Completing an associate degree in theology demonstrates your commitment to spiritual growth. The degree can prepare you for effective ministry, or open you to new opportunities for service in the church, a parachurch, or a community service organization. Even if you intend to pursue a career in business, engineering, or any other occupation, an associate degree in theology provides the critical-thinking and communication skills to succeed. In short, a theology degree better equips you to make a real difference in a world longing for peace, joy, and love.

Although church and parachurch occupations do not traditionally pay well, few people pursue such occupations primarily for earning potential. Most choose ministry opportunities to make a difference in people's lives and their communities, which provides a high level of satisfaction. Youth pastors, for example, earn relatively low salaries but rate very high in terms of job satisfaction. The following information will help you decide if an associate theology program is the right investment for your future.

Should I Get an Associate Degree in Theology?

Completing an associate degree in theology can help you enter a variety of ministry occupations. Some positions require only an associate degree, which would also satisfy the general education requirements typically completed during the first two years of a bachelor's degree. Many choose this direction, as it can qualify graduates for even more positions in the field.

Regardless of your intent, this degree expands your knowledge and critical-thinking skills and builds a foundation in biblical interpretation, church history, theological analysis, and practical ministry preparations -- all while refining your Christian worldview. Some programs also require one or more field experiences to help you apply what you learn.

Recent high school graduates may prefer to earn this degree in a traditional on-campus setting. The opportunities for social interaction and campus-based extracurricular programs provide a supportive context while also establishing skills for independent living.

Conversely, nontraditional students -- such as working professionals -- may prefer the flexibility of online learning to minimize disruptions to their career and family obligations. While online learning does not offer as many opportunities for networking, you can still interact frequently with professors and fellow students. This is especially the case if you select a cohort-based model, in which a group of students moves through a program together.

As you progress toward your graduation date, take advantage of the support services the school offers for internships and job placement assistance. Upon graduation, you can move on with the confidence that comes from being well prepared.

What Can I Do With an Associate in Theology?

An associate degree in theology opens a variety of ministry opportunities in both church and parachurch contexts, including many the jobs described below. Some churches or organizations require at least a bachelor's degree in theology, but those with an associate degree may qualify, at least temporarily. Other churches consider the associate degree to be adequate long-term. Salaries vary widely beyond the median figures listed below and depend primarily on location and size of the church or organization.

Youth Minister

Youth ministers lead and support junior high and high school students in a church or parachurch setting, and guide them to spiritual growth and development. Youth ministers tend to be energetic and creative people who engage youth in activities, Bible studies, camps, and service activities. They leverage their impact by recruiting and training adult volunteers.

Median Annual Salary: $35,430*

Church Administrator

Church administrators oversee the budgeting, bookkeeping, and payroll functions of the church. They devote considerable time to church communications including hard copy newsletters and bulletins, as well as the church website and social media presence. Administrators oversee many of the personnel, which includes grounds and custodial support, and both paid and volunteer positions.

Median Annual Salary: $38,657*

Children's Ministry Director

A children's ministry director leads and manages the church ministry programs for children from nursery through elementary school ages. They usually recruit and train volunteers. Some may teach a class, but all will oversee the selection and implementation of curricula. A children's ministry director proposes and manages the children's ministry budget.

Median Annual Salary: $31,804*

Youth Pastor

Closely related to the position of youth minister, youth pastors lead and support youth in their spiritual growth. In fact, many churches use the terms interchangeably. However, youth pastors tend to take on more pastoral counseling work with youth and families.

Median Annual Salary: $36,456*

Source: PayScale

How to Choose an Associate Program in Theology

As you explore prospective theology programs, consider your long-term career plans, and whether the vision and mission of your prospective schools harmonize with your convictions and preferences. Be sure to also evaluate the specific concentrations and courses offered to ensure they align with your goals and preferences.

Students should also ensure that their theology degree is accredited. Earning your degree from a school with proper regional and programmatic accreditation maximizes your post-graduation options for jobs later on while easing the process of credit transfers should you pursue your bachelor's degree. Verify that the school is accredited by the Association of Theological Schools and/or another accreditation agency recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

While recent high school graduates usually prefer to earn their degree on campus, many nontraditional students find that the flexible pacing and delivery of online programs better fits their family and work priorities. A growing number of schools offer excellent online programs for an associate degree in theology.

Finally, it is important to consider how much your degree costs. As you add up the tuition, fees, and room and board figures, bear in mind any incidental expenses that come up such as computer supplies, books, and parking or transportation costs. Some of these costs can be mitigated, however, by financial aid and any credits you might be able to transfer. Many of the more expensive schools offer far more generous financial aid options than some of their less expensive counterparts.

Associate in Theology Program Admissions

Just as you want to carefully select the right school to earn your associate degree in theology, colleges are carefully examining each candidate and selecting those most likely to succeed and benefit from their programs. Colleges and universities accept applications up to a year in advance of the enrollment period. Consistent with that time frame, you should begin your college search and application procedures early to maximize your options and ensure that you meet important application and financial aid deadlines.

You should select five to eight colleges that provide the program and culture that best suit your education and career goals. Set aside regular time each week to research programs, assemble application materials, and evaluate financial aid options. The College Board offers more advice to help you with your application process.

Admission Materials

  • Application: In addition to your biographical information, colleges also require references and may require an essay.
  • Transcripts: Colleges review your high school transcripts to help evaluate your likelihood of success in their program. Check with your high school office to request that transcripts be sent to your colleges of choice.
  • Application Fee: Most colleges charge an application fee that averages between $25 to $50. Highly competitive schools may charge up to $100, while some colleges charge no fee at all.

