I want to go to school, but where?

When I started seminary, I applied to exactly one school. I’m part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which has eight seminaries (soon to be seven) throughout the United States. I picked the one that happened to be two miles from my house.

When I moved on campus, I didn’t have a car and walked a lot of my boxes down the road and up the hill to my new living space. I repeatedly passed a local bar at the midpoint and confused some of the patrons with my many trips over the course of several days.

Picking that seminary wasn’t a tough choice. Even though I ended up transferring (with a moving truck this time), I’m glad I started out where I did. I got a broader perspective than I would have otherwise, since the two seminaries I’ve attended are very different from one another. In the process, I met some wonderful people (including my husband).

If I could go back, I wouldn’t change it. But I also probably wouldn’t recommend to others the winding path that I took, either. Of course, finding the best fit is going to depend a lot on your needs and goals. It might be helpful to ask yourself some questions if you’re feeling unsure and need to choose between a few schools.

First—and I’ve covered this in a previous post—you’d need to choose between seminary and divinity (or theological) school. If you’re intending to earn a strictly academic degree, you probably have more options in this regard. If you want to join a rostered or ordained ministry as a pastor, deacon(ess), etc., you’ll want to consult with your particular faith tradition before you do anything else. It could still be fine to attend an outside institution, but they may have you do extra work on the side.

Once you’ve gotten that figured out, consider your hopes for the future. Where do you see yourself? What do you want to learn? Different schools have different atmospheres and academic specialties. My seminary focuses heavily on urban ministry, social justice, and the public church. The one where I started has a greater emphasis on theology, youth ministry, and biblical studies.

Now is also your chance to decide if you’d prefer a big school or a small school. Maybe it’s time to try something new. After I graduated from a Big Ten university, starting at a seminary with just a few hundred people on campus was an adjustment but overall a positive experience.

Finding a good fit matters when you’re planning to be there for at least a couple of years. Keeping in close contact with the admissions office and doing a campus visit will give you a clearer picture of your choices. If you’re concerned about costs, ask if they can host you on campus for a few days. Quite a few schools are eager to offer this and may even reimburse some travel expenses.

Lastly, logistics might really narrow it down for you. Can you move anywhere? Geographical constraints might keep you close to where you are now. If you really can’t go far, you might consider a distributed learning (distance) program. For those of us who are parents or have other responsibilities, consult with your potential school to see if you can go at a slower pace with fewer classes at a time.

With all this in mind, I don’t really see myself trying for another theological degree. Even so, I didn’t expect to go back to school for my first, so I’ve learned to never turn away from life’s possibilities. If I do change my mind someday, I’ll be considering these factors for myself. Maybe I’ll change it up and go to a large divinity school. It could be fun!