Best Online Master’s in Theology Programs of 2021

Answer your calling and begin earning your Master's in Theology degree online from one of these top-rated schools. Compare the best programs here.

portrait of Michelle Kelley
by Michelle Kelley
Published on July 27, 2021

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Ready to start your journey?

Master's in theology programs include master of theology (Th.M.) and master of arts in theological studies (MATS) degrees. Some schools offer a master of theological studies, which is equivalent to a MATS. Each of these degrees allows learners to deepen their scholarly engagement with their faith.

Most Th.M. degrees take one year to complete, entailing about 30 credits. Coursework typically covers pastoral counseling, systematic theology, biblical exegesis, and biblical languages such as Greek and Hebrew. MATS degrees often take 1-2 years to complete and include 30-60 credits of coursework. Tuition costs vary. Some top online programs cost as little as $5,500. Others can cost over five times that amount.

Graduates of master's in theology programs often work as educational programming directors for faith-based organizations or as clergy members. Many also pursue careers in academia. According to PayScale, individuals with master's degrees in theological studies earned an average annual salary of $59,000 per year as of October 2021.

Read on to learn more about earning a master's in theology online, including degree offerings, admission requirements, and career options for graduates.

What Can I Expect From an Online Master's in Theology Program?

Students who pursue a master's in theology are usually skilled in academic writing and research. Many graduates become educators or clergy members, so they are often gifted communicators and committed public servants.

If you're preparing to apply to graduate school for theology, make sure you understand the various master's in theology degree options. The Th.M. is for individuals who plan to pursue vocational ministry or earn a doctorate in theology or a related subject. Many Th.M. degrees require applicants to hold a master of divinity (M.Div.).

Most Th.M. programs include 30 credits of coursework and take one year to complete. Students typically choose a specialization, such as biblical studies, religion and society, or ministry and communication.

Unlike most Th.M. programs, MATS programs often accept students who have not completed graduate-level theology coursework. Although some MATS programs prepare students for ministry roles, MATS degrees usually suit laypersons who don't plan to become ordained clergy members. MATS programs include 30-60 credits and take students two years to complete. Classes introduce students to theological concepts and disciplines.

Still Looking for the Right Fit? Discover Similar Programs.

What Courses Will I Take in an Online Master's in Theology Program?

Hebrews

Students study the Epistle to the Hebrews, one of the New Testament's most important books. Through close textual analysis, students consider the book's historical context, issues of interpretation, and major theological themes.

Apologetics in the New Testament

This course focuses on the historical validity of the New Testament. Students engage with literature from historical Jesus studies and New Testament Christology. They learn to defend the veracity of the New Testament against its critics.

History of Global Christianity

In this class, learners study the global spread of Christianity from the first century on. Through readings, lectures, and discussions, students learn about influential missionaries and movements.

Parish Leadership and the Practice of Ministry

Students explore Christian leadership principles and how to apply them in their ministerial practice. They learn to approach ministry responsibilities theologically and reflect on the meaning of the call to be a pastor.

Religion and Immigration

This course explores the relationship between immigration and religion in the United States. It addresses immigration's impact on spiritual practice. The course also examines religion's influence on immigrant families, cultures, and communities. Students consider how race, ethnicity, and religion intersect in the formation of immigrant identities.

Find the Tools You Need to Get Started on Your Degree

What Are the Admission Requirements for an Online Master's in Theology Program?

Online master's in theology programs typically have the same graduate admission requirements as their on-campus counterparts. Many Th.M. programs require applicants to hold an M.Div. degree. However, some admit students with other graduate-level theological degrees. The Dallas Theological Seminary offers a combined M.Div. and Th.M. program, which students can complete in four years.

Some Th.M. programs require applicants to be proficient in at least one biblical language, such as Hebrew or Greek. However, MATS programs rarely require biblical language proficiency.

Application

Graduate programs do not use centralized application systems, such as the Common App. Instead, they request that prospective students apply to schools directly. Most programs charge applicants a fee when they apply or enroll. Some schools waive this fee for veterans, active-duty military, and military spouses.

Test Scores

Some online master's in theology programs require applicants to submit their GRE scores. Because master's in theology programs emphasize writing and research, some programs consider students' verbal and analytical writing scores more than their performance on the quantitative reasoning section of the exam.

Letters of Recommendation

Many online master's in theology programs request that applicants submit letters of recommendation. When deciding who to ask for a reference letter, consider professors and religious mentors who can attest to your ability to succeed in a master's in theology program.

Resume and Work Experience

Admission committees may ask you to submit your resume or curriculum vitae (CV) when applying to their programs. Some online master's in theology programs assess applicants on their record of religious or community service, so include both professional and volunteer experience on your resume or CV.

