Financial Aid Overview and Scholarships

Paying for college can prove challenging for any college student; however, Christian college students often face a variety of hardships even beyond the financial burden of earning a degree. Secular colleges may not offer Christian students the resources they need to uphold their own moral values and may also lack academic programs concentrated in ministry, theology, and religious studies that a Christian student may want to further their careers. Additionally, many students inaccurately assume that a Christian college offering specialized programs costs too much. For students looking to earn a degree that leads to a career in ministry or Church service, pursuing Christian college scholarships serves as a key part of the application process.

Christian students not only qualify for the same need-based federal aid as other students, but they may also benefit from specialized scholarships at Christian colleges

Schools, individuals, and the government make financial aid available to students in the form of scholarships, grants, work-study jobs, and loans. Christian students not only qualify for the same need-based federal aid as other students, but they may also benefit from specialized scholarships at Christian colleges -- including qualifying for awards that require applicants to testify to their faith, submit recommendations from their local pastor, and demonstrate community service experience in their local congregation. Many Christian college scholarships encourage students to maintain a wholesome lifestyle and integrate spirituality into the college experience.

This guide walks you through the different types of financial aid available to students attending Christian colleges, including a list of available scholarships.

Filling Out the FAFSA

When considering financial aid -- including Christian college scholarships -- the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, should serve as the starting point. The majority of schools require the FAFSA to determine your eligibility for institutional scholarships and other awards. The FAFSA also serves as part of the application process for work-study opportunities, grants, and loans offered by banks, non-profit organizations, private companies, and corporations.

Every student should fill out the FAFSA, even those who assume they will not qualify because of income, age, or GPA status. Students may complete the FAFSA any time between October 1 and June 30, though the Department of Education recommends that students complete the form as early as possible to qualify for any first-come, first-serve opportunities. Individual states and schools supporting their own Christian college scholarships may list seperate deadlines within this window. Students must complete a new FAFSA form each year to determine eligibility for all programs.

Information Needed for the FAFSA

  • Driver’s License Number

    Students should provide a current driver's license number as an additional form of identification, supplementing the applicant's social security number and confirming their identity in the U.S.

  • Federal Tax Information

    An applicant must submit their federal tax information in the form of an IRS form 1040, 1040EZ, or 1040A; a foreign tax return for students living outside of the U.S.; or a tax return for income earned in a non-mainland U.S. territory -- such as Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands.

  • Records of Untaxed Income

    A student must include records of any untaxed income for themselves -- or for their parents if the applicant is a legal dependent. Examples include child support, military veterans noneducation benefits, and interest income.

  • Social Security Number

    Students needs to supply their Social Security number to complete the FAFSA. Though undocumented students do not hold a social security number, DACA students do, meaning they can complete and submit the FASFA. Applicants should submit either their parents' social security numbers if they live as dependents or their alien registration number if they do not possess U.S. citizenship.

  • Information on Assets

    An applicant must report all assets related to their financial status, for themselves or their parents, if they live as a dependent, including non-income sources such as cash deposits, bank account balances, investment stocks and bonds, real estate investments, and farm/business assets.

Determining Your Financial Need

A major part of funding your education includes calculating your financial need for college. Your estimated of cost of attendance, or COA, includes tuition and fees; books, supplies, and transportation; room and board; child care and disability services (if applicable); and study-abroad program costs (if necessary). Many schools provide a COA estimate for the number of years or semesters a student attends.

Your expected family contribution, or EFC, also plays a role in determining college costs. Your college's financial aid staff needs your completed FAFSA form to determine your exact EFC. Your EFC is calculated by adding your (or your family's) taxed and untaxed income and assets, as well as any federal or state benefits, including social security or unemployment. The formula also takes into account the size of your family and the number of family members enrolled or planning to enroll in college that year.

To determine your financial need, subtract your EFC from your COA. Based on this figure, you may qualify for need-based aid, including:

Schools use a different formula to determine your maximum allowance of non-need-based aid, calculated by subtracting the financial aid you have received to-date from your COA. Non-need-based federal aid options include:

In addition to federal aid programs, students may seek out merit-based Christian college scholarships and other non-need-based awards from private funding sources.

Sources of Financial Aid

Types of Financial Aid

Loan Repayment

The Department of Education (ED) offers a variety of loan repayment options for federal loans. When establishing the terms of a federal student loan, a student may choose how they want to repay it. Options include standard, extended, and graduated repayment plans, allowing students to repay over successively longer periods. Income-driven and income-sensitive repayment plans calculate a student's monthly payments according to their income. Lenders automatically enroll students who do not specify their preferred method of repayment in the standard plan. Visit the repayment estimator calculator to explore your options.

For students held hostage to a bimonthly paycheck schedule, their loan servicer may allow them to change their payment due date and/or repayment plan. For students with multiple federal loans, a direct consolidation loan may serve as a smart option; it allows them to make one monthly payment on their combined loan balances. As a last resort, a student unable to make any payments on their loans may qualify for postponement through a forbearance or deferment option.

