Earning a Master's in Theology Online

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For a career in theology, you might consider earning a master of theology online. Students who graduate with a master's in theology online become pastors, ministry leaders, and theology postsecondary teachers and professors, a field that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects will grow 15% by 2026.

Enrolling in a distance learning program allows you to pursue your online master's of theology while working full time or handling family obligations. This guide contains information about salary increases and job growth potential expected for master's degree in theology holders, plus resources for funding your degree.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Master's Degree in Theology?

Earning an online master's in theology helps many students achieve their dream careers. Working professionals seeking to increase their job prospects with an advanced degree can take advantage of the personalized, flexible schedules offered by a master's of theology online program. Theology undergraduates can get a head start on their careers, while others can earn the additional education or specific concentration needed to pursue their career goals.

Why Get a Master's Degree in Theology?

Pursuing Specialization

Choosing an emphasis lets you deeply study an area of interest during your online master's of theology program, which can also help with your job hunt. For instance, if you focus on youth ministry, your training will prepare you for jobs leading youth groups. Similarly, global studies helps you become a missionary, or you could concentrate in church history to become a pastor.

Career Advancement Opportunities

A master's degree bolsters your skill set, fast-tracking your route to leadership positions even if you don't have significant work experience. These jobs come with greater responsibility and more earning potential. Pursuing a master's degree also means networking opportunities, which helps you connect with potential employers.

Online Learning Technology

Most industries rely on technology, and theology is no exception. Technology allows ministries to connect with congregations worldwide, especially important for missionaries and evangelists. Pursuing a theology master's online makes you familiar with digital tools, teaching you remote communication technology skills to add to your resume.

Prerequisites for Online Theology Programs

When applying for a master of arts in theology online program, don't forget to check off prerequisites. Common application requirements include:

    • Work Experience: Most online master of theology programs do not require work experience. Bachelor's students can apply for master's programs immediately after graduating. However, work experience can strengthen your application. Admissions representatives like to see work ethic in their prospective students.
    • Exams and Test Scores: While some theology master's programs require GRE exam scores, many do not. Some schools only require GRE scores from students with undergraduate GPAs below a minimum threshold. Theology programs typically focus on character and motivation rather than scores.
    • Coursework: Graduate theology programs usually don't list specific undergraduate courses as prerequisites. In most cases, candidates may apply for a master's in theology regardless of undergraduate focus. Some schools require a minimum GPA, usually between 2.5 and 3.0.
    • Recommendations: Applicants usually need one or two recommendation letters. Most theology programs expect at least one recommendation to come from a pastor or ministry leader who can speak to the candidate's character.
    • Essays: An essay or personal statement in which prospective students express their spiritual beliefs is the most common application requirement for master of theology programs. Candidates write about their ethical and religious philosophies, what they hope to study, and how they plan to apply that education to their careers.
    • Interviews: During the admissions process, interviews allow a school's theology department to gain a deeper understanding of a student's motivations and career plans. Many theology master's programs do not require students to complete an interview, but some do. With online programs, these interviews are usually conducted over the phone.
    • International Students Some universities require international students to submit proof of English proficiency, usually through the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) exam. Foreign students should also research how their grades translate into an American GPA. Otherwise, requirements for international candidates are the same as domestic candidates.

How Much Can I Make with a Master's Degree in Theology?

Salaries for those who earn a master's in theology online vary with specialization and experience. For university theology professors, salaries range from $37,070-$129,490, according to BLS data. For those who go into ministry, working as directors of religious activities, the range is $20,190-$82,570. Regardless of your career goals or specialization, graduating with a master's degree improves your earning potential.

Traditional Careers for Master's in Theology Graduates

Careers Stats Description

Philosophy and Religion Teachers, Postsecondary

Median Pay: $78,790

Job Growth: N/A

Postsecondary teachers work at colleges and universities. Also called professors or lecturers, they teach religious or biblical texts to college students, and publish research. They can also work as adjunct professors.

Directors, Religious Activities and Education

Median Pay: $45,470

Job Growth: N/A

Religious activity directors work for churches, denominational groups, or ministries in managerial positions, overseeing day-to-day operations. They also lead adult Bible discussion groups, direct a choir, or run a youth ministry program.

Pastor

Median Pay: $48,779

Job Growth: N/A

A pastor is the spiritual leader of a religious congregation. They conduct religious services and deliver sermons. A pastor should have thorough knowledge of theology and biblical scripture. Pastors often take on other roles, too, like providing one-on-one guidance to congregation members.

