DDs have each been accepted to a number of urban, mid-sized, great-in-their-majors (nursing/health sciences) colleges with substantial aid. We’re now trying to evaluate “fit” more closely - which I think is super hard for teens anyway in a 90-minute campus orientation after 2 years of being pretty isolated.

The colleges on their lists are almost all religiously affiliated - by chance after ticking other boxes. Our family are atheists with a strong commitment to service and social justice, who are active members of our UU congregation, attending weekly+ services pre-covid. I thought Jesuit values might be a good connection point. I’m finding it difficult to tease out where on the spectrum each affiliation is - just a historical connection or a daily religious presence felt on campus.

DDs studied Judeo-Christian Bible Stories in 4th grade Sunday school, but we just saw Marquette’s required core theology class seems to assume a deeper Biblical understanding:

Foundations in Theology: Finding God in all Things. 3 cr. hrs.

Investigates the principle that God can be found in all things. How are we to envision God and the virtuous life in light of the theological and scriptural understandings of the prophets, Jesus and human existence from which that Catholic, Jesuit conviction springs?..

How accepting would the typical professor (or fellow students?) of this (or similar) class be about having someone who does not envision God in their core class?

One or the other of my DDs have been accepted to:

St Louis U
Seattle U
U Portland

Only two with no affiliation:
Case Western & U Louisville

Could my kids thrive at all of these schools? I’d love to hear from anyone who has experience with this aspect of them. They all claim to welcome non-Christians but are they truly welcoming? It would be helpful to strike schools off their lists if this particular element of fit is a non-starter anywhere. Many thanks!

I don’t have a lot of specific info, but I will note that unlike most of the Catholic colleges, University of Portland is not Jesuit (it is Holy Cross, like Notre Dame, I believe).

There are 30 Holy Cross brothers on campus, teaching courses, etc., and three required theology courses.

That does not necessarily mean it is any less welcoming — but it struck me as not quite like the others on the list.

I’m part of a UU family too. My spouse has been teaching at a Jesuit college for many years and really resonates with the school’s mission and values.

This particular Jesuit university isn’t on your list, but it does seem like Jesuit schools emphasize service and promoting the common good, as well as educating the whole person. At my spouse’s institution, the undergrads do have to take two religious courses as part of the required core curriculum, but the classes cover a VERY wide range of topics and don’t require (or privilege) any particular set of beliefs. My spouse has taught kids from many different religious traditions and plenty of kids with no religious traditions at all.


I don’t have an answer for you, but my atheist/agnostic D has applied to DePaul, SLU, and Gonzaga. We will be visiting DePaul and SLU in a few weeks to try to get the vibe. I’m eager to hear what others have to say.

I don’t believe DePaul is Jesuit but they focus on service. Loyola in Chicago is Jesuit. Loyola has a beautiful campus. Both sons really liked DePaul but neither ended up there. My wife liked also liked DePaul. I didn’t get to visit.

Drill down into the graduation requirements. See how many religious classes are required.

For the most part, the Jesuit schools are very accepting.

I don’t have the answer and yes, most schools welcome others - but just curious - why the questions now and not before you applied so that a more appropriate set of schools could have been picked? You may still have time to add other schools if you need more that meet your needs without having this concern.


God only knows.


We were screening schools for a long list of other criteria - strength in their majors, medium size, urban location, direct admit to nursing, good clinical hrs and locations, challenging academics but not crazy intense & still able to get lots of merit aid, not too hot & humid - and these are the colleges that came through the net. Looking initially, it seemed like many had choices for core classes that included less explicitly Christian religious study choices. We were surprised touring Marquette that some of the new core requirements didn’t fit our perception. So thought we better double back and do another deep dive into all the core class syllabi (which is a time-consuming exercise!). So I also wanted to get general opinions on whether we were correct/mistaken that our shared values would be a good match despite different religious practices. My to-be-nursing major, after many many supplemental essays, has 11 acceptances incl 2 good choices of non-affiliated schools, so no way we’re starting over at this point, just have to winnow down to the best fit! It’s just tricky matching every element of fit and sorting which should be more/less of a priority.


I should also add - we didn’t apply to any public schools out of state because we really needed lots of aid. And a very high percentage of the private schools had a religious affiliation. Which we had no general objection to and even saw some advantages to in terms of shared values promoting care for the whole person, service & social justice work.

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One of my kids graduated from Santa Clara University, a Jesuit school. She loved the mission of community outreach and service that was woven into many classes, as well as into the housing communities.

There was a three course religion requirement. My kid really liked those courses a lot. She was a STEM major and the religion courses were a welcome change. There were a hundred or more courses from which to choose. She took a Women in Religion course which she said was great. Also an ethics course. Not sure what the third one was.

We are not religious…in any way….at all. She never felt out of place.

