How to Choose a Divinity School

Oct 20, 2021

Divinity programs provide aspiring religious leaders with the training and background necessary to enter the clergy or ministry. They're offered as graduate-level programs that lead to Master of Divinity (M.Div.) or Doctor of Theology (Th.D.) degrees; some divinity schools also offer Master of Arts (M.A.) and Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree programs as well as related graduate certificates.

Top Divinity Schools

Interested students may want to consider these ten divinity schools:

College/University Location Institution Type Programs Offered Tuition (2018-2019)*
Asbury Theological Seminary Wilmore, KY 4-year, Private Graduate Certificate, Master's, Doctoral $15,600
Bethel Seminary of Bethel University Saint Paul, MN 4-year, Private Graduate Certificate, Master's, Doctoral $8,382
Calvin Theological Seminary Grand Rapids, MI 4-year, Private Graduate Certificate, Graduate Diploma, Master's, Doctoral $15,972
Dallas Theological Seminary Dallas, TX 4-year, Private Graduate Certificate, Master's, Doctoral $16,560
Duke University Divinity School Durham, NC 4-year, Private Graduate Certificate, Master's, Doctoral $53,540
Fuller Theological Seminary Pasadena, CA 4-year, Private Graduate Certificate, Master's, Doctoral $19,920
Harvard University Divinity School Cambridge, MA 4-year, Private Master's, Doctoral $46,384
Knox Theological Seminary Fort Lauderdale, FL 4-year, Private Graduate Certificate, Master's, Doctoral $475 - $540 per credit hour
University of Chicago Chicago, IL Master's, Doctoral $57,759
Seattle Pacific Seminary of Seattle Pacific University Seattle, WA 4-year, Private Graduate Certificate, Master's $29,772

Sources*: National Center for Education Statistics, School websites

School Selection Criteria

Here are some things to consider when choosing between divinity schools:

  • Because degree offerings and specialization options at divinity schools vary widely, it's important for prospective students to make sure that the school offers a curriculum to suit their educational interests and career goals.
  • Some divinity schools focus on a particular religion, such as Christianity, while others are housed at secular universities and offer wider-ranging programs that allow for analytical studies of multiple faiths. Prospective students should look into the academic and cultural environment at the school to make sure that it meets their needs.
  • Prospective students may want to find out if the program they are considering is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of the Association of Theological Schools.
  • Prospective students who are interested in international religious engagement and/or cross-cultural research may want to find out if the school offers study abroad programs.

Master's Degree Programs

Three-year M.Div. programs prepare students to enter the religious life as faith-based organizers or theological leaders. Some programs prepare students to enter Christian ministry, while others provide training applicable to leadership roles in many faiths. There are also divinity schools that offer Master of Arts programs in religious studies, where students may study the traditions and cultural aspects of religions such as Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Christianity or Buddhism. Others offer an even wider range of M.A. programs, covering topics ranging from pastoral counseling to youth ministry to leadership. Besides course requirements, programs may include a thesis and/or a practicum.

Doctoral Degree Programs

Doctoral programs usually last 4-6 years, depending on the length of time needed to complete a dissertation; they may culminate in a Th.D. or Ph.D. degree. Areas of emphasis can include biblical studies and intercultural studies. Several programs require proficiency in more than one modern language, such as French and Japanese, as a prerequisite to entrance. Most have compulsory courses in ancient languages, such as Greek, Latin, Hebrew and Sanskrit. Recommended fields of study to help students prepare include history, sociology, literature and languages.

Certificate and Diploma Programs

Some divinity schools offer graduate certificate and diploma programs for individuals who want to pursue focused studies in a particular topic related to careers in religion or ministry. Possible areas include Christian studies, leadership development, aging and spirituality, Latino/a studies and pastoral care. The credits may be applied to degree programs in the future or used to fulfill continuing education requirements.

Divinity schools offer religion-related graduate programs that can lead to a master's degree, doctoral degree or certificate. Prospective students can look for schools that offer accredited programs in their area of academic interest.

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