Whether you’re just beginning to consider and research seminaries, or if you’re finalizing your preparations to attend the seminary of your choice, at some point you’ll need to answer the question: how do I pay for seminary?
Seminary students are often keenly aware of the need to rely on God for their daily bread, even as Jesus teaches his followers to pray (Matt 6:11). All Christians, including those called to seminary, can rest on God’s promise to provide for his children’s needs (Matt 6:25ff). Here are six common means that God uses to provide for students preparing for ministry.
Most seminaries have funds given by supporters of the school in order to provide scholarship assistance. These scholarships are awarded based on a variety of factors, including financial need, academic merit, or denominational or parachurch affiliation. Award amounts and availability might depend on enrollment status (part-time vs. full-time) and degree program. In most cases, these scholarships only apply to tuition expenses. Check with each seminary’s financial aid office to learn about the scholarships available and how to apply for them.
Beyond the seminary, a significant number of scholarships are available through private foundations and businesses. Locating and applying for these scholarships requires some effort, but the money can add up. Websites like scholarships.com and fastweb.com provide searchable catalogs of scholarships and grants. Seminary admissions and financial aid offices may also maintain a list of outside scholarships relevant to the school’s programs.
A subset of outside scholarships specifically applicable for seminary students is funding provided by a student’s local congregation, presbytery, or denomination. The nature of these funds varies – some churches may provide scholarship funding without any requirements; others choose to support seminary students by providing paid internships. In some cases, financial aid is in the form of a loan that is forgiven if the graduate serves that church or denomination for a certain number of years after graduation. Your pastor may be able to point you to funds available in your particular church or denomination.
Some students have had success in raising support for seminary expenses from family, friends, and other relational networks. Students who have served on the staff of a ministry often have an existing support base and may be able to have more ambitious support raising goals. Others without such a support base have started with smaller goals. They’ve found success, for example, in asking friends and family to support them by buying one of their required textbooks each semester. If you decide to support raise for seminary expenses, it’s important for supporters to know that gifts made for the direct benefit of a particular student (rather than to the seminary in general) are not tax-deductible.
Students at most accredited seminaries have access to special educational loan products. In some cases, as with federal student loans, payments are deferred while enrolled at least half-time. The availability of loan deferment varies with private lenders depending on the particular loan product. Unlike certain undergraduate loans, no graduate student loans are subsidized, meaning that interest accrues during enrollment. While loans may be useful for bridging the funding gap for tuition and living expenses after other options have been exhausted, students should make careful and wise use of loans, considering average starting salaries for seminary graduates.
Finally, most students (and their spouses) work at least part-time in order to help pay for tuition and living expenses. Many seminaries offer student work programs that provide convenient on-campus employment to students. Admissions offices may also be able to provide suggestions for local businesses who have regularly provided employment to enrolled students. Given the rigor of graduate theological education, full-time students should generally limit their employment to 20 hours per week, at most.