The length of time it takes to complete a degree at a seminary depends on the specific degree and institution. Doctoral degrees take longer than masters degrees and a student carrying a full load of courses will finish faster than someone attending part-time. In the case of a divinity degree in which a student is preparing for the priesthood, there may be a period of placement in a parish after finishing coursework but before graduation. Students pursuing theology degrees may take courses first and then spend one or more years writing a dissertation.
Online and Flexible Degrees
Although the mainstay of seminary education is a traditional classroom experience, some seminaries offer online or low-residency degrees designed for people who are balancing their studies with full-time careers. Many of these programs are hybrid. They involve working online for most of the year but may also include on-campus residency periods. Even traditional seminary programs may allow students to study part-time by taking only one or two classes a term. Although one might complete an online or flexible masters degree in one or two years, someone studying part-time might take three or four years to finish. According to U.S. News & World Report, online theology master’s programs offer flexibility yet follow the same curricula as brick and mortar programs.
Program requirements and individual courses in North American institutions are usually described in terms of credit hours. A three-credit-hour course normally requires three “contact” or classroom hours. The concept of a credit hour assumes that one spends three hours studying and doing homework for every contact hour in the classroom. This means that a three-credit course requires a time investment of 12 hours per week over a 16-week semester. A course load of four courses per semester is considered a full-time course load in most programs. Some programs will allow students to take five courses in a single term as an “overload.” Many programs will permit students to enroll in part-time and take fewer courses per semester over a longer period.
Master of Arts and Masters of Theology Degrees
Many seminaries offer MA degrees that require between 30 and 60 credit hours. These credit hours can include regular courses, independent studies, and thesis supervision hours. Most MA degrees are designed to be completed over one or two years of full-time study. However, students who are studying part-time or in summer programs may arrange to take a reduced course load over a longer period to accommodate their careers or other responsibilities. ThM degrees usually require fewer credit hours than MA degrees but tend to require a stronger academic background in theology for admissions.
Seminaries offer doctoral as well as masters degrees. Two of the most common degrees offered are the Doctor of Ministry and Doctor of Philosophy degree. A doctoral degree normally requires 30 to 60 credits beyond a masters degree. This usually means two or three years of coursework followed by exams and a dissertation. Completing a dissertation may take from one to three years.
Related Resource: 30 Best Theological Seminaries in the United States
Degree completion times vary with the degree being sought and the number of courses taken each term. Students can choose a seminary program that fits their own needs and schedules, progressing quickly in a full-time program or more slowly in a part-time one.