Most people aren’t in the habit of using words like “accreditation” or “registrar” on a daily basis. After all, the world of higher education and academia has its own language. The difference between terms like “seminary” or “bible college” can seem confusing, too.
If you’re a student trying to figure out what education requirements you need for pastoral ministry, chaplaincy, or church leadership, it’s important to know the differences between these institutions of learning.
What is a Bible College?
The term “Bible college” refers to a Christian college or university that confers Bible or ministry-focused undergraduate degrees. These include a two-year program leading to the associate of arts degree, or a four-year program leading to the bachelor of science or bachelor of arts degrees.
Many Bible college students major in religious studies programs, but some opt to study other fields, such as business administration, graphic design, or informational technology.
These non-religious majors offer opportunities for learners who anticipate bi-vocational or lay ministry, but still want to go to a college that offers chapel, spiritual formation groups, and classes taught by Christian professors.
The Benefits of Bible College for Future Seminary or Graduate School Students
For future ministry leaders who major in theology or Bible, many graduate schools or seminaries offer advanced standing programs for students who have already taken advanced courses or Greek and Hebrew language classes.
Dallas Theological Seminary is one example of a seminary that offers an advanced standing program, which allows students to shorten their time and save money by reducing the length of their degree.
What is a Graduate School?
Whereas a four-year college offers an undergraduate degree, a graduate school offers advanced programs leading to the master of arts, master of science, or doctor of philosophy degrees.
Some graduate schools offer “professional” degrees, such as the MBA (master of business administration) or the DNP (doctor of nursing practice), which focus on advanced practice rather than academic research.
Graduate schools are often part of universities, which also offer undergraduate education. Students can receive both their undergraduate degree and their graduate degree from the same university.
Many of these schools are state or private colleges, so their curriculum doesn’t center around biblical studies or ministry. However, some Christian universities have both a Bible college and a graduate school for advanced study.
Students who go to graduate school increase their career competitiveness, or teach in academic settings.
What is a Seminary?
Seminaries (sometimes called divinity schools) are graduate-level institutions that provide advanced training for individuals who intend to enter church or ministry-related professions, including pastoral or parachurch roles.
Denominations vary from seminary to seminary. Each differ in terms of pastoral educational requirements. Many require at least an MDiv (a master of divinity) or ThM (master of theology) degree, which are 3-4 years of advanced study in a wide range of fields essential to ministry leadership.
Professional graduate schools—such as a seminary—focus primarily on training students in a master’s program. This doesn’t mean these institutions hold back on their academics—most programs cover Greek, Hebrew, systematic theology, pastoral counseling, and advanced biblical exegesis.
Many seminaries offer both professional degrees as well as academic degrees, for students who don’t anticipate vocational ministry, but desire an advanced education in theology, biblical languages, and/or religious history.
What are the Differences?
Bible College and Seminary
The differences between a Bible college and a seminary may not seem obvious to most. They have similarities in terms of the topics of the curriculum, but a seminary education requires the study of advanced topics that build upon a student’s previous education.
Undergraduate education focuses on breadth of education (the studying of topics ranging from mathematics to communication), while a seminary focuses on the depth of education (mastering a specific field of ministry).
Graduate School and Seminary
While a seminary is technically a school for graduate-level education (a “grad school”), most refer to “graduate schools” in a generic sense, but use the word “seminary” to refer to specific graduate schools that train students for future ministry.
At grad school, you might get a MA in accounting to be a financial advisor, or an MD to become a medical doctor. At seminary, you could get a degree such as the MDiv, ThM, or an MA in Christian Leadership to pursue ministry.
To Recap: Bible College vs. Graduate School vs. Seminary
A Bible college is an undergraduate institution in which students may receive broad education in Bible or ministry, or major in another field but are educated in a Christian environment.
A graduate school offers graduate (master’s and doctoral level) programs which go beyond the undergraduate education to produce experts in specific fields.
A seminary educates future ministry professionals and lay people in advanced theology and Bible courses for the purpose of Christian formation and leadership.