What is Seminary?
Seminaries and divinity schools are graduate schools for theological education.
Historically, seminaries were the colleges that trained priests, ministers, and rabbis. If someone wanted to be a minister, or if they wanted to get a PhD in religion, theology, or a related field, they would go to seminary.
Today, seminaries train people for all sorts of careers. While they still equip people who want to be clergy, they also train people for careers as social workers, non-profit leaders, politicians, teachers, lawyers, counselors, etc.
As part of this year’s application process, we’ve asked schools to highlight some of their alum that are working in innovative or non-traditional ministry roles. We hope this will help you get an idea of the many career possibilities available after seminary.
What kind of degrees do seminaries offer?
While every school is different, there are a few main types of degrees that most seminaries and divinity schools offer:
Master of Divinity (MDiv)
This is the classic, “standard” of theological training. MDiv programs usually cover a broad range of topics including history, theology, language, ethics, and preaching. They also tend to have an internship or “field education” component where students work at a church or non-profit agency where they can practice applying the things they’ve been learning.
Today’s MDiv graduates come from myriad backgrounds, and go on to have a range of careers. From preaching, to teaching, to leading non-profits and for profit corporations, an MDiv is often the right choice for someone who wants to be equipped to lead in or out of the church.
Master of Arts
Many seminaries and divinity schools offer a Master of Arts program. The focus of these programs will vary by school, but in general, they are a good option for people who are interested in studying a particular field, but know they don't want to pursue ordained ministry in the future.
See "Other degree programs" for examples of other Master-level degrees offered by seminaries.
Some students get a Master of Arts in tandem with a Master in Divinity (see "Dual Degree Programs" below).
Doctor of Ministry (DMin)
These are typically 2-year programs for people who already have an MDiv and are working in a church, denomination, or non-profit agency. Because DMin programs are geared for people who are currently working full time, these programs tend to be offered partially or entirely online, and may have some intensive on-campus sessions.
PhD programs are typically aimed at people who want to pursue the academic study of religion or theology.
While students in STEM fields or some humanities programs often can matriculate directly into a PhD program out of college, most PhD programs at seminaries and divinity schools require an MDiv or other master-level degree as a prerequisite for application.
Several of the schools listed on our site offer dual-degree programs. Participants in these programs receive two master degrees concurrently.
For example, some schools offer a dual MDiv / Master in Social Work. Other schools offer joint MDiv/JD (law) degrees. Participants usually graduate in less time than it would take to get the two degrees separately.
Other Degree Programs
Every institution is unique, and their degree offerings reflect their differences.
Some schools offer Master level degrees in counseling & family therapy, transformational leadership, spiritual leadership, etc. For a full listing of a school’s degree programs, be sure to visit their website.
What's the difference between a Seminary and a Divinity School?
As a general rule, seminaries tend to be stand-alone institutions, while divinity schools are typically attached to a university.
For example, Princeton Seminary is a stand alone institution, distinct and separate from Princeton University (the two became separate institutions in 1812). In contrast, Howard University School of Divinity is part of Howard University.
But you can’t always tell from a name. Candler School of Theology is part of Emory University, and Drew Theological School is part of Drew University.
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