Complete Guide to an Online Theology Degree
Online theology degrees are offered at 35 schools and across many degree levels, from undergraduate to graduate. Students who major in theology hope to develop an analytical understanding of biblical texts and use their knowledge to help others understand the Bible. People who earn degrees in theology typically become clergy members, often leading congregations as ministers, educators, community leaders, social workers, counselors, and writers.
Students who require financial aid and undergraduate students who have an interest in pursuing graduate-level studies should apply to theology programs offered at accredited schools. Theology students typically seek hands-on training on their own, either serving as pastors in their community churches or volunteers in their communities. This type of experience can help theology degree and certificate holders get jobs upon completing their program.
Comprehensive List of Accredited Online Schools - Theology Degrees (35)
Online Theology Degree Overview & Career Information
Public and private colleges and universities, as well as seminaries, typically offer higher education degrees and certificates in theology. An online bachelor's degree in theology takes approximately four years to complete. Undergraduate students must complete their college’s core education requirements and required theology courses to earn their degrees.
Universities, seminaries, and some colleges offer online master’s degrees in theology. A master’s degree in theology may take two years to complete. Students typically undertake in-depth study on various aspects of Christianity and learn to produce scholarly writings and research. Doctoral programs in theology require students to engage in class work as well as independent research. Students typically produce a dissertation and must participate in a thesis defense to earn their degrees. Theology doctoral programs take anywhere from two to four years to complete.
Students will need to complete approximately 120 academic credits to earn a bachelor’s degree in theology, depending on whether the college or university uses a semester or quarter system. In addition to general studies courses, theology students will take a wide range of religious studies courses such as Themes in the Hebrew Bible Faith, Reason and the Religious Sense, and Jesus Christ in History and Faith. Some undergraduate theology programs give online students the option to earn credit from an internship completed in their community.
Prospective undergraduate students wishing to earn an online bachelor’s degree in theology typically must have a high school diploma or GED. Some colleges and universities require undergraduate applicants to submit standardized test scores, such as SAT or ACT scores, as well as academic transcripts. Online theology degree programs designed for working adults may require applicants to include resumes along with their applications. Letters of recommendation and personal essays also may be required to gain admission. Private Christian colleges and universities typically offer a bachelor's theology degree, as do theological seminaries.
Earning an online bachelor’s degree in theology may prepare students for careers as Christian school teachers or administrators. Graduates may also become ministers, pastors, writers, journalists, or nonprofit administrators. Graduates of undergraduate theology programs who have knowledge of world languages may find work as Bible translators.
It takes about two years to complete a master’s degree in theology online; the programs require approximately 36 academic credits, or 60 credits if the college or university uses the quarter system. As a theology graduate student, students will take courses such as Legal & Financial Issues in Ministry, Evangelism, Early Faith Foundations, and Ministry to Children at Risk. Students also may be required to complete a research methods course, as well as undertake a research project and write a thesis.
Applicants to online theology master’s degree programs will be required to provide academic records proving their completion of an undergraduate course of study. Some schools will also require standardized test scores, or an undergraduate degree in theology specifically. Students should be prepared to answer questions about their character and faith to gain admission. Divinity schools at public and private universities and theological seminaries typically offer online master’s degree programs in theology.
An online master’s in theology may prepare students for leadership roles in churches, nonprofit organizations, and education institutions. Graduates may also find jobs teaching theology and religious studies at two- and four-year colleges or working as chaplains in colleges and universities, healthcare organizations, or the United States military.
A doctoral degree in theology typically requires 72 academic credits and takes two to four years to complete, depending on the number of credits the university allows the student to transfer from their master’s degree program. Core courses at the doctoral level include research methods, pedagogy, Christian scripture studies, and history. Theology doctoral students will also have the option to take electives in concentration areas of their choosing.
Admission requirements for online doctoral degree programs in theology vary. Usually though, students must have a master’s degree in theology, or a closely related subject and a high grade point average in their previous college- or university-level studies. Some online doctoral degree programs in theology also require students to have demonstrated experience as an educator, clergy member, or other Christianity-focused leadership position. Letters of recommendation and a writing sample will also be required. Christian universities, public and private universities with divinity schools, and theological seminaries are the institutions most likely to offer online doctoral degrees in theology.
