Is a Master of Arts or Master of Divinity the right degree for you?

At Western Theological Seminary, we are committed to excellence in academic learning and the formation of the whole person.  

Regardless of your program of choice, the faculty and staff at WTS are dedicated to helping form students who love God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength. With John Calvin, we recognize that knowledge of God and knowledge of self are interconnected. Through curricular and co-curricular offerings, students come to know themselves more fully as they grow in their understanding of the triune God.

As faculty and staff, we are eager to walk alongside students as they grow intellectually, seek vocational clarity, and explore how to live fully integrated lives before God.

WTS believes that every class is formative in the lives of students. Faculty members understand the classroom as a place of vibrant intellectual engagement that simultaneously shapes students as faithful Christian leaders. 

Both the MDiv and MA programs at WTS offer rigorous academics alongside practical and intentional formation and leadership training. Coursework provokes transformation through critical thought and theological engagement. Simply put, the curriculum at WTS engages not only the mind, but the heart, personal faith, and Christian practice as well.

What is the difference between the MDiv and MA degrees?

Master of Divinity Degree – What is it?

  • 87 credits, internships, language requirements, co-curricular requirements

The Master of Divinity degree program is the preferred degree for denominationally ordained ministry. It is also the preferred foundational degree for national and denominational chaplaincy certification and endorsement programs. 

The Master of Divinity degree prepares students for all types of ministry settings. It is offered in-person and online through a hybrid distance learning format. The Master of Divinity (MDiv) is considered a professional degree. Students will study specified content in the following disciplines:

  • Biblical Studies
  • Theological Studies
  • Christian Ministry/Practical Ministry Studies
  • The practice of Ministry through Field Education/Internships

The Master of Divinity degree program prepares women and men for ordained ministry by equipping, empowering, and forming those called by God to lead within the church. The MDiv program also provides training for ministries in mission, social service, evangelism, education, pastoral care, chaplaincy, and theological research. 

Graduating MDiv students at Western Theological Seminary will have a rich theological and pastoral framework to see the world and discern how to serve the world in the name of Christ. This framework will be biblically grounded, historically informed, contextually alert, and developed in conversation with the Reformed tradition and diverse voices, past and present, here and around the world.

Biblical Studies

Students engage in biblical scholarship and interpretation through the study of scripture in its original language and context. This learning sets the stage for exploring how scripture has been applied throughout history and also for applying it today in diverse and dynamic contexts. Students are invited to nurture a love of the Bible as God’s living word and engage the world through the lens of the biblical narrative of redemption. Students will also develop a hermeneutic that engages the biblical languages and enables thoughtful and faithful interpretation that critically applies scripture in discourse, writing, preaching, and teaching.

Theological Studies

Students will apply theological integration to historical Christian doctrine through the study of key historical and contemporary theological voices. Students will learn the history of the global church with various theological movements, gaining both breadth of knowledge and a deeper understanding of each theological tradition. 

A final year capstone paper asks students to express their own theology in ways that demonstrate the integration of theological, historical, and ethical learning with their vision of ministry, mission, worship, and discipleship.

Christian Ministry

Students engage and learn various ministry skills and practices while reflecting theologically on their individual life experiences, faith formation, interior Christian life, spiritual disciplines, and personal sense of call. Students will be invited to preach God’s word, appreciate and administer the sacraments as signs of God’s grace, bolster the church, and shepherd God’s people with pastoral imagination. In relationship to the work of the local and global church today and the future, this distinctive aspect of the MDiv program at WTS provides whole-person preparation and learning. Regular retreats and an intercultural immersion trip enhance students’ abilities to integrate their seminary experience with their lives of faith and learn from the diverse character of the church’s witness and mission. 

Practice of Ministry

Intentional mentoring occurs in faculty-led small groups called The Abbey. Abbey groups are designed to build community, foster prayer, and encourage the cultivation of spiritual practices.  

Ministry internships begin in the second year of the MDiv program, offering students the opportunity to practice what they have been learning in the classroom under the guidance of seasoned ministry mentors. Practical ministry formation in classroom and ministry settings fosters increased capacity to proclaim and embody the gospel, administer the sacraments, build up the church, and shepherd God’s people with biblical and theological insight and pastoral imagination.  

Students who are interested in research can apply for research assistantships. As a research assistant for a professor, students are personally mentored by faculty. Such opportunities encourage students’ capacity toward advanced study and learning through individual research assistantships and scholarly writing opportunities.

Who should pursue the Master of Divinity degree program at WTS?

