Seminary or Divinity School: What’s the Difference?
Perhaps the only thing I’ve found more difficult than earning a Master of Divinity from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary has been explaining to friends exactly what seminary is! While one friend jokingly called it “cemetery school,” another thought it was more like a monastery. People somewhat familiar with the world of theological education often assume, however, that seminary is the same thing as divinity school. I was always at a loss to explain what the difference was and just chalked it up to the sphere of “I’m not really sure.”
So, how does a Pittsburgh Theological Seminary MDiv alum and current admissions counselor now explain the difference between a seminary and a divinity school?
Seminary or Divinity School?
First, the most fundamental difference between a seminary and a divinity school is that a divinity school is typically tied to a larger university via its label as a professional school within the umbrella of the university. Seminaries, on the other hand, are often their own educational institutions with no ties to a larger university’s jurisdiction. There are of course exceptions to this rule, but it’s a great starting point for understanding the difference.
Seminaries are also often affiliated with a specific denomination, offering specific courses to help student prepare for ministry within that tradition. That does not mean that you must be a part of that denomination to attend but that the seminary likely caters to a specific crowd in a specific way on top of offering general theological education. Divinity schools, on the other hand, are more likely to be loosely or not at all affiliated with a denomination and are often viewed as more “academic” since they skew toward helping prepare students for further study.
These differences, however, are not binding to all seminaries and divinity schools. For instance, one could attend a seminary and still pursue a PhD afterwards (students do that here, including many in the MTS program), while divinity school can prepare one for ordained ministry as well. Finding the right graduate program is ultimately up to personal preference, and any deliberation between these labels should not be a key factor in one’s decision.
Finding the Right Fit
So what makes Pittsburgh Theological Seminary unique to the world of seminaries? PTS is its own institution holding partnerships with other schools in the city, though it is not under the jurisdiction of those schools. PTS is also a seminary of the Presbyterian Church USA, uniquely rooted in the Reformed tradition. However, PTS welcomes students from all backgrounds of faith to explore the call that God has placed on their life here in this community. We have more than 20 denominations represented in our faculty and student bodies. Whether you are seeking ordination in the PCUSA, interested in starting a church plant, wanting to explore the world of urban ministry, or seeking to experience the Spirit’s movement in the global church, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary could be the right fit for you.
Chris Taylor, MDiv ’19 and admissions counselor, first came to the Seminary as a teen in the Miller Summer Youth Institute. After graduating from the University of North Carolina in 2015, Chris spent a summer in Acadia National Park and served as a youth director in Raleigh before moving back to his hometown of Pittsburgh to attend PTS. Chris has also been serving at Parkwood Presbyterian Church in Allison Park since 2017. You can often catch Chris watching Pittsburgh sports, Carolina basketball, reading a good book, or exploring the outdoors.