An online doctoral degree in theology may prepare students for roles as faculty, department heads, administrators, or chaplains in higher education institutions. Individuals may also find jobs in established churches or in publishing and journalism.
Earning an undergraduate online certificate in theology may give students the background needed to serve in positions such as church musician, assistant pastor, or other support staff position in a Christian institution. Coupled with a social work, education, or counseling degree, the certificate may also qualify individuals to provide counseling or other guidance to community members. An online graduate certificate in theology provides the foundation for further theology studies, and may provide the background needed for positions such as executive director of a nonprofit or community organization, church leadership, or higher education administrator.
An undergraduate certificate in theology may require as many as 30 credits and take one to two years to complete. A graduate certificate in theology may require as few as nine credits and take one semester to two years to complete. The number of credits required for these certificates varies widely among educational institutions. Courses in certificate programs focus on biblical texts, teaching, and ministering to congregations, both locally and internationally. Students interested in earning an undergraduate online certificate in theology usually provide proof of high school completion or GED scores. Graduate students must provide proof they completed their undergraduate degree to enroll in online graduate certificate in theology courses. Christian colleges and other private colleges and universities typically offer undergraduate and graduate certificates in theology.
The Importance of an Accredited Online Theology Degree
There are a few types of accreditation individuals should keep in mind when choosing an online theology degree. The first is regional accreditation, which means that an outside, independent agency has evaluated a school as a whole and determined that it meets certain quality standards. Regional accreditation is necessary for student to receive federal financial aid and graduate schools may not accept students with an undergraduate degree from a non-accredited school.
Another type of accreditation is programmatic accreditation. This means that an organization specializing in a certain subject area has assessed a school's program and determined that it meets quality standards. The Association of Theological School's Commission on Accrediting (ATS) is the main accrediting body for theology programs. Students should be aware that some schools that offer online theology certificates and degrees purposely choose not to seek accreditation because they offer rigorous coursework but use non-traditional curriculum delivery methods. Ultimately, students should carefully consider their future plans and financial needs when choosing online theology schools.
Colleges and universities that have accredited online theology programs typically adjust their programs to meet ATS’ rigorous accreditation standards. In general, this means that accredited theology programs may offer higher-quality coursework. Some employers may consider graduates of accredited online theology programs to be better prepared to handle the challenges of their jobs. As such, in some cases, having a theology degree from such a program may give students an advantage over other job candidates.
Careers in Theology
While many theology certificate and degree holders pursue careers as clergy members, the versatile degree qualifies graduates for a wide range of jobs. Education, social work, public service, and media are a few of the fields in which theology degree and certificate holders can find job opportunities. Those with higher education in theology may also find jobs as non-profit organization leaders.
- The Association of Theological Schools. Accessed January 20, 2017. http://www.ats.edu/.
- Accrediting for Dummies. Seminary Grad School. Accessed January 15, 2017. http://www.seminarygradschool.com/article/Accrediting-for-Dummies?page=2.
- Bachelor of Arts in Biblical and Theological Studies. Regents University. Accessed January 20, 2017. http://www.regent.edu/acad/undergrad/academics/online/degree/biblical_theology/home.cfm.
- Certificate in Theology and The Arts. Fuller Theological Seminary. Accessed January 20, 2017. http://fuller.edu/academics/school-of-theology/certificates/certificate-in-theology-and-the-arts/.
- Certificate of Biblical Studies. Moody Bible Institute. Accessed January 20, 2017. https://www.moody.edu/moody-bible-institute-distance-learning/undergraduate-programs/certificate-of-biblical-studies/.
- Graduate Certificate in Theological Studies. Liberty University Online. Accessed January 20, 2017. https://www.liberty.edu/online/graduate/certificate/theological-studies/.
- Master of Biblical and Theological Studies. Dallas Theological Seminary. Accessed January 20, 2017. http://www.dts.edu/master-biblical-theological-degree-online/.
- Ph.D. in Theology and Apologetics Admissions Requirements. Liberty University Online. Accessed January 20, 2017. https://www.liberty.edu/online/phd-admissions-requirements/.
- PhD in Theology. Fuller Theological Seminary. Accessed January 20, 2017. http://fuller.edu/academics/school-of-theology/cats/phd-in-theology/.
- Theological Studies, BA. Saint Joseph's College. Accessed January 20, 2017. https://www.sjcme.edu/academics/programs/ba-theological-studies/online/.