Hospital Chaplain

Median Pay: $48,179

Job Growth: N/A

A hospital chaplain works in a healthcare facility, offering spiritual and moral guidance to patients and their families. Hospital chaplains often work with terminally ill patients, and should be well-trained in palliative care and bereavement counseling.

Source: BLS/PayScale

Non-Traditional Careers for Theology Graduates

Sometimes theology graduates find employment in careers not directly related to their degrees because he skills learned while pursuing a master's in theology online often apply to other industries, too. Learn more about unexpected career options for theology graduates in the table below.

Career Stats Description

Pastoral Care Head

Median Pay: $58,537

Pastoral care heads oversee groups within a congregation, like teaching the high school youth group or providing spiritual counseling to couples. They sometimes work in non-religious settings, like hospitals, nursing homes, or rehabilitation facilities.

Skills Overlapped: Theological knowledge, teaching, ministry, and interpersonal skills.

Program Director, Nonprofit

Median Pay: $53,745

Many nonprofit associations have religious affiliations. A nonprofit group might hire a theology graduate to create, coordinate, and evaluate community service programs. Other nonprofit program director responsibilities include maintaining budgets and overseeing staff.

Skills Overlapped: Leadership and communication, interpersonal skills, and organization.

Curriculum Director

Median Pay: $73,742

Curriculum directors at private, religiously affiliated schools create curriculum that incorporates faith into the classroom, creating goals for their staff to educate the student body.

Skills Overlapped: Leadership, teaching, writing, using expertise to develop an educational program, and interpersonal skills.

Source: PayScale

Paying for an Online Master's in Theology

Tuition price tags for online masters of theology programs may seem intimidating at first glance. However, students have many options for curbing the cost of higher education. Start by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which determines whether you qualify for federal loans. Next, look for grants and scholarships from religious groups, nonprofit organizations, or your chosen school. Choosing an accelerated path can also mean a lower bill, because you can graduate more quickly.

Scholarships for Online Theology Master's Students

Many students use scholarships to fund their online master's in theology. Church organizations often provide scholarships and financial awards for students pursuing a master of theology online, as long as those students belong to that church's denomination. We've listed some examples below.

What to Expect from a Master's Level Online Theology Program

Every master's in theology online program has unique requirements and course offerings. That said, most programs require 36-40 credit hours, usually including an internship or field work and a capstone course. Several schools also require a thesis, which may be optional. Students can finish their degrees in one year on an accelerated track, or they can study for five years on a part-time schedule. For more details, read below.

Major Milestones

  1. Choose a Concentration

    If students want a degree emphasis, they should choose one at the beginning of their program. This choice influences the student's course load, thesis topic, and internship choices.

  2. Internship or Field Project

    Theology master's programs expect students to gain practical experience through an internship or field project. Students may work with a church ministry or create a community service project.

  3. Write and Defend Thesis

    Although timelines differ, master's students generally spend the last year of their degrees proposing a topic, doing research, and writing a thesis. Before they can graduate, students must defend their thesis to their team of degree advisors.

  4. Capstone Course

    Master's programs typically require that students complete a capstone course -- a culmination of skills students learned over course of their degree -- during their last semester. Capstone courses may include a final project, research paper, or debates between students.

  5. Certification Preparation and Examination

    If you want to add a certification to your list of professional qualifications, consider taking a certification exam a few weeks after receiving your degree. This gives you time to prepare for the exam while also keeping your studies fresh in your mind.

Coursework

Theology curriculums vary widely, especially at schools with different religious denominations. However, some courses are universal for theology degrees. You can read about a few course options below.

Foundations of Theology

Many online master of theology curriculum plans begin with a fundamentals class, which teaches students about the central theories, ideas, and concepts of theology. The rest of the program builds on knowledge gained in this course.

Old Testament Texts in Hebrew

Often, a master's theology curriculum includes one course on the New Testament and another on the Old Testament. Sometimes students read the Old Testament in Hebrew.

Moral Theology

This course examines morality as it relates to theological teachings, focusing on subjects like sin and virtue. Students discuss religious teachings and beliefs, and apply those teachings to modern day ethical conundrums.

Biblical Hermeneutics

Hermeneutics is the theory and methodology of interpreting religious texts. In this class, learners focus on analyzing literary and rhetorical devices in the Bible, sharpening their interpretive skills through practical application.

