How to choose a theological college – 36 factors to consider
Are you thinking about going to theological college (also known as Bible college)? It can be a great experience, leading you to discover more about God, your faith and yourself, and equip you in your community to share God’s love.
But how to choose which theological college? There are a large number of factors which may be important to you. Here’s a list of 36 factors to consider.
1. How much does it cost?
You need to be able to ‘sit down and estimate the cost’ (Luke 14:28) of your study. Different degree programmes can cost vastly different amounts.
One factor that can vary the cost is whether or not the course is validated for a degree. Sometimes, you can attend a module without being signed up to the whole degree, and this can cost much less. At Luther King Centre we call this auditing a course (rather than taking it for ‘credit’ towards a degree).
You also need to know whether you or someone else will be paying for it. If you are training for accredited ministry in a denomination, then some of the costs may be covered for you.
Costs can also vary depending on whether you also need to factor in living costs, like accommodation. If the theological college is residential, then you need to find out how much flats (apartments) or houses are, and whether you can stay in them throughout the year or only in term-time.
As an example, you can find out how much the different degree and study options at Luther King Centre are here.
2. How long does it take?
If you want to study for an undergraduate degree (BA), most full-time courses take three years. But some colleges enable you to study part-time, and take longer. This can be an advantage if you want or need to carry on working while you study. Here at Luther King Centre, the part-time route to a BA degree takes six years.
If you are looking at postgraduate qualifications like a masters (MA), then again check how long you can take. Full-time courses are usually one or two years. But some theological colleges offer the option of part-time, taking up to four years to complete. This can make the work more manageable if you are also employed.
Luther King Centre offers our degree programmes at both undergraduate (BA) and postgraduate (MA) levels both full-time and part-time. Find out more about our degree programmes here for undergraduate, and here for postgraduate.
3. What award do you get?
Check what programmes are on offer to make sure that it matches what you are hoping to achieve.
Most colleges will offer an undergraduate course leading to an honours degree (BA).
Some theological colleges or seminaries offer undergraduate qualifications from ‘certificate’ level. This is about the equivalent of the first year of University (level 4 in England). Some also allow you to leave after two years with a diploma (level 5).
Some colleges also offer postgraduate courses leading to a masters degree (MA).
Similar to undergraduate courses, it may also be possible to complete part of the MA and leave with a postgraduate certificate or diploma in theology.
4. Who validates the award?
You need to consider what award you will finish with when you study. What other organisations will recognise your qualification?
Some colleges or seminaries give out their own qualifications. These may be useful within a particular church tradition or denomination, but may not be recognised by potential employers or universities.
In England, some colleges have ‘degree awarding powers’ – this means that their degrees will be officially recognised.
Many theological colleges and Bible colleges rely on an established university to ‘validate’ their degrees.
This means that the college does all the teaching and marking, but the degree at the end is conferred by the university.
Luther King Centre offers undergraduate and postgraduate degrees validated by the University of Durham, one of the highest ranked universities in the world, and ranked first for theology within the United Kingdom.
5. Where is it based?
Location, location, location.
If you want in-person teaching, then geography may be a key factor.
Are you willing and able to move to be able to study at a particular college?
For some, that is a real possibility. Alternatively, you may (if training for accredited forms of ministry) be sent to a particular college.
But for many, you will want to be able to travel to the college.
Here, you need to consider two factors.
First, how long does it take to get to the college? Physical distance, rush hour traffic, good transportation links all play a part here.
But secondly, check how often you are expected to be at the college.
For example, some of the modules for the MA at Luther King Centre are taught in a block within a week. Many students commute in or stay for that week (taking it as holiday if working), but have other weeks where they don’t need to travel.
6. When do you study?
Timing is important. When are lectures, or workshops?
If you are studying full-time, and live on-site or nearby, this might not be a key consideration. You will just pick up the timetable, and attend your lectures.
But if you are combining study with work or ministry, this might be important.
Check also when the day finishes – if you have childcare responsibilities, you will need to know if you can pick up your children from nursery or school, or whether you would need to make other arrangements.
Some Bible colleges concentrate their teaching on two or three days of the week. If you know this, maybe you can plan around this.
For example, the full-time BA at Luther King Centre is mostly taught on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. This means that some students can keep part-time jobs, knowing that they will be free on other days.
