The nature of divinity schools' programs of study and admissions policies, procedures, and qualifications differ greatly from institution to institution. Some generalizations can be made, however. The Association of Theological Schools–the central accrediting agency for divinity schools and seminaries–is a good source for more specific information regarding individual schools or programs.
Admission to Divinity School
The admissions processes at divinity schools in the United States are typically less strenuous than those of many other graduate programs. Generally, with a few notable exceptions, standardized tests are not required, though they may be used when considering students for scholarships and other kinds of financial aid. Most programs implement a rolling admissions process (admissions is ongoing until a certain number of students is attained) and require submission of all postsecondary transcripts, multiple essays, recommendations, and a consideration fee. Some may also request an interview. Despite the lack of a required standardized test, however, gaining admission to some divinity schools can be a highly competitive endeavor. Most programs require applicants to have completed a minimum of a bachelor's degree from an accredited four-year institution of higher education, and others mandate certain minimum grade point averages.
Significant financial aid awards usually accompany admission to a divinity school, compensating the student for the reality that most persons who graduate from one of these programs do not find themselves in monetarily lucrative fields.
Divinity school programs of study are diverse, and their respective foci are even more numerous. Generally, however, there are roughly a dozen or so degrees that are most common to divinity schools.
The master of divinity (M.Div.) is considered a professional degree and is probably the most common one awarded by divinity schools. The aim of this program is generally to prepare an individual to move in the direction of ordained ministry, although this is not always the case. Many such programs do, in fact, allow for significant elective credit hours to be spent in other areas of study. However, most M.Div. degrees consist of anywhere from seventy-two to ninety semester hours of study, comprising a mostly Christian-centered curriculum, and require a significant emphasis on practicum. Potential areas of focus include pastoral counseling, missionary work, parish ministry, youth ministry, and social justice ministry. Also, the vast majority of M.Div. programs have a mandatory thesis or "senior project" that must be completed for graduation.
The master of theological studies (M.T.S) tends to be more of an academically focused degree, although it would still fall under the classification of professional degree. It rarely has a practicum component and is generally thought of as a degree that serves as a broad introduction to theological study. The potential fields of study tend to include a more diverse curriculum, including non-Christian religions, social ethics, and philosophy. This program may also allow individual students the opportunity to design (usually under the guidance of professors and the academic dean) their own program of study. The M.T.S. degree is often sought out by those interested in various kinds of social reform, or by persons looking to go on to pursue another degree. The length of this program generally varies anywhere from thirty to fifty-four semester hours of study, and may or may not require a thesis to be written at its culmination.
Usually understood as an academic degree, the master of arts (M.A.) is a program more often found within the graduate school at a university. Even so, many divinity schools that are not affiliated with universities also offer the degree. It is seen as a program of study that will probably lead to another degree, possibly a Ph.D. The master of arts degree usually spans twenty-four to thirty-six semester hours and requires a thesis, but does not have a practicum component. Areas of concentration may include New Testament, Hebrew Bible, ethics, church history, homiletics, and theology.
The master of theology (Th.M., M.Th.) generally requires that a student already hold the M.Div. or equivalent degree. It affords an opportunity for students to pursue advanced theological studies for one year or roughly twenty-four semester hours. The program is especially recommended for students who seek to gain additional competence for the ministry beyond that provided by the master of divinity degree.
A professional degree, the master of religious education (M.R.E.) centers on the process of education as it relates to understanding the Christian faith and its implications for human existence. Areas such as creativity, imagination, spirituality, and pedagogy are often fused to create a holistic process whereby individuals learn to educate the entire person. The length of the degree may last anywhere from twenty-four to fifty-four semester hours, and usually requires a practicum component.
Quite similar to the Th.M. and M.T.S. in terms of degree requirements, the master of sacred theology (S.T.M.) tends to focus primarily on Christian theology, texts, and history.
The master of sacred music (M.S.M) is also a professional degree and generally consists of a series of required courses in three categories: theology, music, and the ministry of music. It requires the successful completion of anywhere from thirty to sixty credit hours, and a final project is generally mandatory. Proficiency in music theory and history as well as choral conducting is usually required to graduate. In addition to the other general requirements for admission to this program, an audition is sometimes also expected.
Those who wish to enhance their knowledge and their ministerial or teaching competence in certain advanced areas of theology and ministry obtain the doctor of theology degree (Th.D.). It has a stronger academic specialization than the D.Min, but also differs from the Ph.D. in its integrative character and clear connection to the church. Admission to this program generally requires the M.Div or equivalent degree and superior performance in the respective master's program. The Th.D. program consists of thirty-six to fifty-four hours of credit and a major project, thesis, or dissertation.
A terminal academic degree, the doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) is usually sought by those with the aim of research and teaching. And like the M.A., this is a degree that is generally offered through the graduate school in cases where a divinity school is part of a greater university. Whatever the case may be, admission to the program is generally very difficult and requires at least one master's degree in a related field, usually accompanied by a significant research paper or thesis. Areas of concentration may include New Testament, Hebrew Bible, ethics, church history, homiletics, and theology.
The Doctor of Ministry (D.Min) is a professional degree that generally has a prerequisite of the M.Div., and serves as a more advanced ministerial degree. Often it allows for more in-depth study in a specific area of Christian ministry than is generally possible in the M.Div. program. A thesis or dissertation is almost always required.
Other degrees that are conferred by divinity schools in the United States may include doctor of educational ministry (D.Ed.Min.), doctor of musical arts (D.M.A.), doctor of missiology (D.Miss.), doctor of education (Ed.D.), master of church music (M.C.M.), master of Christian studies (M.C.S.), master of religion (M. Rel.), master of ministry (M.Min.), and master of pastoral studies (M.P.S.). In addition, there are a few divinity schools that have dual degree programs with other schools at either their own university or those of nearby institutions (i.e., J.D./M.Div., M.D./M.T.S, M.B.A./Th.M.).
Boston University School of Theology. 2002. <www.bu.edu/sth/>.
Candler School of Theology at Emory University. 2002. <http://candler.emory.edu>.
Vanderbilt University Divinity School. 2002. <http://divinity.library.vanderbilt.edu/div/index.html>.
Yale University Divinity School. 2002. <www.yale.edu/divinity/>.
Brian Lloyd Heuser
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