Educational Paths for Theology Associate Programs

An associate degree in theology prepares graduates to pursue ministry opportunities immediately after graduation or to continue their education by earning a bachelor's degree. By combining these two strategies, however, you can begin working in a ministry position to build experience, while also continuing your studies toward a bachelor's degree. Transferring your associate degree opens more specialization options, and those with a bachelor's degree in theology earn an average of 28% more than those with an associate degree, according to PayScale. The following represents a few of the bachelor's degree options suitable for those with an associate degree.

Bachelor of Science in Christian Leadership and Management

Designed for students with a passion to provide managerial or executive leadership within a church or Christian organization. The degree offers a blend of courses in Bible, theology, leadership, and business management, and prepares graduates to serve as executive pastors, leaders of parachurch organization, and even for-profit organizations.

Bachelor of Arts in Ministry

This degree builds a solid biblical foundation for general ministry in a variety of specializations such as youth ministries, Christian education, worship leadership, counseling, Christian school leadership, and cross-cultural missions. All specializations emphasize skillful communication through a variety of media appropriate to the concentration.

Bachelor of Biblical and Theological Studies

Designed primarily for those called to serve as a pastor or to teach Bible and theology in schools, this degree takes students deep into the Bible and the art of biblical interpretation. It addresses key issues involved in interpretation and provides students introductory coursework in Greek and Hebrew. Students also survey major areas of theology in light of Scripture and historical philosophy.

What Else Can I Expect From an Associate Program in Theology?

An associate degree in theology offers fewer concentration or specialization options than at the bachelor's or master's degree level, as two-year programs mostly cover core courses. Nevertheless, the number and variety of schools offering this program yield several approaches to fit your future plans.

Courses in an Associate Program in Theology

Course offerings across theology degrees vary widely and depend on one's specialization. However, degree concentrations in pastoral ministry, Christian music, youth ministry, or cross-cultural missions share common foundational courses similar to those listed below. In fact, of the 60 or more credits in a typical associate degree in theology, about half of the credits focus on courses common to all specializations.

Introduction to Christian Theology

This course covers two main sections. The first introduces the principles, practices, and methods involved in the study of theology. The bulk of this course surveys the major topics in Christian theology, such as theology proper (the nature of God), bibliology (the origin and nature of the Bible), and soteriology -- which covers the nature of salvation and redemption.

Biblical Interpretation

Often called hermeneutics or biblical exposition, this course introduces students to the origin and nature of the Bible. It guides students through the various literary types and contexts throughout Scripture. The course then helps students determine what biblical passages said and meant to their original audiences with a view to current applications

Church History

In this survey course, students trace the development of the church from its inception in the first and second centuries. Questions address the biblical roots of the nature of the church in both Old and New Testaments. Students then follow the development of the church throughout the ages and across the world.

Old Testament Survey

This macro view of the Old Testament guides students through the different biblical genres as they unfold God's plans and interactions throughout early history. Students follow the common threads that develop through the various Old Testament writers.

Christian Worldview and Philosophy

In this course, students draw on the core of biblical theology in light of current and historical trends in philosophy to derive an overall framework for Christian thinking. It addresses the challenges of communicating biblical hope and truth in a variety of cultural contexts.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Associate in Theology?

Students usually complete a 60 to 66 credit associate degree in theology in about two years of full-time study. High school juniors and seniors may be able to reduce the number of courses they need to take in college by completing dual-credit college courses that transfer to the degree program. While that may not reduce the overall length of time required to complete a campus-based program, it does lighten the workload considerably. Students may take more time to complete the on-campus program if work and family constraints preclude full-time study, and some schools offer evening and weekend courses to accommodate these needs.

Students in online programs enjoy considerable flexibility as they complete their degree. Some online programs offer a cohort delivery model, in which students move through the program together. This can enhance networking, but requires that all students take the same courses together. Other asynchronous programs allow students to move through coursework at their own pace and complete their degree in as few as 18 months full-time, or up four years part-time.

How Much Is an Associate in Theology?

Many factors influence the overall cost of a theology degree; however, the particular school you select makes the biggest impact. Schools in this field typically range from as little as $5,800 to as much as $22,000 per year for tuition and fees. Most schools average about $12,000 per year. Books add another $600 to $1,100 per year.

The program delivery option you select also affects the total cost of your degree. On-campus delivery requires you to pay the residential expenses of room and board, which can vary between $4,200 to over $9,000 per year. Campus-based students may also pay more in fees for technology and extracurricular programs of choice. However, on-campus programs offer plenty of opportunities for socialization, networking, and other related programs that appeal to younger students. On the other hand, nontraditional, mid-career students may find that online program delivery allows them to maintain their current work and living situation, and saves them the cost of room, board, and campus-related fees.

Bear in mind that the overall price of the program may not reflect the net cost that you pay. Most people pursue financial aid, which can level the cost burden among schools. In fact, some of the larger, more expensive schools offer more financial aid options for students.

Professional Organizations in Theology

By pursuing your associate degree in theology, you demonstrate your intent to excel in your future endeavors. Few actions can build your professional excellence better than actively involving yourself in one or more professional organizations. These organizations typically provide resources, discussion forums, and active networking opportunities like a national conference and regional meetings. Most professional organizations also publish a regular newsletter or periodic journal to inform and engage members in key issues and developments within their respective fields.