In contrast, the part-time BA is taught over six weekends each year, with no need to come into Luther King Centre mid-week while studying at levels 4 and 5.
When it comes to postgraduate teaching, you might find that the pattern is more irregular, because generally you take fewer modules.
At Luther King Centre, some MA modules are spread over four Mondays, some over weekends and some are ‘block’ taught in a week in either the summer or winter.
Interested in what we have to offer? Find out more about our modules here.
7. Can you study part-time?
For some of you, this will be make or break. If you need to keep working, or are already in ministry, you might find it impossible to have enough hours to study full-time.
Often, studying part-time means going at half the pace, so a full BA degree would take six years instead of three.
This might make the different between studying theology and ministry being achievable or out of reach.
8. What grants or loans can you get?
Any type of undergraduate or postgraduate education is expensive to put on, and theological education is no different. That means that student fees can be a large investment, not just of time, but also of money.
Here is where it helps to know what support you may be able to get.
If you are training for ministry, your denomination might have funds to support you.
This varies a lot from denomination to denomination (and the more they support you, the more say they may ask in where you go and for how long you study).
You might also find that you qualify for grants or bursaries from charities. It is always worth asking both the theological college and people within your denomination whether they know of any sources of funding.
If you are working for a church (even if as an intern) also check whether the church is able to support you. Some churches are able to be extremely generous, investing in training ministers for the future.
You might also be able to get government grants or loans. In England, if you study with some colleges you are able to get Student Loans, which can cover the fees, and don’t need to be repaid until your earnings reach a certain threshold. The current government guidance on this can be found here
Currently, you can get loans for both undergraduate (BA) and postgraduate (MA) degrees if you haven’t studied for one before.
So check that study at your theological college means you can get a loan.
Luther King Centre degrees qualify for Student Loans – contact us to find out more.
9. What qualifications do you need to start?
If you want to study for a degree, you need to be sure that you’ll be allowed to sign up. For young adults (18 or 19 year olds) you may find that the qualifications needed are similar to those for studying for degrees in a University.
But you may be an adult returning to education after a break (in some cases, a loooong break).
Because you come with experience and maturity (and because mature adults are usually highly motivated) you may find that colleges are prepared to accept you on a programme, even if you left school with few qualifications.
As an example, here at Luther King Centre, our standard entry requirements for the BA degree are that you need three A levels.
However, we also have non-standard entry requirements. We interview the prospective student, get a sample of writing, and may offer a place based on this.
You may also find that you can start at an undergraduate certificate level (equivalent to the first year of a BA). If you do well in the certificate, then you can progress the next year onto the diploma, and then to the BA.
This way, the degree still only takes three years full time, but if the study is too difficult, you can still leave with a qualification.
If you want to study at postgraduate level, again check the entry requirements for your college.
Here at Luther King Centre, we normally expect a 2.1 (upper class second) in a relevant undergraduate degree, but again, we have the ability to admit non-standard cases where this makes sense.
Find out more about our entry requirements here.
10. What are the values of the theological college?
Bricks and mortar make a building, but it’s values that make a college.
People call this different things – sometimes it’s called ‘ethos’ or the ‘tradition’ that a college comes from.
We all have values – but there may be some particular ones that you think are vital for you to flourish at college.
For example, if you’re a woman training (or thinking of training one day) for ministry, then having a college that fully supports the equality of women and men may be an essential factor for you.
Sometimes it can be difficult to work out exactly what values theological colleges have from their websites. This may not be colleges being secretive – just that no-one thought to add a page to their website. In these cases, you can always send off an email asking about any particular values that are important to you.
Here at Luther King Centre, we put together this page outlining our values.
11. How diverse is the student community?
One factor to consider when choosing a theological college is the diversity of the student community. Check how old students are; what the gender balance is of the student body; how ethnically diverse the college is. Are there students with disabilities? Are there students who identify as belonging to one of the LGBTQ+ communities? Are there students from a variety of countries?
Finding out this information will give you a better picture of what to expect from the college.
But also consider other factors – do most of the student body come from within the same Christian tradition or denomination, or from a variety of traditions?
Many students find that the more diverse the student body, the richer the education. Combining a range of experiences and approaches can help to build and develop your own theological understanding.
The flip side of this is that this diversity can also be challenging – some find this invigorating; others can find it (at least at first) on occasions difficult.