Essays

Graduate school admission committees often require applicants to submit examples of their scholarly work. Many ask for 1,000- to 1,500-word application essays. They may also request 7,000- to 10,000-word academic papers. Certain programs also ask applicants to respond to a questionnaire about their religious beliefs and practices.

Official Transcripts

Graduate school admission committees ask that applicants submit official academic transcripts from each college or university they attended. Some online master's in theology programs accept transfer credits from applicants who have completed graduate-level coursework in theology and related subjects.

What Can I Do With an Online Master's in Theology Degree?

Career Outlook

Students who earn their Th.M. or MATS degrees often work as ministry directors or directors of religious education. Others serve as clergy members. Some master's in theology graduates earn doctoral degrees and pursue careers as postsecondary teachers in colleges and universities.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that jobs for directors of religious activities and education will increase by 2% between 2020 and 2030, which is slower than the average job growth rate across industries. The projected job growth rate for clergy members during this period is also lower than average. However, the BLS projects that jobs for postsecondary teachers will increase by 12% from 2020-2030.

Graduates of master's in theology programs can earn above-average salaries. As of October 2021, PayScale reports that pastors earn an average annual salary of $50,120. According to the BLS, as of May 2020, postsecondary teachers of philosophy and religion earned a median annual salary of $76,160.

Career Paths

Pastor

Pastors oversee Christian worship services and provide spiritual guidance to members of their congregation. They write and deliver sermons, drawing on their knowledge of Christian scripture and biblical history. Pastors are deeply involved in their religious communities and are usually ordained within their church.

Median Annual Salary (October 2021): $50,120

Chaplain

Chaplains provide spiritual guidance to individuals confronting profound challenges. They minister to patients in healthcare facilities and counsel soldiers on military bases and battlefields. Unlike pastors, chaplains often advise people of various faiths. Chaplains need a master's in theology to qualify for certification.

Median Annual Salary (October 2021): $51,940

Children's Ministry Director

Directors of children's ministries plan youth programming and events for churches and faith-based organizations. They also manage budgets and recruit and train staff. Some children's ministry directors develop lesson plans, write sermons, and teach Bible studies courses. Children's ministry directors are often skilled communicators with deep knowledge of their faith.

Median Annual Salary (October 2021): $35,460

Religious Education Director

Religious education directors work for schools, churches, and faith-based organizations. They plan and organize after-school programs, Sunday school sessions, and holiday gatherings. Religious education directors typically hold master's degrees and are excellent communicators.

Median Annual Salary (October 2021): $40,150

Theology Professor

Professors of theology and religion teach courses to undergraduate and graduate students. They typically specialize in a specific area of research and publish regularly in academic journals. Graduates of master's in theology programs may need to earn their Ph.D.s to qualify for certain positions.

Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $76,160

Theology Not For You? Check Out These Related Careers.

Continuing Education

Many students with master's in theology degrees later earn their doctorates. Some enter Ph.D. programs in theology or biblical exposition; others pursue their doctor of theology or doctor of ministry degrees. Some master's in theology graduates earn a doctor of education in Christian leadership or a similar subject.

Clergy members usually apply for licensure and ordination through their church. Chaplains can pursue board certification through several organizations, including the Association of Chaplains, the National Association of Catholic Chaplains, and the National Association of Jewish Chaplains.

How Do I Choose an Online Master's in Theology Program?

Cost

When comparing the cost of online and on-campus programs, consider indirect expenses, such as the cost of travel to and from campus. Check to see if your prospective online programs charge remote students a distance learning fee. Calculating these expenses can help you arrive at the true cost of your degree.

Program Format

When choosing an online master's in theology program, ask admission counselors which remote learning format the program uses. Do students attend classes virtually by logging on at set times, or can they complete course requirements at any time? Consider whether you will attend classes full or part time. Some schools may offer accelerated programs as well.

Location

Consider the location of the schools you apply to, even if you decide to enroll online. Many online master's in theology programs have on-campus requirements, which are easier to complete at schools within traveling distance.

Accreditation

The Association of Theological Schools (ATS) accredits Protestant, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Jewish theological graduate schools and programs. Academic accreditation ensures that schools and programs meet high standards. When choosing an online master's in theology program, consider those with ATS accreditation.

Student Support

Choose a master's in theology program that offers support services to online students. Support services may include online tutoring, career counseling, internship opportunities, and accommodation services for students with disabilities. Look for programs that facilitate strong working relationships between students and faculty mentors.

2021 Best Accredited Online Master's in Theology Programs

Rankings compiled by the the BestColleges Ranking Team

Is your school on this list? Get the BestColleges ranking seal.

How We Rank Schools

At BestColleges, we believe a college education is one of the most important investments you can make. We want to help you navigate the college selection process by offering transparent, inclusive, and relevant school rankings.

