If God has called you to get a seminary education, here are some tips that might help you to go debt free or reduce your debt.
1. Get a ministry position, even if it is part-time, and serve for several years before going to seminary. By doing so, you will enrich your seminary education. Students who know where the rubber meets the road get more out of their studies because they know what’s important and what’s not. If you are going to a residential seminary away from their hometown, you are also more likely to obtain a ministry position while in seminary, simply because of your previous ministry experience. Fifty percent of seminary graduates are no longer in vocational ministry five years after graduation. Much of that, we believe, is due to the high expectations in-experienced ministers have about vocational ministry. It is better to explore ministry first-hand before you invest $20-40,0000 in a seminary degree.
2. Pay off your educational and credit card debt before entering seminary. Many prospective students ask about a school’s accreditation to determine if they can defer payments on their educational loans. Acquiring more debt is not the answer. Here is an infographic about some of the realities of seminary debt.
3. Carefully analyze the costs of the school you are attending. Unfortunately, schools hide costs in their marketing material. Look at your budget and determine if a particular seminary is going to be right for your finances.
4. Research for scholarships. These are few and are highly sought after. Plan to spend a number of hours finding financial aid. Many seminaries do not provide scholarships until a student has enrolled and completed a term at the school. Here is a site designed to help you find scholarships specifically for seminary.
5. Raise the funds. If you are giving your life to a non-profit organization, you’ll be forever dependent upon the generosity of others. You’d better get used to it and learn how to raise your own support from family and friends. Take a course in fund raising. Share your mission with others and explain how a seminary degree is going to help you accomplish that mission.
6. If you are going to borrow money, consider a micro-lending approach such as GreenNote. Instead of going to a bank or getting a loan from the government, invite your friends and family to invest in your seminary degree. Lenders like GreenNote will pay the school and give your friends and family a return on their investment. In some cases, family members will dismiss the loan upon graduation.
7. Go to seminary part time. If you are already in a ministry position, take your time and pay for seminary as you go. It’s better to stretch a 3-year program into ten years, than to spend 15 years paying off a loan.
8. If you are in a ministry position, ask church leaders to provide a portion of your seminary education. It should be a no brainer for the organization. By providing seminary assistance a ministry organization can keep a valued staff member in their organization. As the seminary student grows through their learning experience, what they learn will improve the quality of service to the ministry organization. If organizations are worried about keeping a student after they complete their seminary studies,
9. Piece together a seminary education. See how much online credit a seminary will allow (it can range between 50% to 66%). Combine that with 1 or 2 week residential classes, weekend classes, etc. Consider a fully-online school. If a seminary doesn’t have a specialty you are interested in but provides the basics, see if you can take courses at another school and transfer those into your degree program. Some people take junior college courses because they are cheaper than a private liberal arts university. In a similar way, you might save through this piecemeal approach. Be sure that your seminary will allow you to transfer credit hours into their program, once you begin.
10. Ask your church for permission to do conferences, writing, and speaking engagements to pay for your seminary education. The things you learn and produce in seminary could be turned into a source of income.
It is possible to graduate from seminary with no debt. But, it takes planning, a lot of work, and commitment to your long term goal. You will graduate with more options than your peers because you are not a slave to the lender.