Luther King Centre values diversity. We are an ecumenical college, and welcome students from all Christian backgrounds, traditions and denominations. Our student body includes those from the more conservative strands to the more liberal strands of Christianity.
The college is ethnically diverse, and welcomes international students. Our students tend to be between the ages of about 21 all the way through to those of retirement age.
And we welcome applications regardless of gender, orientation or disability.
Find out more about how to apply to Luther King Centre here.
12. What if I’m an adult coming back to education?
You may have left school some time ago (and you may not have enjoyed it then). So it makes sense to ask how you will find returning to education at a theological college.
Some colleges have more experience than others with mature adults who may feel nervous about undertaking a degree. Check with the college whether they are used to helping people in this situation, and whether some of the student body have done this.
Here at Luther King Centre, we have years of experience in helping people. We have small class sizes, easy access to tutors, and structured help in ensuring that your return to education is successful and enjoyable.
Over the years, we have had countless students who have arrived having left school at 16, and left us with a good degree in theology. Some have gone on to complete masters degrees.
If you have a concern about this, why not contact our academic registrar, who can chat it over with you? You can contact them here.
13. Can you study online, and what does this mean?
Since COVID, many of us have got used to working online – often with Zoom or Microsoft Teams. You may want to explore whether you can study at a Bible college online for some or all of your course.
But be careful to check out what ‘online’ means. It can mean being given some resources from a website and being expected to get on with it by yourself in your own time.
But it can also mean regular seminars via zoom in real-time with a lecturer and other students, with the chance for discussion.
14. What is the library like? Will I be able to access electronic resources?
If you are studying theology at a college, you will need access to books and journal articles so that you can see what different scholars have said. This means that you need to make sure that the theological college has a good library, with up to date purchases.
You can now access more and more resources online, but many academic ones require an expensive subscription. Find out what electronic resources your college gives you free access to because the library pays the subscription.
At Luther King Centre, we have an extremely well-stocked and up to date library of over 30,000 books. Students on our undergraduate and postgraduate courses also have access to a vast range of electronic resources, such as JSTOR, EBSCOHOST and ATLA (each of these provides access to important theological journals).
15. What tradition or denomination is it?
For some students, it is important that the college stands within their particular tradition or denomination.
Luther King Centre is an ecumenical teaching centre, bringing together colleges from the free church traditions in the United Kingdom, with a strong emphasis on justice. Students come from a full range of denominations and traditions, including Assemblies of God, Baptist, Catholic, Congregational, Church of England, Moravian, Methodist, Pentecostal, United Reform, Orthodox, Unitarian and others.
16. How does teaching take place?
Different colleges have different teaching approaches. In some colleges, the main way might be lectures to a large group of students. The disadvantage of this is that it is harder for students to ask questions or interact with the tutor.
Other colleges, including the Luther King Centre, have smaller class sizes, and teaching is more like a seminar or workshop, with a high degree of interaction with the tutor and with other students. We believe this leads to a better learning experience.
17. Do you need to live in the theological college?
Some colleges may expect you to live in the college during your studies. Other colleges offer an option to be residential, but some students may live off campus. And for some colleges the expectation is that most students stay at their homes and commute to the college for teaching.
At Luther King Centre, our students are adults, and many are training to be ministers with extended placements during that training. We therefore expect students to commute to college for teaching, with options to stay overnight if required.
18. How big is the theological college?
Like churches, colleges come in different sizes. Some like large numbers; others prefer smaller settings where teaching staff can get to know each student individually.
Luther King Centre has approximately 100 students.
19. Which staff will be teaching you?
You can check out who will be teaching you. Does the college have a range of tutors, with different expertise? Also, do at least some of the tutors have experience of ministry?
20. What do current or former students say?
The best way of finding out what a theological college is really like is by talking to people who are either there or who have left recently. If you’re checking out a college, ask if you can be put in touch with a current student.
21. Can I try a ‘taster’ course?
Starting a degree course at a theological college can feel like a big leap into the dark. For some students, trying a small course run by the college is a great way to get the feel of the place, and to see if studying is going to work. Luther King Centre offers a range of courses that can be tried as ‘tasters’: you can find out more about them here.
22. Does the theological college offer Greek and Hebrew?
Not all theological college students need to study the original languages the Bible was written in, but it should be an option for everyone. Find out whether your college gives you the chance to read the scriptures in their original languages.