Our rankings are grounded in a few guiding principles and use the latest statistical data available from trusted sources. Read our ranking methodology. We hope our approach helps you find the school that is best for you.

Columbia International University true View School Profile Columbia, SC

Columbia International University offers a master of arts in theological studies to students with strong interests in research and biblical scholarship. Available in an entirely online format, this master's in theology requires 48 credits of coursework. Full-time students can graduate in 1.5-2 years.

This rigorous, academically focused program emphasizes critical research and analysis to prepare theology scholars to create publishable work. Students also learn to contextualize and interpret religious texts and critically assess and explain dogmatic and doctrine-based values and statements.

This program supports two learning tracks: one for students with no previous theology experience and another for degree-seekers with academic backgrounds in religious studies. Regardless of their academic background, graduates are prepared for careers in ministry, missionary work, and academia.

Lincoln Christian University true View School Profile Lincoln, IL

Founded as a biblical institute in 1944, Lincoln Christian University now ranks among the leading theology and spirituality schools in the United States. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, the Association of Biblical Higher Education, and the Association of Theological Schools, LCU generates good student satisfaction scores in postgraduation surveys. About 82% of polled matriculants indicated they would still attend the university given the opportunity to re-choose their school.

The online master's in theology at LCU is an intensive program that includes 10-12 courses. Classes cover topics like historical reviews of theology, the systematic relationships created by Christian doctrines, and philosophical aspects of religious studies. Learners with undergraduate credits or degrees in a related field may qualify for advanced standing and graduate in 18 months.

University of Dallas true View School Profile Irving, TX

The University of Dallas offers a master of theological studies through its School of Ministry — a praxis-oriented Catholic institution of higher education. Learners complete core courses alongside electives, which comprise about 40% of the degree's 37 required credits.

Core courses focus on Catholic dogma, rites, and institutions, and students undertake thorough examinations of scripture and church history. Electives cover religious and secular topics. Degree-seekers have the option to earn a concentration in biblical theology or supplement their studies with business and/or liberal arts classes.

The program culminates in a capstone project, which participants complete during their final semester; students conduct focused research on a faculty-approved topic. Graduation requirements also include a rigorous annotated bibliography, designed to ensure students emerge with a thorough and complete grounding in essential texts and literature.

World Mission University true View School Profile Los Angeles, CA

Based in Los Angeles, California, World Mission University was founded by religious scholar Dr. Dong Sun Lim. The institution invites aspiring theologians and church leaders from around the world to advance their academic and spiritual development.

The school's master's in theology features a 48-credit curriculum that helps students develop biblical interpretation and critical analysis skills. Participants also learn to apply religious doctrine to daily situations and lead spiritual communities in professional capacities.

Designed to meet the needs of lay people aspiring to careers in religious service, the program is also suitable for established and emerging missionaries and pastors. Students with previously earned theology credits can earn advanced standing by transferring in up to 50% of the total degree requirements.

Fordham University true View School Profile Bronx, NY

Based in the Bronx borough of New York City, Fordham University offers multiple online master's degrees through its Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education. Online learners can earn a master of arts degree in Christian spirituality, pastoral care, pastoral studies, or religious education.

All programs honor the Jesuit Catholic school's founding mission statement of providing academically competent, scholarship-oriented religious education opportunities. The university maintains a strong focus on counseling, and religious studies programs teach aspiring counselors to ground their careers in spirituality and Christian values.

Fordham University and its Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education hold accreditations and affiliations with nine external agencies. This marks one of the most varied and complete sets of endorsements of any theological institute in New York.

Biola University View School Profile La Mirada, CA

Southern California's Biola University offers an online master of arts in theology program. Degree-seekers can pursue Greek and non-Greek tracks, with the Greek program providing enhanced instruction in Ancient Greek. This track offers the chance to develop advanced abilities to read and interpret early Christian texts in their original language.

Participants typically complete their 49-credit master's degree in 2-4 years. Students in both tracks take classes like personal foundations for spiritual formation; contemporary theology; and Christ, humanity, sin, and salvation. Participants also complete a capstone seminar.

Biola offers its theology program through the Talbot School of Theology, which traces its history to 1908 and holds accreditation from the Association of Theological Schools. Biola is also accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.

Creighton University View School Profile Omaha, NE

Based in Omaha, Nebraska, Creighton University combines the flexibility of online learning with traditional face-to-face instruction in its hybrid master of arts in ministry program. Students can earn more than half of their required credits online.

Courses are delivered in eight-week terms, and learners typically progress through the program by taking one class at a time. Terms run year-round, and students complete campus residency requirements during the summer months.

Creighton also incorporates spiritual retreats into its ministry program, with students embarking on an eight-day journey of focused inner growth. The institution embraces its Jesuit Catholic roots, with instructors doubling as professional and spiritual mentors.

