Thinking Theologically about Stewardship

Vanderbilt Divinity School is committed to helping our students succeed through smart and sound financial stewardship. VDS received a grant from the Lilly Endowment as part of the Economic Challenges Facing Future Ministers (ECFFM) Initiative to work towards the thriving of divinity school graduates by increasing financial well-being.

8 Tips for Financially Preparing to Attend VDS

  • 1. Do the Math!

    Once you receive your admission letter and any merit scholarship information, look at the figures for cost of attendance and cost of living to determine exactly what your bill to the school will be as well as other monthly expenditures. You will need this information to create a budget for your time as a student.

  • 2. Research Sources of External Funding

    Does your religious tradition or denomination offer support for theological education? Would your local church be willing to offer some financial support for your education? Have you looked through various scholarship search engines? Does your employer offer tuition reimbursement?

  • 3. Develop a Sound/Creative Housing Plan

    Rent can be the most expensive item in graduate education. Get creative! Share housing costs by having roommates, or consider living in one of the affiliated housing programs that offers rent at a subsidized cost, including: 

    Research affordable neighborhoods. Consider live-in opportunities such as serving as a Resident Advisor/Head Resident on campus, a house manager at a fraternity or sorority house, working as a live-in nanny or caregiver, or locating an off-campus job that includes housing. 

  • 4. Ask Yourself Tough Questions About Simplicity and Be Honest

    Do you need a car? Can you join a family cell phone plan? Can you commit to eating out less frequently and cooking inexpensively at home? Do you need cable and internet at home? Can you forego some of those vacations during this time as a student? Can you give less expensive gifts to family and friends while in school?

  • 5. Explore Which Makes More Sense: Part-Time or Full-Time Status

    Will one of these options be more affordable and allow you to borrow less loans. Example: Some students find that if they work more hours as a part-time student, they do not need to borrow loans to cover housing expenses.

  • 6. Work Smart

    Consider full- or part-time employment that will give you the most return for your time. While on-campus jobs usually pay anywhere from $9-$12 per hour, students have successfully located jobs off campus that pay significantly more. Consider whether you have any unique experiences or skills that would enable you to be paid well for your time.

  • 7. Borrow Only What You Need

    Once you have done the math and know that you need to borrow some loans to bridge the gap in expenses, borrow the bare minimum to fill that gap. Do not overborrow out of fear of scarcity. If you get in a bind and have not borrowed the maximum, you can always ask the Office of Student Financial Aid to package up an additional disbursement. If you borrow the maximum from the beginning, you are more likely to spend it all.

  • 8. Have a Plan For Repayment

    Borrow an amount that is reasonable relative to the income you are likely to make following graduation. Think of loans as "real money" that will need to be paid back and research which repayment plan you will use following graduation.

Other Resources

  • Where to Start

    To start planning, a good starting place for incoming and current students is to review the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's definition of "Financial Well-Being."

    It is also a good practice for students to know their current educational debt balance and continue to track those figures throughout their degree program.

  • Budgeting Tools
    Budgeting is an essential tool for theological students. Don't know where to start? Try some of the tools below and see how simple budgeting can be!
  • Financial Coaching

    Current Divinity students have the opportunity to set up one-time or ongoing financial coaching sessions to receive guidance and support for planning their finances during school and following graduation. For more information, contact Angela Dillon.

  • Debt Repayment Calculators

    What are your current debt levels? How much educational debt can you afford to incur based on your intended career path? The calculator below can assist you in navigating repayment numbers and timeframe.

    "The rule of thumb for borrowing is that debt should never exceed starting salary."
    -Mark Kantrowitz, Publisher of

  • Student Loan Cautions

    Minimizing student loan debt allows for maximum freedom to choose a vocational path with your heart, and give less regard to salary levels. While federal student loans often carry lower interest rates than private loans, they still represent debt, which can be a limiting factor in one's future life plans.

    While the Federal Government has an array of repayment options for student loans, there are some cautionary facts to consider:

    1. Income-Based Repayment plans have to be reapplied for on an annual basis.
    2. Loan forgiveness programs currently available under the Income-Based Repayment Plan and the Pay As You Earn Plan treat any forgiven debt as taxable income, usually at a rate of 25%-30%.
    3. There are conversations on the floor of Congress about capping loan forgiveness at anywhere from $30,000 to $57,500.
    4. Even if you declare bankruptcy, your federal student loans will not be discharged. Before you borrow, know the facts by reading the U.S. Department of Education's Financial Literacy Guidance from Federal Student Aid.
  • How to Keep From Mortgaging Your Future

    Developed by Auburn Theological Seminary, this video offers an account of how several students have approached financing a theological education.

    Read more about the Auburn Seminary's "Theological Student Debt" project, here.

  • Additional Resources

    How do they do it? How students say they are graduating with minimal debt:

    • "I worked as many hours as my schedule would allow."
    • "I sought out funding from my denomination and local church."
    • "I took 7 years to finish the degree so that I could work and pay out-of-pocket as I went."
    • "I saved up money in advance so that I could attend without borrowing."
    • "My family helped support me."
    • "I made small changes to save money, like canceling cable at $100/month and just sticking with Netflix at $10/month."
    • "It was a priority for me to not have debt so I made sacrifices in lifestyle and worked to have enough money to live simply."