In December, I hope to graduate with a Masters of Divinity from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. It has taken 4 1/2 years to meet all the requirements, but the Lord has been good to us, and the end is in sight.
Seminaries today are offering a variety of ways to take classes. If you are a current or future seminary student, you may have some questions about the different types of seminary classes offered. Here are some benefits and drawbacks to the different options.
The benefit of taking classes on campus is that you are in a classroom with students and the professor. Your professor is right in front of you. You can communicate with him easily. Conversations with students in the hall – before and after class – are also beneficial. When the class is good, you can rejoice with other students. When the class is hard, you can commiserate too!
The seminary environment fosters a desire for learning and growth. In my experience, nothing quite replaces the classroom setting on campus with other students.
The drawback to taking classes on campus? As you go from class to class, you will usually have different course mates. Meeting lots of students is great, but you might not be able to build the kind of camaraderie you would like.
Taking classes at one of the seminary’s extension centers is much like taking class on campus. A professor travels to the extension center location to be with the class.
The greatest benefit to being at an extension center is that you usually have the same classmates from class to class. Because of this factor, the class becomes a corporate unit, and you can enjoy long-lasting friendships with your classmates.
Furthermore, most of the other students are already in ministry (like you), so the class discussions tend to be more practical in nature. There is little “learning for learning’s sake.” The mindset is, “How can I apply this truth this week in my current church setting?”
The drawback to the extension center is that you rarely have the very best professors. Sometimes, the prominent professors will travel, but many times, that is not the case.
Also, the classes tend to be a little less intensive than those on campus. For example, the on-campus course requirements for a particular course may include two exams and two papers. The same course, taken at an extension center, might instead ask for two exams and only one paper. I suspect that the professors know that students are in full-time ministry and want to ease the load just a bit.
The internet option allows you to stream lectures live online, or watch DVDs of the professor going over the lesson.
The benefit of an internet class is that you can work at your own pace. You can take exams and quizzes early if you’d like. (Procrastinators would probably not do well with internet classes, but planners can maximize the flexibility to their advantage.) If you pace yourself, you can finish the class more than a month early.
The drawbacks to the internet classes are obvious. You have no camaraderie with students. (The online forums, where you participate with students in a mini-blog, are helpful, but they cannot replace face-to-face interaction.)
Neither do you have easy access to the professor. Internet classes help you work toward your degree, but they are not as satisfying as extension center and on-campus classes.
Another drawback to internet classes is the price tag. For some reason, they are much more expensive than taking classes on campus. I suppose the price is designed to discourage internet classes.
J-Terms are intensive, one-week courses in months starting with J (traditionally January, June, and July, although a few classes are now being offered in May and December). Most of these classes are on campus, but some can be taken at extension centers.
The benefit of a J-Term is that you can do your reading and writing projects off campus before and after the class actually meets. You can pace yourself to do much of the work ahead of time. Then, when the week of the class arrives, you can knock out the classroom hours, quizzes and exams in a short amount of time. It’s like taking an entire semester’s worth of material and cramming it into one week.
The drawback of a J-Term is the difficulty of sitting in class for so many hours in one week. It’s nice to get it done and out of the way, but even the exceptionally gifted professor can rarely hold the attention of students for that long every day. Still, I have learned a lot in J-Terms and have been thankful for the flexibility they offer.
The final type of class available is an independent study. You can participate in an independent study only under special circumstances.
For example, I had signed up for an extension center J-Term this summer. The class was later canceled. I needed those credit hours to finish my degree by December. So the professor of that class agreed to do an “independent study” with me.
For the class, I was required to do a significant amount of reading. I participated in several one-on-one conversations with the professor. I did a book review and a longer-than-usual research paper.
The benefit of doing an independent study comes from the way that the class is tailored to the individual student. It also provides ample time with the professor one-on-one. The drawback is that you are not among other students.
There is no “best” option for taking seminary courses. Each of the options has been helpful to me, depending upon my stage in life and ministry. The best thing a prospective student can do is consider the positives and negatives and figure out which option best suits the current need.
Those of you who are currently in seminary, what options have worked best for you? Feel free to share in the comments section below…