How to Choose a Christian Graduate School or Program

Date Published

December 14, 2022

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Published by Calvin Seminary

How to Choose a Christian Graduate School or Program

Deciding which Christian graduate school or seminary to attend can often be a difficult choice, and each school offers a variety of degree options. Let’s take a look at different ways to evaluate Christian graduate schools and programs so you can choose one that’s right for you.

How to Evaluate Christian Graduate Schools

1. Look at Accreditation

Consider the accreditation of potential graduate schools, as the accreditation process provides external validation of the quality of a school’s coursework and degrees. Calvin Theological Seminary, for example, is accredited by the Association of Theological Schools.

2. Review Available Degrees

If you are entering graduate school with clear ministry and career goals, it is important to find a degree that aligns with these goals. For example, a Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree may be a clear route to pastoral ministry, while a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) could prepare you for undergraduate or graduate teaching.

3. Consider Campus Location & Online Options

Many Christian graduate schools offer both in-person and online instruction, but not all. Calvin Theological Seminary offers in-person, online, and hybrid options for many degrees and programs. If you’re considering living on-campus, evaluate your housing options. For example, Calvin offers on- and off-campus apartments available for students (singles, married couples, and families) at below-market cost.

4. Check Your Program’s Structure

The structure of a graduate school program varies depending on the specific degree being pursued as well as the school you choose. For example, the 3–4 year MDiv program at Calvin includes electives as fewer than 25% of the program. This allows students to customize some of their coursework while generally following a well-tested theological path of MDiv training. By contrast, electives make up nearly 60% of the 2–3 year Master of Theology (ThM) at Calvin, creating a flexible degree program focused largely on your area of ministry interest.

5. Look for Interesting Concentrations

Multiple Christian graduate schools may offer the same degree but different concentrations within that degree. Explore concentrations that will help you meet your vocational goals and calling.
For example, concentrations for Calvin’s Master of Theology program include:

  • Old Testament
  • Ancient Near Eastern Language and Literature
  • New Testament
  • History of Christianity
  • Systematic Theology
  • Philosophical and Moral Theology
  • Pastoral Care
  • Pastoral Leadership
  • Preaching
  • Worship
  • Evangelism
  • Educational Ministry

Meanwhile, Calvin’s Doctor of Philosophy program offers the following concentrations:

  • History of Christianity
  • Moral Theology (Ethics)
  • New Testament
  • Philosophical Theology
  • Systematic Theology

6. Ask About Financial Aid

As you look at Christian graduate schools, including seminaries, consider tuition and financial aid options. Calvin Theological Seminary, for example, offers guaranteed tuition support, between 25% and 100%. More than $1.5 million of funding (through scholarships, grants, and subsidies) is offered to students annually, helping to keep tuition costs affordable for students like you.

7. Consider Opportunities for Community

Keep in mind the importance of community when pursuing a Christian graduate degree. Choose a school that fosters community through its programs.

At Calvin Theological Seminary, students appreciate the rich, in-person community that is developed through worship, events, and classroom discussion. Online and hybrid students also value the opportunity to connect with students and professors over the internet and through in-person intensives.

8. Pray and Discern

The best way to make a graduate school choice that is right for you is to pray, stay steeped in scripture, and listen to where God is calling you. Pray over your application, your acceptance(s), and your enrollment, and invite others in your life to pray with you over this exciting decision.

Questions to Help You Choose Between Christian University Graduate Programs

Once you choose a Christian graduate school, you then have to choose a program that is relevant to your interests and goals. As you consider different graduate programs, this is a wonderful time to ask questions of yourself, in solitude with God, and within Christian community. Through your journey of discernment, consider these questions:

“What Are My Career Goals?”

Do you feel God’s call to a specific vocation, such as a pastor, or field of work, such as theological teaching? Or do you feel a pull toward theological education, without a clear outcome in mind? Both are common situations students find themselves in at the beginning of their Christian graduate school or seminary journey.

Within the right educational community, you will be nurtured in your gifts and free to discover and explore the path God has planned for you. For example, at Calvin Theological Seminary, the Vocation Formation Office exists to support you discovering and meeting your vocational goals.

“How Long Do I Want to Be in School?”

The length of a Christian graduate school program can be a determining factor for students. Some people are searching for a shorter program to take the next step in their ministry and career in the near future. Others are looking to take a deep dive into a program that will shape and form them over the course of several years.

The duration of your graduate study varies by degree and program. Consider the typical length of these Calvin Theological Seminary programs:

“How Do I Learn Best?”

Many seminaries offer residential, hybrid, and fully online options. Which experience is best for you and your current work, as well as your family and other connections? Consider also whether you learn best through cohorts, lectures, field work, research, or other forms of learning. If possible, find a program that combines several approaches to enrich your learning.

“What Topics or Questions Interest Me?”

Christian graduate school is a great opportunity to dig deeper into questions about faith. For example, Calvin Theological Seminary’s MDiv program is built around the four questions of:

  1. What is our ministry context?
  2. How does the gospel engage our context?
  3. What is God calling us to in this context?
  4. What is the person and role of a servant leader in this context?

Likewise, the DMin program allows you to spend your advanced doctoral learning centered around a question you have about ministry.
Together with faculty and classmates in all Calvin Theological Seminary programs, you can explore the faith topics and questions on your mind in this season.

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