After much consideration, time, prayer and counsel, you believe you are called to go to Seminary. Congratulations! You are ready to start your path of discipline and discipleship in order to train, counsel and assist other disciples. It is a high calling and a worthy venture.
Even if you have decided to attend Seminary to further your own personal growth and knowledge of who God is (as revealed in Scripture and through church history) – you don’t envision a pulpit in your future, a seminary degree can still provide excellent benefits.
Now the practical issues arise: application, tuition, scheduling, housing (if applicable), and a host of other concerns that move to the forefront of your thinking. The first in appearance will be the application process (after all, if you aren’t accepted, then none of the other concerns matter!). So what do Seminary Admissions Officers look for in a candidate/applicant?
Similar to mainstream higher educational institutions, Seminaries want to advance their image and protect their reputation. You are aware of the larger schools for a reason – they have a reputation in the community. The big name schools want future impact people who will teach and lead many (for the glory of the Lord) and provide a good name for the school that trained them. As crass as this may seem, please remember that there is a valid business model associated with education – even seminaries.
Despite the minor similarity with mainstream higher educational institutions (there are no seminaries that play football in the SEC), there are specific nuances in applying to seminary that you as the applicant will need to take into account. Here are five things Seminaries will look for in your application package:
1. Alignment with their Doctrinal Statement or Confession
This may seem obvious, but before you decide on a particular seminary, please review their confessional documents. There are sure to be differences of perspective (i.e. credo- v. paedo-baptism) for non-foundational issues, but if there are significant differences in their confession compared to your doctrine (and you are unwilling to yield ground in these areas), you are best advised to select another school. Please remember that your purpose is not to change the doctrine of the seminary but to be trained in their doctrine for advancement of the Lord’s kingdom.
2. Scholastic Aptitude
Seminary is no place for C students. While top scholastic performers are not the only ones who should be in seminary, this is still an institution of higher education and there will be work – a lot of work – to be done to earn the degree. If your study habits are not strong or if you have difficulty processing large amounts of literature, you will have significant obstacles ahead. In their eye, your grades are an indicator of what type of student you are and they want students who will complete the coursework and earn degrees.
3. Well-Roundedness and Balance in Intellectual, Spiritual and Emotional areas
Even excellent grades alone are not sufficient to be accepted into seminary. There is a need for well-rounded individuals from varied backgrounds to comprise the student body. Diverse experiences and how they interrelate are vital to providing a broad perspective on how God works through His people in different cultures. This is not to be confused with any type of discrimination or quota system – it is in everyone’s best interest to not only be exposed to a variety of cultural backgrounds, but to gain empathy for those whose experiences differ from our own.
4. Good Character and a Clean background
God is in the forgiveness business, so a struggle in your past won’t necessarily preclude admission. However, you must be prepared to give an account of any youthful indiscretions that will appear on a background check. All applicants must submit reference letters (best if you can be referred by an alumnus of the seminary!); this information is reviewed for evidence of good character qualities that the school wants to reflect in their student body.
5. Proper Motivation
This element may seem odd, but it is nonetheless something an Admissions Officer will consider. Simply put, “Why do you desire a seminary degree?” The strong candidate will have a ready response that will articulate God’s call on your life and be easily understood and accepted as valid. You may have a truly valid call to attend seminary; you may have all the conviction in the world to earn that degree. You will need to make sure the Admissions Officer understands your call and is willing to accept your application too!
These five areas are by no means exhaustive and are not over/above God’s sovereign ability to place you exactly where He wants you to be. But since God gave us a measure of understanding and discernment, it is not in opposition to His Will to take appropriate steps as you continue your journey.