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Deciding on a seminary – Which degree is for me?

253 seminaries… that’s a bunch. So, how do you decide on which one to attend?

Well, this is seminary, so prayer is always a good starting place. As you prayerfully submit your decision making process to the Lord, there are a couple things to think through. In this post, we’ll look at step one, “what degree do I want to pursue?

This is step one because knowing what degree you want to pursue will help eliminate all seminaries that don’t have the degree and it will also help in future steps when you are looking at specific aspects of the program within the seminary you are considering.

Most seminaries offer several standard degree options (We’ll only be looking at Masters degrees in this series):

  • Master of Divinity (M.Div.)
  • Masters of Theology (Th.M.)
  • Masters of Arts (M.A. in ___ )
    • Biblical Studies
    • Theological Studies
    • Christian Thought
    • Counseling
    • Missions
    • Youth Ministry
    • Religion

Now, this list isn’t exhaustive, but it is a good representation of what is available. So, what is the difference in all of these?

The M.Div. is seen as the “traditional” degree that someone would go to seminary to get. This degree is almost universally the standard for ordination in all mainline denominations. Meaning, if you want to be a pastor in a denominational church, then this is probably the degree you’re going to want to go for.

The M.Div. is going to take the longest to get, requiring 106 credit hours to graduate. You will be will be required to learn both Greek and Hebrew and you will take courses in theology, history, bible, and communication. Almost every M.Div. program is designed specifically to prepare the student for pastoral ministry.

The Th.M. is an advanced degree that almost always requires you to first have your M.Div. in order to be accepted into the program. That said, I feel like I’ve seen a few Th.M.’s that didn’t require it… but I believe they are few and far between.

The Th.M. is designed to allows a student the opportunity to take specialized advanced studies in theological research. Th.M. programs typically require 30-60 credit hours for graduation and will typically require writing a thesis paper. This degree is typically gained in preparation for doctoral studies (Doctor of Ministry, D.Min.; Doctor of Theology, Th.D.; Doctor of Psychology, Ph.D.) and typically emphasizes a specific area of study. For example, at Reformed Theological Seminary, the Th.M. program focuses on Reformation Studies (saw that coming).

Finally, the M.A. is a degree designed to give concentrated study in a specific field. Part of the appeal of the M.A. is that you are only taking classes that are in your area of study. So, for example, if you want an M.A. in Biblical Studies, then most of your coursework will be in classes studying, very specifically, the scriptures. However, an M.A. in Missions will also, study the scriptures, but it will focus more class time on engaging and ministering within different cultures.

Now, I don’t have the time to go into the details of all the M.A.’s available, but I hope you get the gist of what the degree is all about.

Knowing the degrees that are available to you will be useful as you seek to narrow down your list of seminaries. If you know you want an M.A. in Counseling… well, you’ve just knocked down a whole bunch of schools.

Our next step will be to consider geographic issues. “Should I stay or should I go?” – The Clash

Written by
Ryan Burns

Ryan Burns is a past Marketing Manager at Faithlife and now works at Redemption Hill Church in Richmond, VA.

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Written by Ryan Burns