Paying for Seminary
By H. Daniel Zacharias & Benjamin K. ForrestDebt is one of the greatest stressors for seminary students. Seminary costs are significant and often require multiple years of investment.Unwise choices regarding student loans might seem simple and innocent at the time, but when compounded over the years, they create a mountain of debt that can take several years to climb.In this article, we will give you some advice about how to pay for seminary—advice we wish we’d had before we enrolled.
Commit to minimizing debt
Some of you may already have debt from your undergraduate education, which you should consider paying off before moving into graduate studies.You might also consider paying for seminary courses as you can afford them. Many students overlook this option because it means taking longer to complete your studies, but it can be a smart move in terms of minimizing debt.Even if you have decided that some level of debt is unavoidable, you must commit to having as little debt as possible. This is hard to do; the consequences of student debt don’t always hit home until student loan or credit card statements arrive at your door or in your email inbox.But consider this: You may be unable to accept a ministry position you really want, because they don’t pay enough to cover your debt repayment and living expenses.If you minimize debt, you will keep it from having influence over your decisions.
Start a budget and cut down on unnecessary expenses
The best way to take charge of your finances is to budget.If you need a crash course in money management, find a church that offers Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University or has Good $ense materials in their lending library. Go through them (with your spouse, if married) and begin to apply the principles, even if they seem drastic!In addition, here are a few budgeting tools we recommend:
- YNAB (youneedabudget.com)
- EveryDollar (everydollar.com)
- Mint (mint.com)
It’s also important to cut out unnecessary expenses. Overspending happens easily when you are not taking charge of your finances.Consider eliminating these expenses:
- A car. Parking, gas, maintenance, and insurance all add up for someone on a tight budget. If you don’t absolutely need one for transportation, skip it.
- New technology. Although it’s nice to have the latest and greatest technology, think carefully before buying. There are cheaper options than the latest smartphone. Many campuses offer wireless Internet, and you can use apps like MagicJack, Ooma, or Google Voice to call any North American number for free over WiFi. And you can use a free texting app for text messaging.
- Eating out. Make your own coffee in the morning and pack a lunch. Instead of going out for wing night with your peers, buy groceries with that same group and cook, enjoying a meal together that way.
- Travel. For students who have moved some distance to attend seminary, you may need to resist the urge to go home during every school break.
If you do all these things, your friends will think you are frugal.Guess what? They’re right.You will also be the one saving hundreds of dollars every month, and you won’t be crawling out of debt for years after graduating like everyone else!
Be smart about your housing
Find the cheapest accommodations possible, even if they aren’t that pretty. The less money you can spend on housing, the more money you have to pay for tuition, thereby limiting debt.You should also rent month-to-month if possible. During the summer, you may need to move elsewhere in order to earn money for next year’s tuition. You don’t want to be stuck paying for an apartment you’re not using.
Seek out alternative forms of funding
Whatever your financial position, it is always wise to look for creative ways to pay for seminary.There can be several varieties of financial aid:
- Entrance scholarships. These are based on academic merit. Many students are considered for scholarships automatically when they apply, while other scholarships require that you submit an application.
- In-course scholarships. These are academic-based scholarships students can receive as they progress through their program. Most are awarded automatically.
- Transfer scholarships. These are available to students coming from another institution. If the institution you intend to apply to offers transfer scholarships, be sure to submit an application.
- Bursaries (or grants). Bursaries are based on financial need and are like scholarships in that they do not need to be repaid. Keep in mind that students who have submitted and qualify for government financial assistance are more likely to qualify for bursaries since the two are often linked.
- Family assistance. Sometimes you can ask family members for financial assistance. If this is the case, do so humbly and be sure to let them know you completely understand if they cannot help you. You should also be sure that you pledge to pay it forward.
- Budget of faith. If you are doing ministry in a church that cannot afford to pay you, ask the leadership team to consider putting a salary for you into the budget on faith anyway. Often churches do not have because they have not asked God (Jas 4:2). Make it clear that this is the bottom priority of the budget. The worst that can happen is that the money doesn’t come in, but God often responds to our faith steps!
- Extra offerings. Multiple times during the year an extra offering is taken—either a second offering during a service or a fifth Sunday in a month. Churches often use these offerings to go to something other than the operating budget. Ask that each year one of these special offerings at your church goes toward your seminary education. Ask that it be announced and put in the bulletin at least a month ahead of time.
- Education fund. Ask your church leadership to consider putting into place an education/training fund and ask that you be the designee of the fund during your education. Be sure to have the church designate the fund generally as an education fund—not as a fund specifically for you, so that others may benefit after you.
- Pulpit supply. You may be able to repolish an Introduction to Homiletics sermon and present it again, or you can get practice writing original sermons. If you are in seminary, you are training for ministry—so practice proclaiming (and get paid for it)!
- Church gift. Talk with the leadership of your home church. Ask them to keep you in their prayers and see if they would consider some financial support for your education, be it an annual or monthly contribution.
Work like a crazy person
If you can handle it alongside your required ministry work, get a part-time job. (You have an undergraduate degree in something—put it to use!)Juggling a part-time job with your studies and ministry commitments might not be your favorite thing to do, but graduating debt free will be worth it.You also need to think of your summers as your own personal capital campaign to earn as much money as possible. Most seminary students are inclined to go for a full-time ministry position. This is all well and good, but only if you are being paid a reasonable salary. If you know that the local McDonalds is paying more per hour than your church, talk to the church and ask them to raise the salary to match McDonalds’ levels. If they won’t, then you need to consider working part time at the church and full time at that McDonalds!Learn to work hard in seminary, because once you leave seminary, you will still have to work hard. Prepare yourself now by setting habits and disciplines that will bless you later!
Seminary students are not exactly entering a lucrative career path, so it is important that you work hard to keep your debt low.We are also called to be responsible stewards, and in the world of mounting student debt, seminary students can and should seek to be different.The amount of debt you incur is largely determined by the choices you make. It may not be possible to be completely debt free, but by making wise decisions and frugal choices, you can cut your debt repayment by many years. Making these choices today will save you money and afford you choices tomorrow.