Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Looking for Scholarships: Part 1

Earlier I mentioned that local churches and denominations sometimes have scholarships for seminary students, but as you probably know, these can be hard to get, especially in tough economic times.  It is always worth asking, but having some back-up options is a good idea as well.  One back-up option that might serve you well is Fastweb.

Fastweb is a free scholarship search engine.  My high school promoted it as a good way to find ways to pay for college, but they also have some scholarships for grad students.  Students seeking to become missionaries or pastors with prominent denominations will likely find the most options here, but there are still general scholarships which might be worth taking time to examine.  There are also scholarship options specifically for minorities and those who come from families without a history of higher education.

To use Fastweb, all you need to do is sign up for an account and fill out a questionnaire to help them match you with the right scholarships.  Fastweb will then produce regularly updated lists of all the scholarships for which you are eligible to apply, and will let you track and manage the ones you are interested in as well as the results of your attempts to win scholarships through their site.  They will also send you emails letting you know of upcoming application deadlines, new scholarships, and other offers. 

I have not found any money for seminary in this fashion, but I know of some people who have.  It may or may not be worth your time and energy, but it is a well-designed site and is easy to sign up and keep track of scholarship opportunities with it as more options become available.  Keeping your options open and searching for scholarships in a variety of places is more helpful than wishing for money to appear, so you might want to give it a try just to see what is or is not available.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Money Matters

Going to seminary is different than going to a different graduate school.  It is still higher education, but it is higher education with no promise of higher pay.  Going to med school to become a doctor or to law school to become a lawyer will likely pay well in the long run, provided you graduate and find a job.  Going to seminary, on the other hand, is not likely to pay any more than not going to seminary.  It may increase the chances of being hired as a minister, but it is not likely to increase the salary offered.  Simply put, pastors do not make very much money whether they have a seminary degree or not.

This makes paying for seminary a sticky issue.  In many cases, student loans are the only options offered to prospective seminarians.  While school debt is considered "smart" debt in most cases, the matter deserves special attention.  Should you take out a loan for higher education if you already have loans from your undergraduate?  Will you be able to work two jobs to pay off the loans you accrue after graduation?  What percentage of new graduates are being hired by your denomination?  Are bivocational pastors common?  Even with two jobs will you be able to pay off the loans?

Sometimes it doesn't seem to matter what you think about the wisdom of student loans.  Grants are few and far between, and many schools cannot afford to give any scholarships.  Working full time and going to school is a viable option for some, but others do not have enough time or energy for that.  A good part time job will likely cover living expenses like a place to stay, food to eat, and gas for getting to work and school, but there might not be much left over.  Being married and having a spouse to help carry the financial option is probably the best option when possible, but some seminaries seem to rely too heavily on students using this option which discriminates against single seminarians.

It is a dilemna, but there is hope.  Private scholarships are sometimes offered by a local church or by a denomination.  Websites used for finding undergrad scholarships also have some good offers sometimes.  However, the pickings are still slim.  Maybe someday there will be more scholarships available to help struggling seminarians.  Until then, maybe we'll find some other viable options for paying for seminary.