Considering Graduate Theological Education?
So a new semester has just started and students are generally energetic and optimistic. It seems like a perfect time to talk about graduate theological education–get the idea percolating before everyone runs out of steam.
It’s no secret that the context of ministry in North America is increasingly complex. It’s also no secret that the general educational level of congregants is markedly higher than it was a generation ago. These are some of the factors that lead students sensing a vocation in ministry or theological studies to think seriously about taking on a graduate or seminary degree. Others know that their work will take a different direction but think that their life will be enriched by advanced study. These last folks are right, even if not financially astute. Graduate education in theology is increasingly important and I’ve been happy to see a number of my students head in that direction. Prairie graduates have headed off to places like Tyndale, the Institute for Christian Studies, Yale, Westminster, Regent College and a number of institutions across the Atlantic.
Of course grad school or seminary isn’t right for everyone, not even for all undergraduate theology and ministry students. It can be just one more way of avoiding choices about where to live, what community to invest in or what sort of work to pursue. If that last sentence doesn’t apply to you then here are a couple of links that might help you think through the next step. The first is an older post by John Stackhouse of Regent College. You can find it here: http://www.johnstackhouse.com/thinking-about-a-phd/. Don’t miss his related posts. The second is a ranking of graduate programs in theology compiled by Rusty Reno in the publication First Things, which can be found here http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2012/11/ranking-theology-programs. Of course both of these writers are as biased as I am—Reno ranks the doctoral program I completed at Wycliffe College quite high—so talk to others and do your own research. Be sure to consider what faculty currently teach at an institution and don’t make a decision based on an outdated hunch. In any event these links might help you think through the relevant issues.
I would also add that as such potential grad students move forward in the application process they should do two things. First, do take geography seriously. Think about distance from family and the difference urban or rural setting might make. Studying north or south of the U.S.-Canadian border makes a difference as well. Second, do apply to several programs. Give yourself a chance to get into a top-tier school with leading faculty. Give a school a chance to provide financial aid that might mitigate an otherwise high sticker price.
All the best, and I hope you get the fat letter from admissions and not the skinny one.