5 Types of Seminaries

5 Seminary Options for Obtaining a Theology Degree

  • Divinity School
  • Independent Seminary
  • Denominational Seminary
  • Bible College Seminary
  • Online Seminary

The exciting quest for a theology degree involves choosing between several types of seminaries. To find a good fit, you must weigh many factors. Among them are university affiliation, academic focus, denominational basis, institution size, community atmosphere, faculty credentials, accreditation, financial aid, and whether degree programs meet your vocational goal. Here are five seminary options to consider and the defining features of each.

1. Divinity School

Like law or medical school, a divinity school exists as part of a college or university. Such an affiliation gives seminarians access to large research libraries and other educational resources, more than what small schools can provide. Since these types of seminaries share college campuses, they’re also termed “embedded.” With this relationship, divinity schools are not self-governing, being subject to the policies of their parent institutions. Still, divinity school faculty are welcome at university dean and board meetings, ensuring a voice for the academic needs of theology students.

While all divinity schools prepare seminarians for ordination, they also support other religious vocations, such as teaching. For this reason, many institutions are nondenominational. Some schools prioritize academic study while others gear themselves to pastoral ministry.

2. Independent Seminary

As a stand-alone theology school, an independent seminary has an autonomous governing body, mission, and “endowment,” meaning the financial support of assets and donations. Well-endowed seminaries have the funds for generous financial aid packages, including scholarships, grants, memorial funds, government loans, and fellowships.

Typically, these types of seminaries are nondenominational or interdenominational, best for students seeking non-church positions, such as a chaplain, missionary, or religious teacher. Since independent seminaries have broader curricula than denominational ones, their students have more employment options upon graduation.

As some denominations don’t allow females in their pulpits, women pursuing ordination may be limited to independent seminaries. In this article by Christianity Today International, a divinity school professor offers sage advice to women on the process of choosing a seminary.

3. Denominational Seminary

The curricula of denominational schools are designed for students aspiring to church-based ministries, such as the vocations of youth leader, Sunday school director, Christian counselor, deacon, and pastor. These types of seminaries are aligned with certain faith traditions, having distinct doctrines and cultures. Some of the largest religious groups are Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Methodist, Lutheran, Pentecostal, Reformed, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Wesleyan. Generally, denominational schools are conservative, taking a traditional stance on social issues.

Note that some parishes only hire seminary grads trained in their particular denomination by approved schools. Frequently, this stipulation is made by parishes involved in “church planting,” the evangelistic work of establishing a new local church. Also subject to this requirement may be women seeking ordination in a certain denomination.

4. Bible College Seminary

This school classification should not be confused with a stand-alone Bible college. Whereas seminaries are graduate schools, Bible colleges offer undergrad education in theology. Although the college programs are Bible-based, they award associate’s and bachelor’s degrees. Conversely, the curricula at Bible college seminaries are ministry tracks, leading to masters and doctoral degrees.

Like divinity schools, Bible college seminaries are overseen by parent institutions. However, they’re distinct from divinity schools in that most are denominational, specifically Pentecostal, Christian Fundamentalist, or Evangelical. Additionally, Bible college seminaries groom students for leadership roles in public ministries, such as pastor, worship leader, and church planter.

Students preferring a small campus setting may be more comfortable at a Bible college seminary than divinity school. Among theology institutions in the United States, Bible college seminaries comprise a minority. Examples of such schools are Lancaster Bible College and Moody Bible Institute.

Related Resource: Top 10 Biology, Biological and Biomedical Sciences Degree Programs at Christian Colleges

5. Online Seminary

While seminaries are traditionally residential, Web-based programs are gaining popularity. Internet formats are a boon for students whose responsibilities preclude them from living on campus.

Within this category are working parents, constrained for time and funds. With an online seminary, students can maintain a balance between work and school. Plus, online degree programs generally cost less than attending physical classes. Still, an Internet format only works for disciplined students, self-motivated in completing coursework.

When researching online seminaries, choose those with lectures in the form of video conferencing. This arrangement ensures face-to-face interaction, helping students connect with their peers and professor. Also, look for a syllabus where assignments are completed via discussion boards, chat forums, and email. High levels of student interaction fuel the drive to participate and excel.

When seeking a theology degree in the field of Christian service, you can choose from five types of seminaries. Among the factors to consider are whether the school will fulfill your vocational goal. Whatever seminaries you’re researching, make sure they’re accredited, ensuring the highest quality education.