When we think of college health services, ministry may not immediately come to mind. However, with increased focus on students’ mental and emotional health, the spiritual counseling services provided on many college campuses are essential. Not only that, but campus ministers play a significant role in fostering community, demonstrating respect and acceptance, and promoting inclusivity and compassion.
The college experience can be challenging for many students, so a resource that supports their spiritual health (as well as physical and mental) is invaluable. There is no one way to be a campus minister — it can be a first career or a late-in-life pursuit — but all campus ministers are called to help young people navigate the multi-faceted challenges of higher education.
In this article, you’ll find tips for becoming a campus minister, including educational requirements, plus salary information, employment trends, and more.
- Skills & Qualifications
- Education Requirements
- Job Description
- Work Environment
- Salary Range
- Career Outlook
Campus ministry can include any number of services and activities that meet the spiritual needs of students and faculty on a school campus. Ministry services are usually managed and administered by a campus minister, whether independently or as part of a larger team.
What Is Campus Ministry?
“Campus ministry” most often refers to ministry programs on college campuses, although ministers can also be employed by high schools, summer camps, retreat centers, and similar.
Programs led and managed by campus ministers may include:
- Planning and leading worship services
- Administering sacraments
- Teaching classes
- Providing spiritual counseling
- Leading prayer or study groups
- Coordinating volunteer projects
- Organizing and leading retreats
- Planning and executing events
The title “minister” usually means this individual practices and preaches Chrisitanity in their worship services. This is not necessarily a requirement on secular campuses, which may also employ rabbis, imams, and non-denominational spiritual leaders. However, campus ministers employed by Christian schools are nearly always required to practice Christianity, if not a specific denomination or charism.
Campus Minister Skills & Qualifications
Different universities and schools may have different requirements for campus ministers, especially if they are a religious university. For example, a Catholic college may require their campus ministers to be Catholic as well, while a secular university may not specify a preference. Some schools may also require their campus ministers to be ordained, although this, too, depends on the institution or denomination.
In general, institutions of higher education prefer campus ministers to have at least a bachelor’s degree, if not a master’s degree in a relevant field like theology or Biblical studies. If a campus minister also intends to teach university courses, they will need to have a Ph.D. in the appropriate subject area.
Besides the educational qualifications, those who work in campus ministry are expected to possess the following professional skills:
- Strong understanding of the faith they espouse
- Familiarity with other major world religions, particularly on a secular campus
- Public speaking
- Understanding of the college experience
- Working with young adults
- Event planning
- Teaching or instruction (if planning to lead classes)
- Conflict resolution
On an interpersonal level, it also helps if campus ministers can demonstrate:
- Excellent communication
- Leadership qualities
- Organizational skills
- Ability to remain calm under pressure
Campus Minister Education Requirements
As mentioned previously, it’s recommended that campus ministers have at least a bachelor’s degree, though a master’s degree can give a boost to one’s qualifications. Undergraduate fields of study that lend themselves well to ministry work include theology, religious studies, counseling, philosophy, sociology, or other humanities disciplines.
Once they identify their ideal career path, many aspiring campus ministers choose to pursue a master’s degree in theology, divinity, or pastoral care to advance their understanding of religion and spiritual leadership. It’s important to research whether a university requires their campus ministers to be ordained before applying; if so, receiving formal approval to join the clergy may increase one’s hireability.
As is true of all ministry, there are some aspects of the job that no degree program can prepare campus ministers for. These can range from administrative — learning the school’s mission statement, preferred communication methods, student health services policies — to the unpredictable, such as responding to a crisis situation or providing counseling related to substance abuse.
To wit, much of a campus minister’s training happens on the job, delivered by a direct supervisor or a member of the clergy. Every university or college will uphold different values when it comes to conduct and expression of beliefs, so it is important that campus ministers understand the school’s code of ethics so they can uphold them in their ministry and individual counseling sessions.
A campus minister’s education doesn’t have to end once they land their first job. There are many certifications and trainings that can enhance a campus minister’s skills or enable them to specialize in a certain kind of pastoral care. These include crisis intervention, substance abuse counseling, chaplaincy or hospice ministry, bilingual ministry, trauma counseling, and many more.
Free eBook – 7 Applications of Faith in the Workplace.
Put your faith to work, no matter your profession
Campus Minister Job Description [Roles & Responsibilities]
A campus minister serves as a spiritual leader and advisor to both students and staff on a college campus. Besides leading regular worship services, a campus minister may also offer one-on-one sessions for those seeking individual support or advice. On a campus where students practice many different religions, this person may have broad knowledge of major world religions and be able to tailor their approach and advice to meet many different needs.
The campus minister can also serve as a liaison between the school and a local church, communicating church events and programming to the students on campus and facilitating new memberships.
Specific responsibilities can include:
- Worship services: Planning, coordinating, and leading worship services according to the liturgical calendar or as needed. Occasions outside of regular services may include vigils, memorials, or unveiling ceremonies.
- Administering sacraments: If they are ordained, a campus minister can administer holy sacraments (like baptism and the Eucharist) and perform weddings and funerals.
