Most seminary degree programs have a required set of classes that the student must take in order to graduate. For instance, there is no way to get around that preaching class or Greek or Hebrew. However, many schools also allow students to customize their degree program according to what area the student wants to focus on. This occurs primarily through choosing specific electives.
However, I want to discuss two overlooked opportunities in seminary. My degree program would have looked different if I had known about these two options earlier. I will admit that during my time in seminary I took certain classes simply to fulfill the requirement. However, looking back, I wish I could have replaced a few classes with other opportunities. Now is your chance.
1. Independent Studies. Independent studies are one of the most overlooked opportunities available at seminary. Unfortunately, I didn’t really know about independent studies until my last year in seminary. My primary reason for wanting to do an independent study was to research a certain area that would aid my PhD applications. However, after doing the study, I realized that independent studies are a great resource no matter what you want to do.
My particular study was on “New Testament Culture and Backgrounds.” I read a lot of Roman, Greek, and Jewish primary sources and then wrote a paper on Herod the Great. I met up with my supervising professor a few times, and he provided me with recommendations on what to read and simply to talk about what I had been learning through the study.
Not only did I learn a lot about my particular study, but I also had a good time getting to know the professor outside the classroom. Even if you don’t plan on going into academia, you could still do an independent study on whatever topic interests you. For example, someone seeking to be a pastor could do a study on the impact of small groups on a church community. Someone seeking to be a missionary in Brazil could do a study on the history of religion in Brazil. Perhaps you are an artist interested in the impact of art on the Reformation.
The possibilities really are endless. Find a professor who would be willing to work with you (most are), and talk with them about your idea for a study. My only regret in regards to independent studies is not having done more of them.
2. Advanced Standing. Certain schools offer the opportunity to place out of certain required classes. Each school will likely have a different policy, so I only can speak with certainty about my own experience at Dallas Seminary.
When you pass an advanced standing exam, you may either receive credit for that particular class or you can replace that class with a more advanced class. I did the former for a number of classes, and one of my good friends did the latter for many classes. Either option is a good one.
I was able to reduce the number of classes I needed, allowing me to graduate a year early. My friend took many advanced classes that allowed him to study more specific areas he was interested in. For example, instead of taking Bible Study Methods he replaced that required class with Advanced Hermeneutics. Courses you test out of could also be replaced by independent studies. Whatever your school allows, I would encourage you to look into the option of advanced standing as soon as possible.
These two options allow students to customize their seminary education according to their interests and desires. If you’re going to spend a few years of your life (and a lot of money) at seminary, it will be best if you get the most out of your time there.
By Cameron Sapaugh. Cameron lives in Dallas, TX with his wife Kellie. After graduating with a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Texas A&M, he headed off to Dallas Theological Seminary. He is currently in his last semester of the ThM program and hopes to pursue doctoral studies in New Testament in the fall. He enjoys photography, basketball, reading, writing, and windsurfing.