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Can I Go to Seminary Without a Bachelor’s Degree?

(Short answer: yes! Skip down to the MDiv section for some schools to consider)

In years past, getting a seminary degree didn’t necessarily mean graduate work. What we now know as the quintessential seminary degree, the Master of Divinity (MDiv), was previously offered as a Bachelor’s in Divinity, or some such undergraduate equivalent. As the educational landscape shifted, seminaries began focusing on graduate programs with an expectation that everyone would be coming in with a four-year undergraduate degree.

But of course, not everyone has their BA or BS.

Bachelor’s degrees can be expensive, and there are large pockets of the population which remain sorely undereducated compared to other, more privileged, communities. ATS, the Association of Theological Schools, has considered this and asked the question of whether seminaries setting the bar at BA/BS for enrollment is a matter of social justice, as they leave underserved communities behind and unable to train ministers.

With that in mind, ATS (one of the largest accrediting bodies in the US) has made provision for seminaries to approve a limited number of students to their graduate studies programs without holding a Bachelor’s degree. It is generally limited to MDiv programs, with some exceptions. Seminaries may choose to enroll such students based on “Life Experience,” or according to the Fifteen Percent Rule, which allows up to 15% of the students enrolled in the MDiv program at any given time to have no undergraduate degree.

The Bachelor’s of Divinity

Some seminaries have considered this issue, and have made a different provision for students with a BA or BS. These seminaries allow such students to enroll in the MDiv, but they are awarded a Bachelor’s of Divinity (BDiv) at its completion instead of a Master’s. The BDiv is traditionally a European degree, but has slowly begun to make an entrance in the US. If a student who holds a BDiv goes back and finishes a traditional Bachelor’s degree, some seminaries will change their BDiv to an MDiv retroactively, since the coursework is identical.

Students interested in the BDiv option may consider Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. GPTS is a well-regarded seminary with a formal BDiv program. It costs $200/credit hour, which makes it on the far more affordable spectrum of seminary degrees, though only students 30 years and older will be admitted to this program.

Four Seminaries where You Can Get a Master’s Degree Without a Bachelor’s

Here are four seminaries who will admit a limited number of students without a Bachelor’s degree. Due to the limitations, if a future student applies and is turned down one semester, they may try again and be accepted down the road — it’s worth trying!

Multnomah University

Multnomah’s MAAT (Master of Arts in Applied Theology) is a residential, cohort-based degree program. Students must have at least five years of demonstrated ministry experience. Multnomah follows the Fifteen Percent Rule, so if at first you don’t succeed–you know what to do.

Dallas Theological Seminary

Without specifying which degrees, DTS states that they do approve a limited number of program applicants without undergraduate degrees (ATS frowns upon admission of such students into professional degrees, so it likely applies to their MDiv). Admitted students will proceed through a one-year academic probation to ensure the academic abilities of the student before they proceed further in the program. Students on academic probation are expected to maintain a minimum 2.0 GPA.

Knox Theological Seminary

Knox’s MDiv has as fully-online or residential offering, which sets it above its peers in flexibility and accessibility. MDiv applicants without an undergraduate degree will be assessed based on life experience and academic ability before admittance.

Lancaster Theological Seminary

Lancaster’s residential MDiv seems to follow the Fifteen Percent Rule. They are fully-accredited and offer flexible course schedules, on weekdays or weekends. This Church of Christ seminary offers overnight hotel-style accommodations, or long-term one- and two-bedroom options of residential students.

Should I Go Without My Bachelor’s?

Of course that’s not a question anyone can answer for you directly, but we can give some guidelines and cautions. First, if you plan on doing post-graduate work (DMin, Phd) then you certainly ought to pursue your BA or BS prior to entering seminary. (For that matter you might want to choose a different degree than an MDiv, such as a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies.) Second, be aware that most seminaries are quite rigorous, and the MDiv is long a degree, usually equivalent in length to a Bachelor’s program. Undergraduate work tends to prepare students for this kind of academic rigor and the long duration — those students without undergrad may find the work too demanding, and the length of the program daunting.

That being said, many students who are self-motivated, lifelong learners will thrive in the seminary environment, particularly the fully-online or hybrid options. If you are such a student (or unsure), we highly recommend that before you pursue your seminary degree without undergraduate work that you consult mentors and peers that you respect and ask their opinion on the matter.

Jonathan Watson

Jonathan Watson