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What Is a University Chaplain?

September 3, 2021  |  Category: Spiritual Care

A college student meets with a university chaplain.


College is a time of significant change for many students. Whether students are living away from home for the first time or being exposed to perspective-changing ideas, they may question their faith or simply need counsel. A university chaplain offers students — as well as faculty and staff members — spiritual support and guides paths for further help.

Duties of a University Chaplain

Every student’s experience is different. Some deal with social stressors, others have strenuous family relationships, and still others struggle with heavy course loads. University chaplains are available to counsel and comfort students through all these situations.

What’s more, chaplains provide support to faculty and staff members who need spiritual or emotional guidance. University chaplains also heighten awareness on the part of faculty and staff about resources for helping students. They help the university community at large understand, appreciate, and respect the diverse faiths students may practice, encouraging an awareness of all religions, known as religious literacy.

Chaplains serve the entire university community and help individuals from all faiths weather adversity and respect one another’s traditions. Below are just a few examples of a university chaplain’s responsibilities.

Facilitate Religious and Spiritual Practices

From Catholic mass to Buddhist meditation, the university chaplain celebrates religious services and rituals. Students looking for a religious community can explore options with their university chaplain. A chaplain facilitates these spaces and provides opportunities for members of the university community to grow in their chosen religion and celebrate it with others. For example, chaplains may offer worship services for holidays as diverse as Yom Kippur, Diwali, and Easter.

Worth noting is that although they may belong to a particular religion, university chaplains are a resource for all religions. The role is well suited for them, as chaplains typically study world religions in their master’s degree programs. Given that chaplains serve the entire diverse campus population, their religious literacy is welcomed by students, staff, and faculty alike.

Counsel and Mentor

A university chaplain is a resource for individuals on campus who seek guidance. Whether an individual wants to deepen their faith, finds themselves at a crossroads, or would like to begin exploring their spirituality and worldview, a chaplain can advise and support them through many different life changes.

A university chaplain’s training also includes mentoring the members of the campus community in general matters of faith, along with specific times of hardship. A chaplain can help a student struggling with the transition from living at home to living on campus and suffering from homesickness and insomnia, or counsel a student who has a loved one back home who has suddenly passed away. Likewise, if a faculty member is struggling with finding meaning in teaching, or if a grieving staff member has lost a family member, the university chaplain can offer faith-based support and a hopeful outlook.

University students, staff, or faculty meet with university chaplains for counseling in an emotional crisis. This counseling can also serve to direct them to additional resources, such as a support group or a psychologist or other professional. In general, the chaplain’s mission is to address any spiritual, religious, or emotional concerns the university community may have and, if needed, help people find additional assistance.

Help Develop Policy and Curriculum

Aside from being a student resource, a university chaplain supports the academic institution as a whole. This can be achieved by participating in equity committees, with the goal of creating a safe, welcoming campus for everyone and inclusive of all religious backgrounds.

Another way chaplains assist their universities is by collaborating on the development of theology courses and religious education programs. They can collaborate directly with a professor to create a curriculum or work with a spiritual care team to develop programs.

Serve Their Unique Demographic

Many institutions employ chaplains, from hospitals to military bases to airports. The university chaplain addresses concerns unique to students and their particular stressors as they navigate this new phase in their lives, often separated from family members and their established religious communities.

In this way, the university chaplain enjoys a remarkable opportunity to help individuals during especially challenging and inspiring times in their lives, pointing out avenues for them to grow, receive support, and graduate spiritually enriched.

A university chaplain is also in the unique position of supporting those who support students — that is, faculty and staff. A chaplain has the opportunity to guide a university instructor, whether an assistant professor at the beginning of their career or a tenured department chair, to be a more sensitive mentor to students who may be troubled or searching for meaning. Likewise, chaplains help the staff members navigate challenges and understand their own faith journey.

Skills of a University Chaplain

The university chaplain’s complex role calls for a specific skill set:

  • Interpersonal. Being able to listen carefully and advise students and others clearly about their worries, fears, faith-based issues, and responses to grief and other crises.
  • Spiritual. Understanding different spiritual perspectives and religious traditions is key to providing appropriate care.
  • Emotional. Understanding and responding with empathy to the emotions students and others experience, offering support and encouragement.
  • Analytical. Interpreting signs of crisis and knowing how and when to intervene are crucial skills for university chaplains.

Job Outlook and Salary

Clergy members, including university chaplains, made a median annual salary of $51,940 in 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Additionally, this field is experiencing growth. The field is projected to grow by 4% from 2019 through 2029, according to the BLS.

Pursue a Meaningful Career Helping Students

The first step in starting a career as a university chaplain is education. AdventHealth University’s Master of Science in Spiritual Care Online degree program prepares students to help those in need of spiritual guidance through courses such as Audacity to Trust: Faith and Health, and Wrestling with God in Suffering. Start your journey toward supporting students at AdventHealth University.


Recommended Readings

Chaplain vs. Pastor: What’s the Difference?

How to Become a Chaplain

Military Chaplain: Salary and Career Outlook



BBC, Keeping the Faith: Christian Chaplains in the Time of COVID

Houston Chronicle, “Chaplain vs. Pastor”

Houston Chronicle, “How Much Money Do Chaplains Make?”

Inside Higher Ed, “Chaplains are Essential for Higher Education’s Heart and Soul”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statics,  Data for Occupations Not Covered in Detail

Wonkhe, “Who Are Today’s University Chaplains and What Role Do They Play in Universities?”

Yale University, Chaplain’s Office

Zippia, Chaplain Skills

ZipRecruiter, What Does a College Chaplain Do?

ZipRecruiter,“What Is a Chaplain and How to Become One