Concordia University Irvine View School Profile Irvine, CA

The online master's in theology program at Concordia University Irvine emphasizes the practical applications of a degree in Christian religious studies. The degree path features a cohort structure. Available emphasis options include Christian education leadership, research in theology, youth ministry, theology and culture, and servant leadership.

Each class typically includes 10-20 students, enabling professors to offer personalized attention to learners. Participants take core courses like systematic doctrinal theology, creeds and confessions, and a survey of historical theology. They also complete a thesis.

Many courses in this 32-38-credit program feature synchronous, real-time delivery. Learners of all religious affiliations are welcome, and applicants do not need any previous theological training. GRE scores are not required.

Franciscan University of Steubenville View School Profile Steubenville, OH

Ohio's Franciscan University of Steubenville embraces the Franciscan model of higher education, which values relationship building and a sacramental approach to intellectual growth. It also celebrates student diversity.

Students in the school's master of arts in theology program can customize their delivery format by opting for a hybrid or fully online program. Applicants must hold an undergraduate degree and submit three letters of recommendation.

Students can choose from two specialization tracks: catechetics and evangelization (available exclusively on campus) and canon law (available to online learners). The latter option provides the academic foundation needed to pursue advanced studies at the Catholic University of America's School of Canon Law.

Liberty University View School Profile Lynchburg, VA

The online master of arts in religious education program at Liberty University features 60 credits of coursework. With start dates offered throughout the year, eight-week terms, and an asynchronous delivery model, this online program offers a flexible and accessible education.

Blending Old and New Testament perspectives, course content explores the doctrinal and dogmatic aspects of the Christian faith. Designed as a professional program with a strong academic focus, the program trains students for careers in ministry. Graduates gain a generalized scope of institutional and educational knowledge and are qualified for careers in Christian education and pastorship.

This program is offered through Liberty's School of Divinity, which holds a specialized endorsement from the Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools.

Frequently Asked Questions About Master's in Theology Programs

Is a master's in theology worth it? true

Theology graduate school may be worth it if you are considering pursuing a doctorate, entering the clergy, or working in religious education. It may also be worthwhile if you want to deepen your knowledge of a specific theological subject.

Master's degrees in theology include a master of arts in theological studies and a master of theology. Earning your Th.M. may be worthwhile if you plan to become a minister or earn your doctorate. An MATS may be more appropriate if you do not plan to work as an ordained clergy member.

What can I do with a master's in theology? true

With a master's in theology degree, graduates can pursue careers including pastor, chaplain, and religious education director.

According to the ATS, a Th.M. allows students to engage in graduate-level theological study beyond the scope of an M.Div. Members of the clergy may find that a Th.M. enhances their ministerial practice. Others may choose to pursue the degree as preparation for doctoral coursework. MATS-holders may also go on to earn doctorates.

Are theology majors in demand? true

The BLS projects that between 2020 and 2030, the U.S. economy will add 6,600 new clergy jobs. Jobs for directors of religious activities and education may see a 2% increase. This is slower than the projected national average job growth rate of 8%.

Some graduates of master's in theology programs pursue careers as college and university professors. The BLS projects that jobs for postsecondary educators will increase by 12% between 2020 and 2030. However, some academic disciplines will see more job openings than others. The states with the highest employment levels for postsecondary teachers of philosophy and religion are California, New York, and Texas.

How much money can I make with a master's in theology?

According to PayScale, graduates with master's degrees in theological studies earned an average annual salary of $59,000 as of October 2021. However, salaries for individuals with master's in theology degrees vary. For example, postsecondary teachers of religion earn substantially more than other master's in theology graduates.

The BLS reports that as of May 2020, clergy members earned a median annual salary of $51,940. The clergy include pastors, chaplains, and other ordained religious leaders. Directors of religious activities and education earn an average salary of $45,110 per year. The BLS considers all other religious workers as a single group. As of May 2020, workers in this category earned a median annual income of $33,530.

What are the highest paying jobs with a master's in theology?

Master's in theology graduates often earn doctoral degrees and pursue careers as postsecondary educators. These professionals earn higher salaries than many other professionals with theology master's degrees.

According to the BLS, as of May 2020, postsecondary teachers of religion and philosophy earned a median annual salary of $76,160. In 2020, the top-paying metropolitan areas for this profession were in California, Rhode Island, and Maryland.

We've ranked the best online master's in public health programs. Learn about courses, admission requirements, career opportunities, and more. We've ranked the best online master's in nutrition programs. Read on to learn about programs, admission requirements, and career opportunities. An associate in health science can prepare you for many entry-level roles. Learn more about the best online programs in the field.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Compare your school options.

View the most relevant school for your interests and compare them by tuition, programs, acceptance rate, and other factors important to find your college home.