Loan Forgiveness

Depending on the individual terms of a loan or the type of loan, a student may qualify for loan forgiveness. Some circumstances allow for a lawful discharge of federal student loans, meaning a student does not need to repay the balance. For example, if a school closes or falsifies the student's eligibility for the loan, or the student passes away, they do not need to repay the balance. However, loan forgiveness does not apply to students who voluntarily withdraw from their course of study or cannot find employment in their interest area after graduation.

Students in certain occupations or who fulfill select obligations of their repayment plans may qualify for forgiveness of direct, Perkins, and Federal Family Education Loans (FFELs). For example, teachers who complete five years of full-time experience in a low-income school after graduation may qualify for forgiveness on a portion of their subsidized and unsubsidized federal loans. Students who made at least 120 payments on their direct loans while employed full-time by a qualifying government or nonprofit organization may enjoy public loan forgiveness.

Some lenders may offer loan forgiveness or similar incentives for students who commit to performing a certain service or filling a particular position after graduation. For Christian college scholarships, for example, some lenders may discharge a student from payments after they serve a minimum number of years in the ministry.

Which Type of Loan is Best?

While the ED offers several federal loan options, students can also use private loans offered by independent lenders such as banks and financial firms. Though the terms of a private loan may seem comparable, they should serve as a last-resort option for students seeking financial aid, as borrowers do not enjoy any regulation from the ED.

Depending on your eligibility, you may qualify for one or more federal programs, including the Perkins, direct-subsidized, direct-unsubsidized, or federal-PLUS loan

As a rule, students should fill out the FAFSA and explore all options for federal college aid before considering a private loan. Depending on your eligibility, you may qualify for one or more federal programs, including the Perkins, direct-subsidized, direct-unsubsidized, or federal-PLUS loan. You may also maximize your financial aid by seeking out merit-based Christian college scholarships.

In rare cases, scholarships for Christian students require applicants to testify to their faith in order to qualify for an award. A private lender that prefers to do business with other like-minded Christian professionals may offer loans specifically to Christian college students. Each applicant should use their better judgement when considering a private student loan.

Financial Aid for Graduate Students

The ED offers a wealth of options for graduate and professional learners. While some graduate and post-graduate students may not qualify for the same grants and scholarships as undergraduate students, they do enjoy other benefits exclusive to professionals earning a degree. For example, many employers offer incentives to workers that go back to school to complete a graduate-level degree or training program. The TEACH grant program boasts success in providing teaching students with a direct path to a career by incentivizing a vocation in education.

Graduate students also qualify for federal work-study programs -- ideal for a student looking for a financial aid option that provides them with field experience. Graduate students may also seek funding in the form of a Pell Grant, through state agencies targeting their county of residence or a particular academic program, or through scholarships for Christian colleges. The Department of Education also offers graduate students the option of taking out a direct PLUS loan, designed to meet the needs of students whose education costs exceed their maximum allowance for a subsidized loan. Even still, many students prefer grants and scholarships for Christian colleges first, as "free" educational funding. The list below offers some of the nation's best Christian college scholarships.

Scholarships for Christian Colleges

General Christian Scholarships

Baptist Life Scholarships $1,000

Who Can Apply: Applicants must have been insured through Baptist Life for a minimum of 24 months at the time of application. Students must also submit transcripts for between grade nine and their most recent completed academic year. They must also report individual, family, and spousal gross income for consideration. The award applies to full-time undergraduate or graduate students. View Scholarship

The Generosity Trust Varies

Who Can Apply: The Generosity Trust provides financial aid to students seeking a ministry degree, descendents of local pastors, and recipients of the Dora Maclellan Brown scholarship who reside in or hail from the Chattanooga, Tennessee area. View Scholarship

Knights of Columbus Fourth Degree Pro Deo and Pro Patria Scholarships $1,500

Who Can Apply: Applicants must enjoy membership and good standing with the Knights of Columbus, the Columbian Squires, or be the child of a current or deceased member beginning their freshman year of study at a Catholic college or university. View Scholarship

John D. McDevitt Scholarship $1,500

Who Can Apply: Members, spouses, widows, or children of members of the Knights of Columbus qualify. The student must be entering their first year of an undergraduate program at a Catholic college or university. View Scholarship

William R. Johnson Scholarship Fund Varies

Who Can Apply: Local Church Ministries funds this scholarship, awarding it to openly gay, bisexual, or transgender second- or third-year seminary or theology students working toward a master of divinity degree. Applicants must hold membership at a local United Church of Christ (UCC) for at least one year at the time of application, hold Member in Discernment status, and possess a 3.0 GPA. View Scholarship

Harold H. Wilke Scholarship Varies

Who Can Apply: Applicants to the Wilke Scholarship must have a disability themselves or plan to serve those with disabilities. Students must submit documentation of their leadership experience and potential for consideration. View Scholarship