At Luther King Centre, we offer both Greek and Hebrew. Currently, these are available online via Zoom sessions, so you can access these from your home.
23. Can you specialise in an area like chaplaincy?
You might be interested in a particular area of ministry like chaplaincy. Check whether your theological college allows you to specialise.
Here at Luther King Centre, you can study for an MA in Chaplaincy Studies, which is recognised by NHS England as XXXX. Find out more about Chaplaincy Studies here.
24. Can you specialise in community work?
One way of showing God’s love in the world is through working with local communities. Here at Luther King Centre, you can combine theological study with community work study, leading to a theological degree (BA) and a recognised English Standards Board qualification as a Community Development Worker. Find out more about community work qualifications at Luther King Centre here.
25. Will it help me grow in my relationship with God?
If you study at a university, there will be a concern about academic learning, but not necessarily your own spirituality. Studying at a theological college can give you the opportunity to learn in a place which recognises the importance of your relationship with God, and encourages and helps you with that.
Here at Luther King Centre, one way we take this seriously is through a time of community worship on Tuesday mornings.
26. What will I learn about the Bible?
One reason many people have for coming to theological college is to learn more about the Bible. Check out how this is approached in your college. Will you simply be told content to learn, or will you be encouraged to look at different ways of approaching scripture, and how they relate to each other and to your own context?
At Luther King Centre, at both undergraduate and postgraduate level we take the Bible seriously. We introduce the different scholarship and approaches to the Bible, and encourage students to learn more about what that means for your own ministry in your setting.
27. Will this help me in my mission and ministry? Will it take my experience seriously?
You might be choosing to go to theological college because you feel called to a particular mission or ministry. One factor to consider is whether your studies will help this, and encourage you to make connections between the theology you study and living out your faith on the ground.
Here at Luther King Centre, we emphasise the importance of making those connections (part of what we call contextual theology), and it is a thread running through all our teaching, and in the assignments that students work through.
28. Does the college train people for ministry?
Some theological colleges train people for specific types of accredited (or ordained) ministry. If you are considering a vocation for this type of ministry, check whether your denomination or church will approve your training at this institution.
For example, at Luther King Centre people can train for ordination and accredited ministry within the Baptist Union of Great Britain (through the partner college Northern Baptist College) and United Reform or Congregational ministry, including community workers (through Northern College).
29. Can I continue to study at a higher level with the theological college?
You never know where your studies might lead. Sometimes people start off studying for an undergraduate degree, and then later come back for a postgraduate degree. Does your college offer this range of study?
Check out what Luther King Centre offers here.
30. What subjects will I cover each year, and how much choice is there?
You will want to know what areas you will be covering in a theological college course. Not all theology degrees cover every area that might be useful or necessary for ministry. But also, you may want to make sure that you have some choice to follow up particular interests.
At Luther King Centre, our undergraduate programme is designed to cover all aspects of ministry, including Biblical Studies, Mission, Preaching, Pastoral Care and much more. But we also offer some choice, with the options increasing each year of study. Find out more here.
31. What if I’m an international student?
In the UK, only certain institutions have Government approval to teach international students. If this applies to you, make sure that the College can legally accept you as a student.
Luther King Centre has Tier 4 status, allowing us to teach international students on our degree programmes.
Find out more information here.
32. What is the college’s position on women in ministry?
Some theological colleges have either explicit or implicit restrictions on what ministries should be available for women. Others, such as Luther King Centre, are explicit about a commitment to equality. Make sure you know the position of the theological college.
33. What is the college’s position on LGBT equality?
This is another area where theological colleges vary. Luther King Centre is explicit that we welcome and affirm students who identify as LGBT+, and support their ministry.
34. Is the college serious about racial justice?
Just as the church should be committed to justice for all, so should theological colleges. Find out how committed the colleges you are looking at are to racial justice. Is it reflected in the teaching, in the curriculum?
35. Is the college serious about ecology?
More and more Christians are realising our need for stewardship of the world, and ensuring that we do not damage the planet further. How do the theological colleges you are checking out show that they are serious about ecology? Is it reflected in their practice, and in the teaching?
36. Do I think God is calling me here?
The most important question of all. This one is between you and God.
Coming to theological college is a great idea. But as an important decision that may help shape your faith, you want to be serious about choosing a theological college. Some factors may be more important than others to you in the list, but we hope that it has been helpful and enabled you to discern your future path.