Can I afford seminary?

Ryan Burns —  November 16, 2007

The fact is that seminary is expensive.

So, when trying to make the decision on going to seminary, it is important to spend some time crunching the numbers. Now, this isn’t the determining factor, but it is certainly one you must consider before making this decision.

So, what should you do?

Well, first, you need to figure out you current cost of living. This means taking ALL your monthly expenses and get them on paper. Here is a list to get you thinking. List how much you spend per month on:

  • Rent/Mortgage
  • Groceries
  • Power
  • Water
  • Trash
  • Internet
  • Cable
  • Auto Insurance
  • Car Payment
  • Gasoline
  • Student loans
  • Clothing
  • Entertainment
  • Eating out
  • Tithe/Donations
  • and so on…

Now, if you don’t know exactly how much you spend per month, then estimate. The key here is to estimate HIGH. So, if you think you spend $100 a month clothes, but you aren’t sure… go ahead and estimate $125.

Once you have it all listed out… add it up. This is a good idea of your current cost of living.

Now, the fun part. Ask yourself how you plan to pay the bills when you go to seminary. Here you need to be realistic. You’re not going to be working a 40 hour a week job making $60K while you’re in seminary. The coursework will be grueling. I estimate (current seminarians help me on this one) that you can work 20 +/- hours a week. This alone will limit your job options. So, honestly evaluate your income potential on a monthly basis. Here, again, you might need to estimate. This time, however, estimate low. Better safe then sorry. Also, if your spouse plans on working, figure that it too. Add it all up and you have your estimated monthly income.

Now, take your estimate monthly income and subtract your current cost of living. This number might scare you… it’s probably a negative. That means you won’t make enough to support your current lifestyle while at seminary.

Now, don’t take that to mean seminary is out of the picture for you. Now the fun begins.

Take your current monthly living expense and begin to trim the fat. What areas can you cut down? Entertainment and eating out are the first easy targets. However, don’t be foolish and drop them to zero. Unless you are super-human, you’ll eat out from time to time… or at least get a coffee or tea. To say zero is just dumb. Be rational and cut the excess, but don’t drop to zero.

Now, I’m not going to talk about all the ways to cut cost (I’ll do that on another post) but you get the picture. As you cut the cost you’ll notice you’re inching closer and closer to making that negative a positive.

Now, as our decreasing the gap here, (warning, bad news ahead) don’t forget to add some of the expenses that might not have been on your first list… like books, health insurance, tuition, etc. These are certainly going impact the monthly budget.

Now, what happens if you’ve cut all you think you can legitimately cut and the numbers still don’t work? Well, I can’t tell you exactly. This is where prayer, council, and discernment kick in. Just because it doesn’t work on paper doesn’t mean it is out the window. Pray and be wise.

For me… well, the paper (aka the “can this work” excel spreadsheet) says no. We’re about $700 a month short. However, we’ve decided to take the step of faith. We’ll have some equity to cushion us for a bit to test the water, so our decision is not reckless… but it isn’t ‘safe’. But I feel like that is part of the experience. Stepping out and trusting God. It isn’t for everyone (you know what I mean)… just do your homework.

Ryan Burns

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Ryan Burns is on staff at Redemption Hill Church in Richmond, VA. He also runs a church jobs website to help connect churches and ministers.

4 responses to Can I afford seminary?

  1. Most people take out some debts to go to seminary.

    It is a good investment if you are pretty passionate about this. I don’t know anyone who has regretted it.

    Just a Guy, you should have brought your wife a long to help you house search.

    I did seminary at Regent College in Vancouver, BC.

    I am doing my doctorate at Duke Divinity School.

    My little blog post about choosing a seminary is at:

    http://www.andyrowell.net/andy_rowell/2006/03/seminaries_for_.html

    Or see that whole category:

    http://www.andyrowell.net/andy_rowell/seminaries/index.html

    I think your advice is good “Just a Guy” on most things. Good thinking through everything.

    Grace and peace,

    andy

  2. Thank you for what you have done with this site. I have been working full-time going to seminary online for a year and a half… Neither my wife nor I believe this is God’s plan and we have spent the last 6 months trying to figure out how to move from St. Louis, MO to Virginia Beach and go from a nice salary to zero :-) Some things are coming into place, we are still waiting for God to show more. It is scary and exciting at the same time. I will be reading and commenting frequently, I will probably ask several questions as well. Thanks again.

  3. What does this say about the social class of clergy vs. that of ordinary people in the pews? When we think about the time and place where Jesus sent out the first leaders of his movement, it is highly unlikely that any of them could have done anything equivalent to using equity to cushion them while they got properly certified for the ministry!! Not to mention Jesus himself – - – .

    The cost of seminary is a serious blot on the witness of the church. Something has to change.

  4. I know this is super old but I forgot that i was going to comment (months ago when the original comment was made), just a disclaimer for my husband. ;) i’ve had lots of people seem shocked that he would come down here without me to choose where we’ll live.

    1) we couldn’t afford 2 plane tickets & had the 2 kids who needed to be cared for in the short-notice time we had to come down to house-hunt

    2) Ryan is MUCH more…’particular’ (to put it mildly) about things like this than me, so anything he’d pick would be beyond my expectations (& definitely were, I LOVE where we’re living!). :)

    Jenn Bs last blog post..Glutton for punishment