  • Those whose sense of call is tied clearly to church leadership
  • Those who seek to learn directly from faculty who are recognized as leaders in their field of study
  • Those who want credentials that will serve them for their entire career (if ministry is their vocation)
  • Those who wish to be ordained or in senior leadership in faith-based settings.  
  • Those at the beginning of their career who can see the church as being a key component of their sense of call and vocation
  • Those who wish to engage in in-person or hybrid distance learning
  • Those whose denominational settings do not provide practical ministry or leadership training
  • Those who may desire to pursue an advanced degree program such as DMin, ThD, or PhD
  • Women who wish to pursue ministry opportunities within the church (we can talk about why)
  • Those who want to be a chaplain in a hospital or correctional facility or want to be certified by a national chaplaincy agency
  • Those interested in an intentional formation process that includes Abbey groups, Abbey retreats, and internships 

Master of Arts Degrees – What is it?

42 credits – academic coursework, possible Abbey group participation

The Master of Arts degree is designed to provide women and men with the resources for thoughtful and competent Christian leadership in a broad range of settings. It is grounded in integrated reflection on scripture, theology, and core Christian practices.

In general, a Master of Arts degree can be primarily academic (preparing a student for further graduate study), primarily professional (preparing a student for a form of leadership and service), or can incorporate both academic and professional components. At WTS, the Master of Arts degree falls into this third category, including professional and academic engagement and preparation. In the final capstone course for the MA, students can choose to focus on either a research paper or a more practically oriented project to showcase their learning. 

WTS’s faculty teach in both the MDiv and MA programs as well as the Graduate Certificate programs. At WTS, the Master of Arts degree program can be completed online by distance learning. Throughout the MA programs, faculty are committed to providing instruction that will expand students’ biblical and theological knowledge and enhance their ability to analyze specific academic and ministerial questions.  

Like the MDiv, the Master of Arts degree provides a formational curriculum that engages whole-person learning. While internships and Abbey groups are not part of the required curriculum, Master of Arts students are welcome to register for The Abbey if they are studying on campus or wish to come to campus for the first two days of distance learning intensives.  

The Master of Arts does not lead to ordination in many mainline denominations. However, in some churches today, a Master of Arts is sufficient for ordination. An MA will also benefit individuals pursuing non-ordained roles within many ministry settings and other vocational spaces. A Master of Arts degree will fulfill the requirements for some chaplaincy roles. For clarity, students interested in chaplaincy should talk with their commissioning organization or denomination.

Who should pursue a Master of Arts degree?

  • Those involved in para-church ministry or multi-site church ministry and denominations or movements that provide structured leadership training and basic biblical/theological training (i.e., Young Life, non-denominational churches, church multiplication sites)
  • Those who wish to engage in theological studies but are uncertain about ministry as a vocation (Students may transfer into the MDiv program at any point)
  • Those who seek to learn directly from faculty who are recognized as leaders in their field of study
  • Those who wish to complete a degree entirely online, on-campus, or enjoy the flexibility of both
  • Those whose faith traditions and church settings do not require an MDiv for ministry leadership
  • Those who sense callings to ministry beyond the walls of the local church
  • Faith-based administration
  • Faith-based publishing
  • Non-profit organizations
  • Writers
  • Visual arts and technology
  • Christian educators (primary and secondary)
  • Health professionals
  • Business and marketing for faith-based industry
  • Support roles within the church
  • Lay leaders within the church
  • Ministry and service volunteers
  • Those who want to learn more about the Bible, theology, and Christian ministry for personal, professional, or intellectual depth

Faculty Commitment

Faculty at Western Theological Seminary are leaders in their fields and write and speak prolifically across the US and internationally. They are also deeply invested in the church and students’ development. Faculty engage students not only in their curricular experiences but also in daily worship and community time and other co-curricular environments that foster individual mentoring, learning, and collegiality.  

Financial Considerations – MDiv or MA?

At Western Theological Seminary, generous and committed donors allow tuition to be kept low for the benefit of the student. Because of this, those considering theological education have the freedom to pursue the degree best suited to the vocational goals and objectives that align with their sense of call. 

Those who wish to pursue an MDiv may be eligible for more financial aid/scholarship due to its length and the degree’s value for ordained ministry opportunities.  

The Master of Divinity degree program does take more time to complete, however, many students pursue the degree at a pace that also allows for paid employment. This can help mitigate the financial implications of time in a degree program. Many students working part-time to full-time in ministry have completed the Master of Divinity degree within five years.

Faith communities and denominational organizations often financially support MDiv candidates. We are happy to talk with prospective students to explore ways to afford theological education in addition to generous scholarships, grants, and federal aid.

The admissions team at Western Theological Seminary welcomes conversations with curious students. Let us help you discern which degree program best suits your sense of call and vocational need. Helpful conversations with faculty, alumni, and current students can be arranged as well. 

Still wondering about which program is best for you? Contact admissions@westernsem.edu for more information or to answer any questions.