Email question

I received an email from a fan, and I thought his question was too important for me to answer on my own. I thought I would put it up to have the rest of the community on TGA give their own advice as well:

My mother is a big church lady and heavy devout christian, her inner ties with high church officials have given her connections in many places all over town. If you live in this area, chances are you know my mother.

Now I know you don’t like preface to questions, but this is important. I am a vocal performer, and it is important to note that classical vocal pieces (songs) and such have heavy religious ties due to the influence of the church during the Renaissance, now to pursue my studies in music I have performed with several church groups and hundreds of religious songs for concert performance and education. I am planing on going to community college as a vocal performance major.

A friend of my mother’s, a pastor at a local church, offered to have the church pay for one half of my college tuition, if I go to this one religious university.

Here is the question. (if you skipped the last paragraph, at least read the line above)
Should I take the money and go to this school, or deny the church’s money and go to a secular college at full cost to me?

I’m probably the wrong person to ask about college advice, since I didn’t go myself. With that said, you’re in a tough spot I’m sure many others have been in. You have a chance to go to school without having to pay a large portion of it. Student debt has reached about 1 trillion dollars (it surpassed credit card debt recently), and it’s quickly becoming clear that personal debt is a new form of economic slavery. To do anything worthwhile, you often have to enter into a vicious cycle of debt, and I can appreciate people’s effort to avoid this vicious trap.

According to a College Board report issued last fall, median earnings of bachelor’s degree recipients working full time year-round in 2008 were $55,700, or $21,900 more than the median earnings of high school graduates. And their unemployment rate was far lower.

Indeed, some economists worry that all the news about unemployed 20-somethings mired in $100,000 of college debt might discourage some young people from attending college.

With that said, you might find compromising your school choice for purely financial reasons might make you unhappy and miserable. I don’t know what this religious school is like, but my guess is that you’ll find yourself meeting too few like minded peers, an important part of not only your college experience, but also a chance for you to make new friends that will influence you for a long time to come. A person’s environment has a huge impact on their wellbeing, their happiness, and their general life satisfaction, so never forget that.

I haven’t really given you an answer, but my guess is that there’s still a lot more research on your part that must be done before you make up your own mind. There is so much about your situation that is unknown to me, and as a result, any advice I give would be grossly incomplete, and probably bad. So what does everyone else think of his dilemma?

Comments (10)

  • avatar


    Not all religiously sanctioned colleges are strongly religious. The Lutheran based college I went to had a strong religious community but also a strong atheist and agnostic community. Even though it was a Lutheran college about 1/3 of the student population was Catholic and 1/3 “other or non-religious”. Very few people actually went to on campus services and religious activities. You ought to visit the religious institution a few times and see how you like it. It might be full of zealots, but it might also be a “normal” type college but with a religious endorsement that doesn’t really affect academic and social life. Visit and talk to current students to see if it’s a good fit. If it is… take their money with no shame! Trust me, you do not want to end up with 100k in student loan debt… it sucks. Good luck in your endeavors!

  • avatar


    It depends so heavily on which school it is and where that I couldn’t possibly answer. I did not go to a religious school, but I went to school in a Pittsburgh, PA, where there are three universities and several colleges in very close vicinity to each other. One was a strong Catholic university, but there was a lot of contact to a secular community.

    I would consider what you think of the school’s voice program. You are going to school to train for your career. Again, thinking back to my college days, a classical vocalist from my secular school would have much more intensive training that those from the religious university downtown.

    If your choice is religious university or community college. What are the differences in final price tag? How much money would you save? Compare that to exposure to external groups, what type of area is it in? Many artistic fields (including my own) leave students feeling that the college experience could have been achieved through independent study just living near a university, what level of quality are you expecting from each school? What is the mindset of the student population?

    A lot of words, not a lot of answers. I will say, any trauma of speaking your mind on a close-minded campus will pale in comparison to being ten years out of school and find yourself still chipping away at debt.

  • avatar


    I’d like to echo Kay, in that you should check the place out first to make sure you can stomach it.

    Some other things to consider are:

    - Are there any other strings attached to this funding?

    - Will this college look good on your resume, or do you have the option of going to a “better” college but at full cost to yourself?

    - If you potentially don’t need the funding, are you taking away from someone else less well-off who could attend college with this funding, when they otherwise could not?

    If you answered no to all 3 questions, take the money and make sure you do something positive with your life.

    Let’s make that money do something to improve society.
    (No preasure)

  • avatar


    This is a tough one. I would be concerned about strings attached too…not to mention if this “offer” is limitied to your attendance at a college of someone else’s choosing. Which it looks like it is if they’ve already got the college picked out.

    Find out how that college ranks (there are online ranking guides). Because depending on the religious facility, 5 years in a bear costume at a theme park might look better to future employers rather than a degree from some places.

  • avatar


    I’d take the money. They can’t buy your thoughts.

    but you CAN take their money!

  • avatar


    I’m going to say walk away.

    Consider that the people who are giving you the money are connected to your “big church lady and heavy devout christian” mother who has “inner ties with high church officials” and has all kinds of “connections in many places all over town”.

    Assuming you’ve come out as an atheist, I’m assuming you are one even though it wasn’t specified in Jacob’s original post, just imagine the kind of scandal it would cause her if such a devout, connected, woman had an atheist child. You have to consider that this whole thing was arranged by your mother to have the pastor offer you a partial scholarship to coerce you into going to a school of *her* choosing in the hopes of “fixing her problem child” by having you see “the error of their heathen ways and return to Christ to be saved”.

