Paying for (and working your way through) school

Studying theology is a wonderful experience—one that helps pastors and teachers serve both God and other people. But unfortunately, it doesn’t usually come for free. How can you pay for it without relying heavily on student loans?

Seeking out scholarships and grants is the first place to turn. Sometimes, this funding can come from your ecclesiastical denomination, your school, or an outside organization. Other times, it can come from your congregation, or even a relative’s congregation. I find that the students who have the most success in funding their theology degrees via financial gifts aren’t typically awarded of large lump sums of money. Instead, they get many smaller scholarships and grants that build up.

If you don’t get the funding you hope for (or even if you do), student jobs can be another option when paying for school. These jobs can take a lot of different forms. For those with academic interests, it can be helpful to look into working as a teaching assistant or in a library. Sometimes, seminaries or divinity schools will have departments or centers that focus on a particular subject, such as interfaith studies or the connection between science and religion. Those can be great opportunities to combine your academic or personal interests with work.

Other on-campus jobs may have less of a direct link to your studies, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth doing. Since beginning seminary in 2012, I have had quite a few jobs—some closely tied to what I learn in school, some less so. A great example is the time I’ve spent on my seminary’s snow crew. During wintery months, we get up at or before dawn to clear the campus of ice and snow. Sometimes, it’s a grueling job; it can take us hours to do as the sun slowly comes up. I stick with it because, even though it’s not related to my classes, I feel like I’m contributing to the safety and mobility of people in my community. I enjoy working with others on the crew and have met people I may not otherwise have gotten to know.

On-campus jobs can be fun, but sometimes, it’s refreshing to leave campus and have a change of scenery. Working for your school has the benefits of building community and the convenience of a familiar and nearby location. But working somewhere else can open up new opportunities, too. You might learn something about your city or even your neighborhood. Sometimes, stepping away from seminary or an academic setting can help remind you what it’s like to be someone who doesn’t spend most of the day at church or in a school. For pastors especially, those are the people you’ll be working alongside. It’s a great reminder of that.

Working throughout school, in whatever way, can be a challenge. Balancing work and classwork can be tough. I wish I had some kind of universal insight into the best way to approach this, but the truth is that the balance is different for everyone. The reality is that it might take some trial and error. Flexibility in scheduling can help, as can open and honest communication with work supervisors and instructors. Working ahead when possible is always a good idea. Understanding and respecting your limits is perhaps the biggest key, though. Being aware of that is a good step forward.