- Group leadership: Assembling and facilitating student groups dedicated to prayer, support, Bible study, or any other spiritual or interpersonal activity.
- Counseling: Providing spiritual support to students who are questioning, struggling, or otherwise seeking guidance in their spiritual lives. On a secular campus, a minister may diversify their approach to counsel those of different faiths; they may also be called to provide impartial support for students who are not religious and do not wish to be. May collaborate with campus mental health services to best support struggling students.
- Event and project planning: Besides planning worship services, a campus minister may also organize retreats, service projects, visiting speaker events, fundraising events, or holiday celebrations.
- Classes and workshops: With a Ph.D., a campus minister may be able to teach college courses in their area of expertise. Otherwise they may design and lead extracurricular workshops on topics like stress management, advocacy work, healthy conflict resolution, etc. They may also serve as a catechist or other type of faith educator in partnership with a local parish.
- Administrative tasks: Whether they are a department of one or part of a team (such as health services), a campus minister might be responsible for managing budgets, completing paperwork, scheduling, handling facilities maintenance, etc.
- Program advising: To promote cultural understanding and inclusivity on campus, a campus minister may be asked to serve as an advisor and religious representative to student or faculty groups.
Earning additional certifications and pursuing professional development can also help expand a campus minister’s responsibilities. Above all, a campus minister is there to help maintain a supportive, inclusive, and respectful environment that supports students’ academic success and personal growth and well-being, no matter their beliefs.
Campus Ministry Work Environment
Not all campus ministers work at colleges or universities; some may work for private schools, camps, retreat centers, and even office parks. Their workplace may be faith-forward (i.e. a Catholic university) or secular (i.e. a state college) and they may hold a full-time or part-time position there. Many campus ministers are employed directly by a school; others are employed by a parish or diocese to serve several different campuses. They may also have a dual role, one in the church (i.e. catechist) and one without (i.e. on-campus spiritual advisor).
Full-time campus ministers may have a dedicated office on campus where they meet with students and complete administrative work; otherwise, they may meet students at a local church, coffee shop, or anywhere else on or off campus. Many work evenings and weekends to accommodate class schedules, which means that campus ministry can involve an unpredictable or erratic schedule.
Campus ministers may also have the flexibility to travel to conferences or trainings, participate in international mission trips, or plan service trips for students and faculty. Since campus ministry can take many forms, ministers are sometimes free to create their own programming or set their own schedules, within the school’s parameters.
Campus Minister Salary Range
There is no standard salary for a campus minister — compensation is highly dependent on the size of the school or university, location, an individual’s own level of experience and education, and whether the position is full- or part-time.
According to Salary.com, the average salary for a campus minister in the U.S. was $51,994 as of early 2023. Salaries can range from about $38,000 to $65,000.
Campus Minister Career Outlook
While campus ministry is an essential service for many schools, trends in college enrollment may affect the demand or availability of that service. The popularity of online college courses and programs over the last several years — due in part to COVID-19 restrictions and improved instructional technologies — has led to fewer students attending college in person. Physical campuses still need in-person health and support services for students, but smaller class sizes may decrease the volume of need.
Fortunately, because of this trend toward more virtual class instruction, support staff like campus ministers have also adapted their services to meet the needs of remote students. Also, because of increased national dialogue around diversity and inclusion, campus ministers’ services may be more important than ever in helping to lead thoughtful, productive discussions about difficult topics.
Here are three factors that support the continued need for campus ministers:
- The need for more diversity
If a campus minister’s job is to make sure all feel welcome and supported, their contributions are invaluable to schools committed to diversity and inclusion. Through worship services, one-on-one counseling, advocacy, volunteerism, and event planning, campus ministers provide many opportunities for members of the student body to feel seen, welcome, and supported, no matter their background.
- Expanded mental health services
The conversation around mental health has become more and more mainstream in recent years; following the 2020 pandemic, more people than ever are acknowledging the importance of mental and emotional health. Campus ministers can play an essential role in many students’ care networks, able to provide spiritual and emotional guidance in times of stress or crisis. They can also design programs and workshops around healthy responses to difficult emotions.
- More interfaith collaboration
Along with acknowledging the need for more diversity and inclusion, many religious groups are re-examining their stances toward those of other faiths. More religious leaders are coming together to stand against violence, injustice, climate destruction, and other pressing topics. By communicating and collaborating with other faith ministries, campus ministers can demonstrate acceptance and the need to work together for a common cause. Interfaith programs can reach much broader audiences on campus and actively support a school’s mission of inclusion.
No matter your goals in campus ministry, you can enhance your skill set and boost your hireability by pursuing appropriate academic opportunities. If you have not yet earned your master’s degree in a field related to ministry, you may want to consider a program like the online Master of Theological Studies from the University of San Diego. Based in the Catholic Franciscan Tradition, this program places a strong emphasis on respect, solidarity, and active discipleship — all qualities ideal in a campus minister.
For more information about this unique and convenient online program, connect with an enrollment advisor today. Take the next step toward your goals of professional ministry!