Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

9/8 2020

Seminary or Divinity School: What’s the Difference?

difference between seminary and divinity school

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.


7/17 2014

Ministry: God Qualifies the Called

youth ministry in Pittsburgh

Joy Pedrow (second from right) felt called to ministry in her youth. She now interns with the Seminary’s Miller Summer Youth Institute.

What do you want to do when you grow up?”

This is most common asked question to a teenager or young adult, and the most hated. In high school, kids are 14-18 years old. At such a young age, it is challenging to completely know the answer to this question.

During my 10th grade year of high school in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, I started to get the call that God wanted me to go into ministry. What ministry has meant to me has changed over the years, but I knew two things: that I wanted to help people and that God was pretty cool. Combining those two things seemed perfect.

When I was asked that question, I felt embarrassed to share with others my heart’s desire for my career, so I would always reply, “Orthodontist.”

This was the safest way to go. If I would say, “I don’t know.” Then, I would get additional questions, “Well, what is your favorite subject? Did you like math? How about teaching? Etc.…”

These questions never helped me make any decision. Thus, I realized the safest thing to do was reply, “Orthodontist.” There were no follow up questions, just a nod of agreement and maybe an encouraging statement.

For a high schooler, it is extremely difficult to fully trust God with this subject. It is difficult to share with others when you are not 100 percent sure that this is what you will spend the rest of your life doing. Students also worry about what others will think of their choice. I worried people would not understand or they would try and talk me out of it.

The Miller Summer Youth Institute at Pittsburgh Seminary provided a safe place for students to discuss a call into ministry. There were many opportunities to ask questions, talk to peers, and begin to start trusting God with this decision.

When I was thinking about going into ministry, I believed the lie that one had to be perfect. I questioned, “How could I help people in their walks with God when I was not perfect?”

It is common to respond to God’s call for one’s life and say, “I’m not qualified.” My response now is, “Well, what is qualified? Name one person in the Bible who was qualified.”

Abraham lied about Sarah. Moses stuttered. Jonah ran away from God. Peter denied Jesus. The disciples fell asleep while praying. And there are more examples found all through scripture!

As you go through the process of figuring out your call, remember that God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called.

Joy Pedrow was born in Monroeville, Pa., and is now pursuing her communications degree at University of South Florida. An alumna of the program and now an intern, Joy is exploring her call to ministry with the Seminary’s Miller Summer Youth Institute. Check out her blog at http://joypedrow.wordpress.com/


5/22 2014

Seminary is Only the Beginning

I actually laughed when I was asked to reflect on one thing I wish I had learned in seminary after nearly a year in ministry.  A friend’s response to hearing about this prompt was, “One thing?  Can it be ten?”  Truthfully, I have encountered more things than I can count in my first year of ministry that seminary did not prepare me for.  It would be easy to write a laundry list of how I wish seminary had taught me to navigate the world of church insurance, had given me better tools to reach out to congregants with dementia, had trained me on how to lead people into healthy conversations about money; how I wish I had learned in seminary just how much time I would spend answering emails, sitting in meetings, dealing with administrative tasks, and just how rare actual theological conversations would be.

At the end of the day, though, seminary is not really there to teach us those things in the first place.  I think I knew that, but I wish I had appreciated it.  I also wish I had appreciated the fact that the things I was taught in seminary were only seeds that still need a lot of time and space and nurturing to grow.

Seminary taught me how to think differently.  It opened my mind to new ideas, new concepts, whole new worlds of thought.  It gave me a new perspective, a new language, lots of new vocabulary.  Seminary taught me more than I could have ever imagined, and I loved (almost) every minute of it, but it did not – and could not – really, truly, practically prepare me for what being in ministry looks like.  I wish I had appreciated sooner that even though I may be a Teaching Elder, I need my congregation and my context to teach me about theology, about church history, about pastoral care, too.

I learned in seminary about the dynamics of “family churches,” but I was not at all prepared for what that actually meant until I saw my congregation pull together to support, defend, or care for one another.  We talk so much about the importance of hospitality, but I hear that word with new ears after going weeks without buying produce as bags and bags of vegetables kept appearing on my doorstep.  I certainly thought I understood the concept of grace after three years of seminary, but that idea, too, has taken on new life for me after a year that has certainly not been mistake-free.

There certainly have been days in the past year of my life when being unprepared feels like it is par for the course.  There are days when it is easy to say about so many things, “Why didn’t we learn this in seminary?!”  There are also days, though, when I hear echoes of lectures, of discussions, of conversations from classes that can feel a world away and think, “Oh, that’s what that meant,” and realize again that seminary was only the beginning, that I was not supposed to learn everything there, that God is still working through all the people and situations and circumstances around me to continue that growth.

Written by, Rev. Elaine Loggi ’13, First Presbyterian Church, Fairfax, MO

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