Make A Difference! Educational Support Award Varies

Who Can Apply: Applicants hold membership with the UCC for at least one year at the time of application. Seminary students enrolled in an ATS-accredited school or program qualify. Students must receive approval from the Committee on Ministry before applying. View Scholarship

Clare Booth Luce Program Varies

Who Can Apply: The Luce Program provides funding for women in fields typically underrepresented by female professionals, including science and engineering. The program offers undergraduate and graduate awards, with preference given to Catholic institutions and programs. View Scholarship

Foundation for College Christian Leaders Scholarship Varies

Who Can Apply: The Foundation for College Christian Leaders offers this scholarship to students of the Christian faith. Students must demonstrate financial need, hold at least a 3.0 GPA, and reside in Washington, California, or Oregon. View Scholarship

Lydia Scholarship $2,500

Who Can Apply: The Lydia Scholarship Fund provides this award to female applicants pursuing a master of divinity degree and ordination through a Presbyterian seminary who plan to become ministers in the Presbyterian Church. View Scholarship

Scholarships for Christian Students in Special Fields

Ministry Scholarships

Helen and Richard Brown Endowment for Pastoral Scholarships Varies

Who Can Apply: Members in good standing with a UCC chapter and members in discernment of a regional UCC organization qualify. Candidates must be enrolled in or accepted into an ATS-accredited seminary program or theology program leading to UCC ministry. They must possess a minimum 3.0 GPA and prove financial need. View Scholarship

Rev. Dr. Joseph Henry Evans Designated Fund for African-American Pastoral Scholarships Varies

Who Can Apply: African-American members in discernment and members of a UCC congregation may qualify. Candidates must be in their second or third year of seminary study, with a history of advocacy and leadership through church service experience. View Scholarship

Reverend Dr. Héctor E. López Scholarship for Latina and Latino UCC Seminarians Varies

Who Can Apply: The Lopez Scholarship is awarded to students with interest in Latinx-specific pastoral history and experience in the Latinx community. Applicants must submit a statement on ministry for consideration. View Scholarship

Teaching Scholarships

Bethesda Lutheran Communities Scholarships $3,000

Who Can Apply: The Bethesda Auxiliary offers two scholarships to active members of a Lutheran congregation enrolled in a seminary, college, or university program leading to a career in intellectual or developmental disabilities. View Scholarship

CEAI Thiesen Scholarship $1,000

Who Can Apply: Christian Educators Association International offers the Thiesen Scholarship to students enrolled full time or accepted into a teacher training program at the undergraduate or graduate level. Applicants must submit a statement of faith and intend to pursue a certified position in a K-12 public school in the U.S. View Scholarship

Lettie Pat Whitehead Foundation Scholarship Varies

Who Can Apply: Christian women pursuing an undergraduate college program in Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee, or Virginia (especially in a health education, nursing, or allied health field) may apply. Applicants must demonstrate financial need. View Scholarship

Christian Counseling Scholarships

Forum for Theological Exploration Ministry Exploration and Mentoring Grant $1,500

Who Can Apply: The Forum for Theological Exploration (FTE) offers a grant to candidates who participate in an FTE retreat or the organization's annual Christian Leadership Forum. Applicants may propose a one-year exploration and mentorship project involving ministry, church service, or community leadership. View Scholarship

Young Christian Leaders Scholarship $1,000

Who Can Apply: Young Christian Leaders offers scholarships to students who hold membership with their local church and enjoy full-time enrollment in an undergraduate college. While applicants must live in Connecticut, New York, or New Jersey, they may attend school in another state. View Scholarship

FTE Fellowships for Doctoral Students of African Descent Varies

Who Can Apply: The FTE offers fellowships to applicants pursuing a doctorate, Ph.D., or Th.D. in theology, religion, or biblical studies. African-American students admitted or enrolled in a full-time program at an accredited American or Canadian university may apply. Ph.D. applicants must hold ABD status. View Scholarship

Theology Scholarships

Rev. Virginia Kreyer Endowed Scholarship Fund for Theological Education Varies

Who Can Apply: Members of a UCC congregation, members of discernment in ministry, and those with a disability qualify. Recipients may use the funds to offset the costs of aid, including assistive learning devices, transportation, and specialized software needed to complete a seminary or theology training program. View Scholarship

Adrienne M. and Charles Shelby Rooks Fellowship for Racial and Ethnic Theological Students Scholarship Varies

Who Can Apply: The Rooks Fellowship supports UCC members from under-represented ethnic groups enrolled in a master of divinity program at a theology school -- especially those seeking a career in a scholarly vocation focused on religion. Candidates must belong to a minority racial or ethnic group, be in the process of earning member in discernment status, and maintain a "B" grade average. View Scholarship

Knights of Columbus Father McGivney Vocations Scholarships $2,500

Who Can Apply: The Knights of Columbus offers vocational scholarships to male students in their first four years of a theology program pursuing the Catholic priesthood. Applicants must be enrolled or accepted into a seminary in the U.S. or Canada and demonstrate financial need. Members, or sons of members, of the Knights of Columbus receive preference. View Scholarship