Over the last three years, our staff has been visiting some of the top-rated Christian universities in the country. We have spoken to countless individuals that are excited about serving God on the mission field. We’ve had wonderful conversations, but when we ask, “How is your student debt?”, faces become downcast and it is clear to see that many students carry this burden with no clear plan for how to get rid of it.

Student debt, in my opinion, is one of the top five reasons that we don’t have more young adults going into missions. We live in a society where student debt is a relatively new problem. According to a recent report by the College Board Advocacy & Policy Center, college tuition costs 17 times more than it did 40 years ago. Students today face a pretty grim picture upon graduation. As college costs continue to rise, young professionals are presented with an unprecedented dilemma. There is now more pressure than ever to get a high paying job in order to tackle student loans as efficiently as possible. This pressure exists for everyone, missionary or otherwise.

There is hope, but it will require a significant shift in our thinking. In The Simplest Way to Change the World, authors Dustin Willis and Brandon Clements say, “Our default is to swim along with the current of our culture, not giving a single thought about the water that surrounds our every move and pushes us in the opposite direction of an intentional mission.” They were referring to Biblical hospitality, but I think the same idea can be applied to Student Debt.

So, here are some simple ideas for incoming freshmen and graduating seniors who are feeling the call to reach the nations. Take these suggestions seriously because God has given us “the ministry of reconciliation” and every believer is responsible for the Gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).

Plea to Incoming Freshman

Go to Community College for General Education Courses

Your local community college should have general education credits that will transfer to most major universities. These general courses could be 1/3 the cost of taking the same class at your first-choice university. So, you could cover your Math, Science, English, and other gen-ed courses, saving a significant amount of money, and then transfer those credits to a major university. In some cases, you could get your two year Associate’s degree and then transfer to a university as a junior to get your Bachelors.

Use CLEP & DSST Exams to your Advantage

CLEP exams are also an inexpensive way to take care of general education classes in advance. You can study, get a passing score, and then you will not have to take that class in community college or university. However, you will need to verify what score is sufficient to meet your school of choice’s requirements.

DSST exams are just like CLEP, but with business specific topics like accounting, business law, and many more.

Suggestions for Graduating Seniors

Set a Goal

If you incurred student debt during your time as a student that is okay. Having a college degree is an excellent resource as you go to the unreached. You’re degree and skills acquired during college can help give you access to the 60% of the unreached population who live in countries that are closed to missionaries.

Now that you are almost out of college, set a goal that you want to be debt free by a specific date. Then, set small measurable goals to reach the larger goal, always keeping in mind that the unreached are waiting for you to come and that God has called you to the ends of the earth. Seeing those small goals topple over will only fuel your passion to keep chipping away at the student debt burden.

If you are not sure where to start we would recommend taking the Financial Peace University course by Dave Ramsey. It’s a great course that helps you with the skill set of getting out of debt and living on a budget. It is well worth the investment.

Live on a War Time Budget

Develop the mindset to live on less and be frugal. This lifestyle choice will be drastic and will rub against the culture that surrounds you. You don’t have eat out regularly, instead pack your lunch for work or make dinner at home rather than going out. It takes a little more time & planning, but will save you a lot of money in the long run.

Here are some additional suggestions that will not only help you financially, but will help you develop disciplines that will transfer to living cross culturally in a closed context:

  • Don’t drink soda, instead, have water.
  • Don’t have a hobby that costs a lot (e.g. golf, skiing, etc…).
  • Find free entertainment (e.g. go to parks, look for free museum days).
  • Make a meal schedule.

Your friends will think you are crazy, but this brings me to the next point.

Communicate Your Desire to go Long Term

If you are not sharing your desire to reach the nations with your friends, families, and your local church then they won’t understand why you are living so differently. Ask a trusted mentor within your local church to keep you accountable. Communicating your desires, and meeting that with actions will display your commitment and it may encourage others to consider their choices as well. In addition, when you send off that last payment they will rejoice with you.

Serve Right Now

Don’t only be about work, work, work. Remember that your local church will be the one that sends you out into the harvest. Look for ways to serve and gain valuable experience that will benefit you on the field. Start a small group study, teach the Word, reach out to international students, and look for ways to get trained for overseas work now! If you are not living a life of service here, you will not suddenly change your habits there.

There are many more practical ways that you can smash the obstacle of student debt. We’d love to hear your suggestions so we can share examples with our interns of what people are doing to swim upstream, against the current culture of student debt.

Check back with us for part two in this series about the student debt dilemma and specific programs that are available to help you overcome debt in order to reach the nations!!