The Best Four Days Before Your Best Four Years

When Jamie Lin decided to attend Claremont McKenna College, she had identified as an agnostic for several years. Raised in a Christian family, her transition to college provoked a longing to re-explore her childhood faith.

When she came across a Facebook advertisement for the Veritas Academy, a pre-college retreat designed to help incoming freshman explore faith and college life, Jamie was intrigued to “learn more about the faith I was raised under but never genuinely understood.”

At the Academy, Jamie and thirteen other incoming freshmen met Christian faculty, upperclassmen, and campus ministers, who provided insight on how to integrate faith, learning, and make the most of college from a Christian perspective. The four-day experience was transformative.

“My experience at the Veritas Academy has helped revitalize my faith,” Jamie said. “My spiritual journey has been a work-in-progress, but through Veritas, I developed a newfound energy to become more involved in my faith. Since then, I have joined my community church and enrolled in its college small group.”

Jamie is not alone. Another student in the Claremont cohort described a similar experience: “Going into September, I didn’t think I’d ever participate in anything religious. I was just going to do anything I could to further my career,” he said. “Now, I want to go through the next four years connected to and furthering my faith.”

Students from the Veritas Academy at the University of Minnesota

Students like these are why we launched the first Veritas Academy in 2017 at the Claremont Colleges. Observing that more 50% of college students feel disillusioned with their religious upbringing since matriculating, we created a space where incoming students—alongside a community of peers, upperclassmen, and faculty—can wrestle with the unique challenges and opportunities of spiritual growth in college.

In July 2018, one year after the Claremont Colleges pilot, three more campusesCornell, the University of Minnesota, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—followed their lead. Each campus hosted its own, individualized Veritas Academy, and—in total—195 students participated.

Students from the Veritas Academy at Cornell

Thanks to Veritas partnerships with Christian Study Centers like the Anselm House (University of Minnesota), the Chesterton House (Cornell), and the North Carolina Study Center (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, each of the Academies were hosted in established Christian communities on campus, giving students a taste of collegiate Christian community before they set foot in the classroom.

“I now feel grounded by having a community of Christians moving into this year that I can rely on,” said one incoming Cornell student after the Academy.  

Incoming freshmen at UNC-Chapel Hill attend Carolina Way Camp, a Veritas Academy.

Christian faculty and campus ministers spoke on topics ranging from faith and philosophy to campus life and the importance of Christian community. Students also heard from and connected with upperclassmen coaches at their respective colleges, fostering friendships with those who’ve been in their shoes and grown in their Christian faith.

“I’m grateful just to know what wonderful resources are available for Christian students on campus, and also what fantastic incoming students there are,” said another student. “I feel more aware of and prepared for the challenges and opportunities I might face.”

A faculty panel talks with students at the Veritas Academy for the Claremont Colleges

Even further, the Academy provided some students the chance to rediscover their Christian faith altogether: “As a person whose faith has been wavering for some time now— especially going into a secular environment like Cornell—this Academy has been somewhat of a ‘faith-saver.’”

For our campus ministry partners on the ground, Veritas Academy provided a rare opportunity to connect with freshmen before they arrive on campus. Nicole Riley, a Veritas Fellow and staff member at the Chesterton House, said of her experience hosting Veritas Academy:

The Veritas Academy we hosted at Cornell wassimply putone of the best experiences I’ve had in my time in ministry to the university. This initiative is important and strategic, and I suspect its impact is only beginning to unfold.

As Veritas expands our Academies program to more campuses, we continue to be inspired by and hopeful for the next generation of Christian students, thoughtfully engaging with the communities around them and living out the gospel in every part of their lives.