    Don’t just accept their verbal agreement, you need to be very clear, in writing, what is expected of your before you even consider taking the money. What are the catches? Is it a grant or scholarship? Are they just going to gift you the money? Are there any classes the pastor is *demanding* you take, he is paying for part of it after all? Will the money they give you negatively impact your tax position? Does the pastor expect you to return home and join their choir? Are you expected to return the money if you don’t?

    You really have to consider and think about the root reason behind why the church is willing to give such a large amount of money to the child of a woman with such far reaching connections in the community. People who are so widely connected are often well to do, if not downright rich as hell, and can often afford to send their kids to school. You need to ask yourself why this church is willing to chip in their own money to send you to a specific religious school out of the blue like this?

    Honestly the whole thing just doesn’t sit right with me, I’d be very wary of taking it. You likely have a school already picked out, one that you’ve hopefully researched and determined is the best one you can afford that’ll get you where you want to be professionally, so at the very least I’d recommend you look into how this specific school the Pastor wants you to attend stacks up.

    Also, ask the pastor, point blank, why this particular school. Would he be willing to send you to another Religious school that had a better program, you might be able to find a school like the one Kay described above.

    I can understand its a LOT of money, particularly if your parents have decided not to help you out with school. If you *do* decide to take this deal I am going to *STRONGLY* recommend you get a lawyer who *isn’t* connected to your mother to draft a legal contract clearly enumerating what is expected of you should you take the money. You want this whole deal to be airtight so they can’t come back at you near the end of your studies and try to force you into making career / life decisions that you don’t want to make just because you *owe* the Pastor and his congregation for their help in sending you to school.

    If this is on the up and up they shouldn’t have any problem with you lawyering up and trying to protect yours and their rights. If they do, especially if they try to guilt you or coerce you into accepting a verbal arrangement, its a clear indication there are going to be serious strings attached to the money they were planning springing on you later and you should back out immediately and return to your original plans.

    And now for the “hard part”. Family. If you do this, if you take the money and you get the contract and all that, expect the pastor, via your family, to try and guilt you into making the life decisions you went to the trouble of lawyering up to prevent anyway. Expect your mother to make this all about her, “I’m well connected in this town, if you don’t do this you’ll ruin my reputation and I’ll disown you!” They will apply the guilt and the shame until you either crack or you’re forced to sever all ties to your family. You have to ask yourself, are you willing to put your family connections on the line to save a bit of money?

    Ultimately its your decision as to what to do, but going on the little bit from Jacob’s article and personal life experience I’m going to say walk away.


    PS: If you *do* decide to walk away, be nice about it. Say a bunch of flowery stuff about how you really appreciate his offer but, you’ve carefully researched the school you’re going to be attending and strongly feel it’s the best place to gain the needed skills to secure your professional career. It makes you the better person in the exchange and saves face for your family, important if you plan on keeping them in your life.

  • avatar

    J.N. Hudson

    I highly endorse WCLPeter’s about seeing an independeant attorney and getting what is expected of you in return for the money spelled out nice and clearly. In a situation similar to yours I accepted a rather large sum of money for tutiotion from my family’s church which I was also a member of at the time (The tuition grant was not school specific), 7 years latter, just a few months after coming out as an atheist to my family, I was slapped with a lawsuit by the aforementioned church for the total sum plus interest. Of course the church didn’t have a legal leg to stand on and the fact that this was purely a nusiance suit meant to force me to waste both my time and my money in legal fees was made clear by a seemingly endless series of pointless motions and requests for continuance. I was lucky because my lawyer was also a member of the decidedly less-than-devout part of my family who was willing to represent me pro bono out of sheer spite. I’m not saying that the church in your instance would resort to such tactics, I’m just saying that it has happened before and religious people and institutions can be just as petty and vindictiveas anyone else.

    I’d also have to say that it should depend greatly on the school in question. Some religious colleges are indistinguishable from their secular counterpart, both in culture and cirriculum, while others (Liberty University, Patriot Bible College, etc) can make a four year stint flipping burgers at McDonald’s look like a more enlightening option.

  • avatar

    allex Zes

    (I wrote the e-mail)
    I would like to thank you for all your help, upon researching the university in question (Anderson Indiana)

    I would like to quote from their own website:
    “Required chapel/convocation attendance for students is an Anderson University tradition that has been maintained over the entire history of the university. It is one of the experiences on this campus that sets us apart from secular schools and many private church-related colleges. We maintain this tradition as a sign of our devotion to be a learning, worshiping community, dedicated to the integration of faith and learning.”

    needless to say, I will not be accepting the offer, thank you all for your help.

  • avatar


    I will say it based on personnal experience. When I graduated in middle school my parents wanted to put me in private school. It was a catholic school, very religious (the principal is a priest and the school is full of nuns) and I said no for the obvious reason. I decided to go a public school instead, I had a great time there and I’ve never regreted my decision.

  • avatar


    Remember that just because it is a “religious” Uni doesn’t mean that it necessarily has a bad standard of teaching or reputation to employers.

    I would take the money if the school was good enough, it’s only four years that you’ll have to endure, but compared to an equally long amount of time mired in debt, well, that is an easier choice.

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