Religion and Science

This class explores the relationship between religion and science from several critical perspectives. Students examine different schools of thought and debate seminal issues, like evolution versus creationism.

Degree Timelines

With so many options for pursuing a master's in theology online, making a choice can be difficult. One way to decide: Figure out whether you want to pursue a degree part time, full time, or on an accelerated timeline.

Enrollment Status Time to Complete Description

Part-Time

3-5 years

The part-time option suits people juggling busy schedules, whether it's working a full-time job or raising a family. Part-time students enroll in one course every semester, reducing the daily workload. The downside here is that completing the degree takes much longer.

Full-Time

1.5-2.5 years

Full-time students take three or four courses a semester, amounting to 9-12 credit hours. Full-time students may still have other responsibilities, but they can devote most of their attention to studying.

Accelerated

~1 year

Some accelerated tracks are only offered for bachelor's degrees in theology, or to students with transfer credits. Accelerated tracks are short with heavy course loads, allowing students to finish faster. The accelerated option works best for people who can study intensively.

Licenses and Certifications

There are no government requirements for certifications or licensure for theological or religious professionals. However, some religious denominations require professionals to earn certification before they can work in pastoral, ministerial, or missionary positions.

You can earn certifications from universities, professional organizations, or church groups. Specific requirements vary by organization and religious community. Therefore, the certifications listed below are not a complete picture of the certifications available. Instead, this list offers a glimpse into the types of certifications available.

    • Youth Ministry Certification: Several seminaries, churches, and colleges offer certifications in youth ministry. Often, candidates complete this certification online through an online course or by taking a certification exam. This certification covers how to share Biblical teachings with children, teenagers, and college students.
    • Missionary Certification: Missionaries travel to evangelize and help communities in need. Depending on your theology master's degree specialization, you may only need to take an exam for this certification, while others need to take a course on ministry work.
    • Pastoral Music Ministry Certification: The musically inclined theologian may choose to earn a pastoral music ministry certification. Seminaries and colleges offer this certification online, although local music ministry certifications may also be available.

Professional Organizations and Resources

Pursuing a master's of theology online and attending classes remotely might feel isolating, but joining a professional association can alleviate this feeling. Professional organizations help students make professional connections by attending national conferences and local meetings where they can network and learn from others. Most professional organizations also offer study resources and job boards. Below, we've listed a few theology-specific organizations.

  • Association of Practical Theology: The APT aims to encourage theological discourse, bringing theology scholars and researchers together every two years for a conference. Students receive a discounted membership rate, and the APT provides a members-only employment listings board.
  • Catholic Biblical Association of America: Founded in 1936, CBA promotes the study of biblical scripture by Catholic scholars and theologists. The group hosts national and regional meetings, distributes grants, and runs an Emerging Scholars Fellowship program for students.
  • Evangelical Theological Society: Designed for evangelical biblical scholars, the ETS provides opportunities for theologians to connect with each other. Members can attend an annual meeting, access a membership directory, and use career connections services.
  • American Academy of Religion: Unlike other professional theological associations, the AAR does not have a specific denomination. More than 8,000 scholars and theologians across different religions publish research through the AAR's journals and attend its annual meeting.
  • Society of Biblical Literature: Established in 1880, SBL offers its members scholarly resources to help with coursework and research, and hosts regional, national, and international meetings. Members can also find employment through its job board.

For both working professionals and online theology master's degree students, having access to the right resources provides valuable information. A few theology-related resources available online are listed below.

  • Institute for Biblical Research, Inc.: IBR offers a platform where evangelical theologians can share their scholarly analyses of the Bible. IBR members have access to this research, and they can join a research group or propose a research project of their own.
  • Bible Odyssey: Run by the Society of Biblical Literature, this free online resource breaks down biblical theory and scholarship. The site publishes in-depth, easy-to-read articles about biblical people and places, as well as analyses of specific passages.
  • Dictionary of Nature Imagery of the Bible: Nature and landscapes are a major motif in the Bible, which explores the relationship between God, humans, and the natural world. The DNI Bible publishes a wealth of information about nature imagery used in the Bible, which can help students and scholars in their interpretations of the text.
  • Early Christian Writings: In addition to the Bible, Christian theology students often study other contemporary documents. This online database archives other early Christian writings, which visitors can access for free.
  • Theological Commons: Sponsored by Princeton Theological Seminary, the Theological Commons is a digital library of theological texts, including books, photographs, and manuscript collections. Students and scholars can find over 120,000 resources on the Theological Commons website.