When I first arrived at seminary, they sat us all down and gave us lecture after lecture about all the rules and guidelines for graduating with our degrees. They told us the required courses, the available concentrations, and gave us tips on scheduling. What you don’t often hear, though, are just how few of the rules matter! If you want to take your education really seriously, here are a few recommendations for squeezing all you can out of your seminary experience.
1. Advanced standing. Here there are often explicit and secret rules. Explicitly, many seminaries have a list of course they’re willing to let you try to test out of. They may even take a look at your undergraduate transcripts and let you skip the test. Secretly, if you badger your administrators, even if a certain class doesn’t qualify for advanced standing, you can often get the requirement waived anyway! Whichever way you do it, you can choose from two incredible benefits. On one hand, for every three-credit class you wave, you could be saving around $1,500. On the other, you can replace survey classes with more specialized classes for a stronger educational experience. For example, I’m waiving “Survey of Christian Doctrine” so that I can go immediately into higher level theology classes.
2. Individualized study. Many seminaries offer an option for you to customize your own, individualized study under a certain professor. Say a class you want to take isn’t being offered — you can take it privately with a professor on your own time. Here’s one way this could look. I have a particular research interest in the development of the idea of Christian friendship. After mining some bibliographies, I’ve settled on the three texts that would give me the best survey, discussed some paper topics with a professor, and am spending the summer traveling, doing my reading and writing at my own pace. Who knew you could do that?
3. Substitute papers. Once you establish personal relationships with your professors and establish academic proficiency, you have the option to work with your professor on bending the requirements of the class. For example, one professor assigned our class a paper on the historical development of the Church’s understanding of marriage. Because I communicated in advance that I want to do a lot of work in primary resources, he allowed me to bypass historical theology textbooks and work through some letters and treatises of Augustine and and Aquinas instead. As it turns out, some professors really appreciate students who want to own their studies!
4. Additional advisors. After deciding on a thesis topic, I realized that none of the advisors available to me at my school had done significant academic work in that area. However, there’s no rule against seeking out additional, unofficial advisors. I was able to use my professors’ networks to reach out to scholars on the other side of the country who hand their hands wet in the topic I was researching and have received really helpful direction from a couple of them.
I hope you’re able to squeeze as much out of your degree as you possibly can!
By Jack Franicevich Jack is an MDiv student at Denver Seminary. His interests range from the doctrine of the church, theologies of friendship and work, preaching, hymn-writing, and grassroots ecumenism to competitive table tennis, cooking for large groups, classical literature, and organizational development.