Paying for Seminary: Impossible or Affordable?

No question about it—seminary in Eretz Yisrael is expensive. The expense isn’t simply a matter of seminary administrators lining their pockets: the cost of running a full service institution can be surprisingly high. Be that as it may, the full price of seminary tuition is between $20,000 and $25,000. This budget-buster doesn’t even include airfare, cell phones, bus fare, and spending money, which easily raise the total bill to $25,000–$30,000. Unless you do something about it, that is. There are different ways to shrink your seminary bill significantly, and with some planning and exertion, cutting the full price in half—or more—is possible.

Step 1. Talk to your seminary

Seminaries are aware that many have a hard time paying tuition, and they can be very accommodating, though some more than others. You definitely should call up the seminary your daughter wants to go to after she is accepted and ask which personal discounts they offer. If a girl is accepted to multiple schools, she often has real room to negotiate; with an open mind and a little patience, this process can often lead to significant reductions. Smaller, newer seminaries are especially likely to offer better deals, and the quality of the chinuch and experience can still be top-notch.

Step 2. Grants, scholarships, and tax credits

For many families, grants (need-based) and scholarships (merit-based) play essential parts in helping pay the seminary bill. These gifts may come from the federal government, state government, or an interested organization, and with a little poking around, it is possible to obtain assistance to pay for seminary. Most grants and scholarships require the student to be enrolled in some sort of college program: Touro, Sara Schenirer, and TTI work with many seminaries to help with eligibility. Keep in mind that by joining one of these programs, you are committing to attend this college for a two-year program, meaning that you agree to finish the college program upon returning to the US. Doing otherwise, is possibly fraudulent and can cause significant financial harm to both the seminary and the affiliated program.

Government Grants

Your best bet is to start with government grants—federal and state. Federal grants are set up for all US citizens, while state ones are only for residents of that specific state. To apply for government grants, you need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, which helps determine college-aid entitlement. The primary applicable federal grant is the Pell Grant, and depending on many deciding factors, you can receive approximately $6,000 toward seminary expenses! Similarly, New Jersey uses the FAFSA to administer the New Jersey Tuition Aid Grant (TAG). The amount of money received depends on financial need, cost of attendance, and available funding; it can range from $2,000–$12,000. Though using a college structure to attend seminary isn’t to everyone’s taste, the money involved is hard to ignore. While government grants can potentially slice total seminary bills in half or more, many applicants don’t qualify for this largesse. Tova Green* relates that she only got pennies from the government since her income was too high. As a consolation prize, the government also offers tax credits (such as the American Opportunity Tax Credit) of up to $4,500 for higher education which can offset a seminary bill. These credits are applicable at various income levels and many accountants decide that because seminaries operate as institutions of higher education, they’re qualified expenditures.

Organizational scholarships and grants

There are also many college scholarships available from organizations and corporations. The primary organizational grant applicable is the Masa Israel grant, sponsored by the Israeli government to encourage Jewish young adults to visit Israel. A typical grant is in the $3,000 range, but Masa is very variable with their gift amounts and not all seminaries are set up to receive them. This potential largesse is therefore best clarified through each seminaries’ administrative office. Some major corporations offer college grants to help their employees send their kids to college: a perk worth inquiring about. Beyond Masa and employers, hundreds of miscellaneous organizations offer scholarships based on many different criteria (check out databases like Niche Scholarships and CollegeScholarships.com). These micro-grants provide minimal amounts to just a few recipients. Even so, they typically require detailed forms and writing essays, leading many to conclude that they aren’t worth pursuing. If you disagree, happy hunting!

Step 3. Daughter pays part

It is common for girls to work the summer after high school to help cover extra spending money required for the upcoming year. However, many girls take a more significant part in contributing toward their bills. An out-of-town teacher relates that most of her students start saving from the beginning of high school to help cover seminary. Parents may settle on a compromise: they pay tuition, and their daughter is expected to cover all travel costs and spending money. Frequently, the perspective is that beyond the money, girls learn responsibility by chipping in significantly for this big step instead of seeing their parents dish out cash for everything.

Final cost

With some effort and forethought, it’s not unusual for the net cost of a year in seminary to settle around the $15,000 mark. That’s a lot of money, and some question the “return on investment”. On the other hand, this outlay is probably not much beyond the range of a regular Lakewood tuition bill (around $5K–7K) plus room and board for a teenager. For a bit more, a daughter is getting a year in Eretz Yisrael and a potentially uplifting and memorable experience to boot. As long as the student maximizes her opportunity, and with some penny-pinching and grant-searching, seminary can be a great deal.

Want to dig deeper?

Try these related articles

To Send or Not to Send: The Big Seminary Question

529 Savings Plans: Getting Creative with a Tax-Free Investment Structure

Helping Your Child Land Their First Job

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