What's the difference between ''theological education" and graduate study in religion?

Theological education at a seminary or divinity school is conducted explicitly in a context of faith and religious tradition, with emphasis placed on preparing students to serve as clergy in congregations or other ministry contexts (such as a hospital or military chaplain). Graduate study in religion is like graduate study in any other field such as English, math, or psychology. A student may bring his or her religious faith to the study of the material, but it is not seen as integral to the educational experience by the institution.

What's the difference between a seminary and a divinity school?

A seminary is an independent theological institution that sees its primary mission as the training of men and women for the ordained ministry. Most seminaries are affiliated with a particular denomination (Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc.), but some are not. Almost all seminaries welcome students of denominations other than the one with which the institution is affiliated. A divinity school, like a seminary, is a theological institution preparing men and women for ordained ministry, but it is directly related to a university. Divinity schools may or may not be directly affiliated to a particular denomination. Many divinity schools have students who are not studying specifically for ordained ministry but rather plan to go into teaching or other careers.

What academic degree is needed in preparation for ordination?

In most mainline denominations, the Masters of Divinity (M.Div.) (for Christian students) or a Master of Arts in Hebrew Letters (M.A.H.L.) (for Jewish students) is required for ordination. This degree usually involves a course of three to four years of study after the bachelors degree. It is not simply an academic degree (like a Master of Arts) but rather a professional degree (like a J.D. or M.D.) which includes in its curriculum practical, supervised ministry experience as well as classroom study.

Can you go to theological school without planning to be ordained?

Yes. Most seminaries and divinity schools offer a variety of degrees. These include:

  • M.A. (Master of Arts) or M.T.S. (Master of Theological Studies) — one to two years; sometimes in Christian education, sometimes more generally in "religion", sometimes in special areas such as religion and the arts
  • M.Div. (Master of Divinity) — three to four years; the professional degree usually needed for ordination
  • M.S.W. (Master of Social Work) — one to two years, usually in conjunction with the M.Div.
  • Th.M. (Master of Theology) or S.T.M. (Master of Sacred Theology) — one year; a post-M.Div. degree that enables a person to specialize in an area of interest (e.g. theology, biblical studies, counseling, etc.)
  • Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) or Th.D. (Doctor of Theology) — four to six years, often after completion of a Master's degree.

What should I major in at college to prepare for ministry?

Students come to theological schools from a variety of educational and employment backgrounds. While majoring in religious studies is always a good option, most theological schools basically seek applicants with a broad educational background in the humanities. A major in classicsEnglish, psychology or philosophy is appropriate. A major in the sciences would also be good preparation, as long as you develop your writing skills and your ability to analyze literary texts and abstract ideas. Undergraduate courses in Greek (e.g., Greek 318: New Testament Greek), Hebrew and philosophy are also recommended.

What is the minimum GPA I need to get into a theological school?

Theological schools generally have high academic standards and expect students to engage in rigorous academic study as well as practical training for ministry. Theological schools also understand that persons seeking a theological education are primarily interested in being well-educated clergy rather than scholars working in specialized fields in academia. Therefore, while a solid educational background is essential, one need not necessarily have the stellar grades required for highly competitive graduate programs in other fields. Moreover, the articulation of one's sense of call and good recommendations from professors and clergy are given strong consideration along with one's grades.

Do I need to take the GRE to apply to theological school?

This varies from school to school. Some require the GRE; many do not require any standardized test scores. Check the admissions information in catalogues of schools you are considering for specific requirements.

Is it best to go to theological school straight after college or should I wait a few years?

The answer is individual for each person and may depend in part on what your denomination requires. Some college seniors have a strong sense of calling and feel ready to go straight into theological education. Others want to take a year or two away from academia so that they will have some experience of the "working world" that congregation members come from. Still others want to spend a year or two in a community service or ministry-oriented internship, either to get experience or to test their sense of call. Many people entering theological school are "second career" students who have worked at a job for 10-20 years and now feel called to the ministry. If you go to theological school straight out of college, you can count on being in classes with many people who are older than you.

What kinds of financial aid are available for theological studies?

Many theological schools subsidize their students' educational expenses, so tuition tends to be lower for theological education than for many other professional graduate programs. Most theological schools offer merit-based and need-based financial aid packages; these vary from institution to institution, so be sure to research the assistance offered by those in which you are interested. A few independent foundations, such as the Omaha Presbyterian Seminary Foundation, give generous financial assistance to qualifying applicants. Moreover, it is worth exploring whether your denomination or congregation offers aid to theological students. It is imperative that you apply as early as possible for financial aid, as most scholarship competitions have deadlines. Tuition and living expenses can vary widely between theological institutions (depending in part on geographical location and endowment size), so if finances are an issue for you, be sure to compare the costs of schools in which you are interested.