This is a guest post submitted by Brian Johnson. Brian is currently working on his M.Div. at Asbury Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL, where he also serves as admissions recruiter.
“How will I pay for this?” This question is on the mind of every student considering seminary. Many will carry loans from undergrad into seminary. Is there a better way to follow your call than drowning in debt? After all, none of us are pursuing ministry for our own financial gain. We hope to serve the kingdom, and we recognize the importance of seminary training. If you want to avoid a 30-year loan payment which rivals a mortgage, you must think outside the box. Let financing your education be an opportunity to dream big.
I was thrilled when I found out I was accepted to Asbury Theological Seminary. Another step in the path to full-time ministry was unfolding before me. I quickly submitted my Financial Aid paperwork and they awarded enough loans to pay for tuition, books, and housing. I accepted, classes were paid, and life was good. This was the pattern of my first year of seminary. It was a cold winter day toward the end of the fall semester when I received a summary of my loans. I was shocked. How had it added up so quickly? How would I ever repay my loans? This must be wrong! I checked with the Financial Aid department, the numbers were correct. The next few days and week sent me into a time of frustration, which opened into prayer. I had to make a change. I could not continue to accrue debt at this rate. Slowly, I began to sense God wanting to take control of my seminary career in ways I had not previously allowed Him. Suddenly, stewardship became a very important topic to me. I became my own financial aid advocate. Asbury has Financial Aid consultants, but at the end of the day, the loans are in my name. The repayment statements will always come to my address.
My quest to find funding for school has become a second job of sorts. There is a great deal of trial and error, applications and rejections. Even in the midst of a market downturn, there is still money to be claimed. If you are persistent and get creative, you will be amazed by the opportunities. Here are some tips I hope will encourage you to dream big:
- Get a Job: Working to pay for seminary is not creative in itself; but, where you work can make all the difference. See if your seminary offers a tuition remission/compensation policy for staff members. Are there other schools or universities close by? Neighboring schools will often offer discounts or free classes as a goodwill gesture to staff employees. Also, check with your current employer for educational opportunities. They may not pay for your entire degree, but maybe you can provide justification for how some of your classes will benefit the company. There is no shame in working while being a student.
- Scholarship Web Sites: Some are good. Others are a waste of time. I started my scholarship quest with sites like fastweb.com. Most of the scholarships they found, I had already stumbled across. The majority of scholarship search sites are tailored to undergraduate students. Seminary is a niche market. I suggest looking at other seminary websites for their scholarship opportunities. Outside donors often send applications to a handful of schools even though the scholarship is open to anyone at any seminary. You can also find “minority” scholarships at schools who differ in tradition or denomination from where you attend. Southern Baptist schools offer a good deal of scholarships for women.
- Don’t Forget your Roots: Where did you hear the call to seminary? Chances are a church, campus ministry, or parachurch group influenced your decision. There are likely several in your immediate circle of influence who would be happy to support your call. My seminary even has a Partnering Church program where supporters can give to students in an IRS approved manner allowing donations to be tax write-offs.
- Where Will You Serve: If you are part of a denomination or ministry there is a chance they already have funds designated for students pursing seminary education who plan to return post-graduation. Check with you local pastor or area supervisor to see what is available.
- Be Proactive: You can receive a full scholarship and yet be so bad with finances you end up with debt. Just because you balance your checkbook does not mean you live on a budget. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a savings account to fall back on if you were short on tuition one semester? I strongly recommend courses like Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. Programs like Dave’s will set you on course for financial security as you take a very active role in your finances.
- Loans are Not Creative: But they are an option. I recommend using these as a last resort. The key here is stewardship. Remember, it’s not your money. You get to hold it for a while, but you will be required to pay it back, with interest. Only take what you absolutely need and return the rest. You are not required to take the full amount offered.
- Talk to others: See what they are doing. How are they funding their education? Also, get to know your financial aid consultant. I talk with mine about once a month and check for new opportunities. Many times new scholarships arrive mid-semester.
The biggest difference between students who receive scholarships and those who do is not dependent on 4.0 averages, awesome ministry experiences, or amazing essays. Those who receive aid will tell you to fill out any and every application you are eligible for, and even those you are not. You do not have to be top in your class, just persistent. Let me know how you are funding your education. We are all in this together.