Best Online Master’s in Theology Programs
Editor & Writer
Editor & Writer
www.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.
Turn Your Dreams Into Reality
Take our quiz and we'll do the homework for you! Compare your school matches and apply to your top choice today.
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.
Featured Programs in Theology
What Courses Will I Take in an Online Master's in Theology Program?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Frequently Asked Questions About Master's in Theology Programs
Is a master's in theology worth it?
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?
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?
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.
Resources for Theology Graduate Students
Theological Book Network
Providing free digital resources to theology students and practitioners, the Theological Book Network links users to many sites for theology, biblical studies, church history, and original Greek and Latin texts.
Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Published by the Evangelical Theological Society since 1958, this quarterly journal provides advanced, refereed theological articles and scholarly reviews from a conservative Christian worldview. The web-based archive allows the public to view all of the articles free of charge, except those from the most recent two years.
Journal of Pastoral Theology
Published with a strong multicultural emphasis, the Journal of Pastoral Theology engages readers and contributors in the construction of sound theological principles to guide the cultivation of caring relationships in pastoral ministry.
The Ekklesia Project engages members in conversations to exercise responsible Christian living in all facets society worldwide. The organization sponsors an annual conference, a blog, and literature publication.
Forum for Theological Exploration
Founded in 1954, the Forum for Theological Exploration serves as a leadership incubator to inspire and equip young people to make a difference in the world through Christian communities. The organization provides conferences, networks, and resources such as grants and fellowships.
Professional Organizations in Theology
Open to students and professionals alike, professional theological organizations offer discussion forums, resources, and support networks to benefit those involved in theological practice. Most of these organizations sponsor a yearly conference, in which members come together to shape key issues and developments in their fields. Most organizations also publish a journal or newsletter to keep up with members during the year.