I think you need to look at the religion course requirements at these various colleges…and decide if they are going to be OK for your daughters. Even if they don’t believe…it might be beneficial to hear another perspective.

I will add…when we toured Pepperdine, my kid crossed it off her list because there were three religion courses, but NO choice about which ones to take.

And yes…I know Pepperdine and SCU aren’t on your list…but the comparison is what I’m trying to make.


If you want a midsize school with a strong nursing program and generous aid, it is hard NOT to end up with a lot of Catholic universities on the list!

I do know one student who didn’t want an overly “religious” school and determined that Seattle University was a fit.


My S went to a Jesuit university (although not one on your list). We were not looking for a Catholic affiliated college – but he was drawn to mid-size urban universities and a lot of Jesuit schools turned out to be good fits. He had friends of different religious backgrounds as well as atheists/agnostics who were happy there. That said, to be comfortable at a Catholic collge I think one should; 1) be respectful of religion; 2) have no issue with seeing some religious symbols on campus (ex. crucifix); and 3) look at the core curriculum and be fine with the idea of taking any required philosophy/theology courses.


DePaul is a Catholic University, but only 40% of the students there are Catholic.

I teach at a Jesuit. I’m not even baptized. My class has info about praying and such but religion does not offend me. I always include a non-denominational aspect. I work with gay, lesbian, and trans fellow instructors at said Jesuit.

I think it would be super easy for a more atheist student who still really loves social justice to use their inner conscience as their reason to do good in the world.


Got it - that’s a pretty impressive screen I might add!!!

Looking at your list, it has a lot of mid size schools. Might I mention one more to you - another public - UAH. It’s mid-size, Huntsville is nice, educated and filled with rocket scientists, the weather will be ok because it’s Northern Alabama and the school is known for engineering and nursing. It does not appear direct admit but many from here in Nashville go there. It’s higher rated than Louisville - but not sure how much that matters.

It’s awesome she has got so many choices - and some with great cost I hope… I get that part. I don’t know her figures (GPA, test score, etc) but a lot of out of state schools are very aggressive. Here’s UAH merit table for you to match up vs. tuition of $22K or so.

btw - I think your list is awesome and I know kids of other religions attend these schools. One of my good friend sends their kid to Chapman…we’re Jewish. There’s large Jewish populations at schools like Depaul and Gtown. But I’d personally be uncomfortable.

Anyway, if you want an easy app, cheap but solid school, that may give you another option, see where you fit in the table below and take a look at the school.

If not, I wish you luck. I can’t speak for you - but the fact that you have concern and are asking the question, I’d be staying in the public system - or Case if you are luck enough to get into there. This way you go in with no additional questions.

Good luck.

UAH - Admission & Aid - Freshman Out-of-State Academic Scholarships

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We are not religious. We toured Marquette and had a Jewish tour guide who was entering her senior year in the nursing school. She said the religious classes were very laid back because the professors realize most of the kids are not that excited about the subject and just taking the class because it’s a requirement. She said those classes were a breath of fresh air after her hard core academic classes. We also toured SLU. We didn’t specifically ask about the religious classes (we should have) but didn’t get an overly religious vibe. My D came away really liking both schools and feeling like she would fit in at both schools. She loved the Jesuit values of giving back to others , community service and social Justice.

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Both schools are less than 1% Jewish. I just use that to see…from my pov…would it work for me.

I bet both would set u up with a student where you can just ask. It sounds like you did at Marquette already.

If she really has a leading school, do a deeper dive to ensure comfort. Go back to campus, stop kids and ask.

Plus she loves the Jesuit values so perhaps she’ll grow spiritually and will enjoy that.

Good luck to your student. They have lots of fine choices. And good luck with cwru. Great school.

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Attended a Jesuit U - though not on the list. It’s best to visit the top choices in the group and make a decision after being on the campus, if you haven’t visited yet.
Most Jesuit universities have 2-4 required Theology/Religious Studies & Philosophy courses. Part of their commitment to a liberal arts foundation: where students also complete history, science, math, language and literature courses, no matter their chosen major.
Many times the first level course in the theology or philosophy area will be a “Common course” one taken by all students. Students then choose the other

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You can love the Jesuit values…but not “grow spiritually”.

It’s the values of community service, giving back etc that define the Jesuit values. Plus, they really do higher education well.


I asked my son’s fiancée about Creighton since she will be attending PA school there in the fall. She said her friend, currently in the health professions there, said there are all faiths/no faiths in her class and all were enjoying it. Particularly in the health sciences they emphasize service which fits in well. The 2 undergrad religion classes are not based on any faith and atheists would not feel uncomfortable. They do teach Christian and Biblical traditions for understanding but don’t expect all students to follow the traditions. The school is great for health care students.