In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the popularity of online seminary programs, offering theological education in a digital format. This comprehensive article explores the various benefits of online seminary programs for prospective students and existing ministry professionals.
What is an Online Seminary?
An online seminary school is an educational institution that provides programs of study in theology and religion through online or hybrid (in-person and online) platforms. For most seminary schools, their online programs offer the same valuable degrees and certifications as they offer in-person, allowing for virtual education in a variety of fields. This type of learning allows for more flexibility and accessibility for a broader range of students hoping to seek an education in a seminary program.
Growing Demand for Online Options
With the rapid growth of technology and the internet in the early 2000s, educational institutions began building virtual programs that were meant to mirror the programs they provided on campus. Seminary schools followed this lead by creating online and hybrid platforms for their students to pursue their desired education from anywhere.
In 2009, United online degree program was one of the first in the country to offer a hybrid format for learning, allowing students to take some courses online while still attending other courses in person.
As technology and society continued changing, more of these programs popped up around the country before fully-online programs began developing. Now, it’s common for most schools to provide the option for an online learning experience to their students.
Recent Trends in Online Education
Online seminary school has grown substantially in popularity due to a number of factors. Partially, this change can be attributed to the fact that the rising generations put more of an emphasis on flexibility and convenience than in the past. It’s also more cost-effective and allows students to receive education without needing to uproot their lives to go live somewhere with a seminary school in the area.
Now that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed society significantly with the big push toward virtual experiences in most avenues of living, the desire for online education is greater than ever.
The Benefits of Online Seminary Programs
Convenience and Flexibility
As previously mentioned, a key reason for the growing popularity of online seminary programs is the current social climate of embracing flexibility and convenience. In a world where nearly your entire day can be performed virtually, it’s no surprise that people expect the same from their education.
Most online programs allow for flexibility in both course selection and timeline for finishing a program, allowing people to set their own pace for their education. Students can now learn around things like their work schedule or available childcare instead of having to put everything aside to receive their education. They also get to cut out the need for commuting or completely moving to campus, saving both time and money for the student.
Most seminary schools allow their online students the same access to financial aid as their in-person students, so they don’t only save money on things like travel and room and board, but they can also save money in the same ways a traditional student will through scholarships and financial aid.
Accreditation and Quality
It’s important when looking into an online seminary school that you do proper research into each program that appeals to you. With the rise of online learning, there has also been a rise in educational institutions that aren’t quite what they promise to be. Even though you’re saving yourself time and money pursuing an online education, you want to ensure that the time and money you spend aren’t wasted.
The easiest way to do this is to look at the school’s accreditation. The top-tier and most common accreditation for seminary schools in the United States and Canada comes from the Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools. You should also double-check the accreditation’s website to ensure their accreditation status is accurately represented.
You’ll also want to investigate every online program’s quality. Even if it’s through an accredited school, you may see some differences between the online in-person programs. Seek out an online program that provides the standard of academic excellence you are looking for. Compare and contrast every program with its counterpart until you find something that satisfies you.
Variety of Programs and Courses
The best online seminary programs are built to offer the same variety of programs and courses as in-person. This is true for online students at United Theological Seminary, who can pursue any of the 5 online degree programs:
- Master of Divinity
- Master of Ministry
- Master of Arts in Christian Ministries
- Master of Theological Studies
- Master of Arts
While attending seminary at United, students will receive the same comprehensive and valuable education regardless of in-person or online status. With the flexibility of choosing courses and timelines that best suit you as an online student, you get to customize your learning experience. Courses that study the Bible, deep-dive into philosophy, theology, and history, and that develop necessary skills like preaching, leadership, communication, administration, and public relations are all courses that online students will have access to.
Due to the flexibility of the programs for online seminary school at United, many working professionals find that they can continue their careers while attending school. By customizing their schedules, they can best fit their education into their busy lives, so all areas are balanced and able to thrive.
This doesn’t just allow you to work and go to school at the same time if your goal is to pursue a degree, but it also allows for courses to be taken on their own with the goal of professional development. For example, you could choose to study pastoral counseling while still maintaining the career you already have in ministry. This allows you to continue growing to be the best you can be for your congregation.
Technology and Innovation
At United, we use innovative technologies to teach both in-person and online. We utilize digital tools and platforms that enhance learning experiences, providing students with live and interactive:
- video lectures
- discussion forums
- virtual classrooms
We provide easy-to-use multimedia resources for students and faculty members to ensure smooth learning in all settings. We also ensure that IT help is available to all students and faculty, including personal training sessions on how to use certain technologies so every student can reach their full potential.
Academic Support and Resources
Just like on-campus, our online students at United have access to academic and student resources online. They can pursue student counseling, speak with the Dean of the Chapel, and participate in the online Student Hub to receive the support services or information they need.
Online students are also invited to attend community events on campus, such as meals, worship services, and special activities. Some events, including chapel services, are live streamed for those who can’t attend in person.
Career Opportunities and Advancement
Receiving an education from a seminary school can enhance your employability and allow for advances in your current career. Receiving an education from seminary school, whether online or in-person, provides you with the knowledge, tools, and status you need to be chosen among your peers for the job you choose to pursue. Whether you’re pursuing a traditional, academic, or professional job, graduates of seminary school have more options open to them, as well as a higher quality of options such as better positions and competitive salaries.
Online vs Traditional Seminary Programs
The largest downfall when comparing traditional seminary programs with online programs is the community experience. There are many events and small moments that a student on campus will get to experience that an online student won’t.
With that said, advances in technology are making it easier than ever to connect with a community virtually. United makes a great effort to ease this issue with their online students by providing live streams, virtual classrooms, and online forums for discussions. They also ensure that campus is open and welcoming to online students who would like to visit for an event.
Both ways of learning are excellent in their own way; it all just depends on what the student needs and wants from their educational experience.
Admission and Enrollment
Most online seminary programs have the same admissions requirements as in-person programs, though there are a few exceptions to this rule. At United, admission varies not by the way you choose to learn but by the program you’re pursuing.
For example, if you’re interested in the Master of Divinity program, you need to have completed a Bachelor’s degree with a minimum of 2.5 GPA. However, if you want to pursue the Doctor of Ministry program, you’ll need a Bachelor’s degree with a minimum GPA of 2.5 and an MDiv degree or an equivalent degree with a 3.0 minimum GPA, as well as a minimum of 3 years experience in ministry.
The benefits of an online seminary program are broad. There is cost-effectiveness, time saved, flexibility, and convenience. Online seminary school may not be able to provide you with the same all-encompassing experience as education on-campus would, but it easily makes up for that if on-campus learning isn’t the right fit for you. As technology continues to change, these online programs are only going to grow in popularity and benefits, but even now, they’re a great option for those who need to pursue a non-traditional way of learning. If it feels right to you, look into how to apply to one of United’s online seminary programs now.