In Part I of this article I briefly discussed why it was important to both research online and talk to an actual person. I also gave some examples of how to do both. In Part II of this article I will discuss some of the differences in terminology between American and British Commonwealth Universities. As with most subjects, there are exceptions to these, with some schools using their own grading scales or terms, but what I present here should be applicable in nearly every case.
GPA Conversion: One of the most needed resources for students when applying cross-culturally between American and British universities is a reliable GPA conversion chart. Another common misunderstanding concerns degree terminology. Many American universities use the Latin terms summa cum laude, magna cum laude, and cum laude to denote exceptional graduates (usually based on their GPA). Summa cum laude is the highest and usually requires a near perfect GPA. The next down is magna cum laude and the last being cum laude. The actual GPA requirements for these honors conveyed upon graduation will change from institution to institution. In the British system, however, these designations are not generally used. Instead there are "classes" that your degree will fall into - 1st class, 2nd class (upper division), 2nd class (lower division), 3rd class, and Pass.
Well, I didn't invent this, but this is what World Education Services recommends for converting grades and degrees between the British and American education systems. Note that you only want to put this on an application when they ask you to convert it. If they don't ask you to, then usually it's best if you put "N/A"or something similar. You'll be wanting to go to a school that has experience with international students, so this really shouldn't be a problem for them. In any case, here is the standard conversion chart:
Degree Names and Study Method: After the GPA conversion questions, probably the next most asked question about international higher education is concerning the names/abbreviation of degrees and the study method used to obtain them. The Baptist Resource has a list of popular degrees in theological education that will help those looking for which program is right for them. However, there are some things that are particular to international education that can be tricky and isn't covered on that page. Here is a chart that will help decipher some of the terms you may be unfamiliar with:
Hopefully this two part article will provide you with at least some of the tools to navigate through cross-cultural, higher education. If any additional questions arise feel free to comment below.
B.A. in Christian Ministry with Pastoral Studies & Student Ministry Minors: A Former Student's Perpective
This student perspective is the second from Austin McCann. The last one concerned his current graduate work, this one concerns his undergraduate program. Austin just finished his B.A. at Piedmont International University. He is currently working on his Master of Arts in Religion (MAR) at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary while starting in full-time student ministry. You can find more of Austin’s thoughts on his website. Here are his thoughts on his undergrad program:
"Recently I just finished my BA at Piedmont International University. At Piedmont, I studied Christian Ministries. At Piedmont, like most colleges and university, allow you to pick a minor or two. I decided to do two minors with my BA. My two minors where student ministries and pastoral studies.
Many people have wondered why I chose to study student ministries and pastoral studies. Most people assume if your wanting to be a youth pastor than just study student ministries or if your wanting to be a senior pastor why not just do pastoral studies. I decided to do both for one main reason: a youth pastor should be just as educated and well trained as a senior pastor. Just because you work with students does not mean you should not know how to preach and do pastoral duties. I believe a youth pastor should be just as skilled at preaching the Bible as a senior pastor. A youth pastor is a pastor and should be just as serious about ministry, the church, and the Bible as the senior pastor.
There are several reasons other reasons I chose to do two minors that have nothing to do with my view of youth pastors and how they should be trained. First, two minors allows you to study another area of ministry that you may want to do later on down the road. I am not sure if God will keep me as a youth pastor my whole life. I would love to one day be a senior pastor or church planter and because I have studied pastoral studies I feel more prepared to pursue that one day. Second, two minors allow you to take some classes that may interest you that are not in your first minor. There where a few classes in the pastoral studies minor that where not in the student ministries one I really wanted to take. I was able to take more classes with two minors and was able to get ones that I really wanted outside my first minor. Third, two minors allow you to gain skills in another area outside your vocation that may come in handy. For example, I took expository preaching and was honored to receive the expository preaching award that year. I learned and gained the skill of expository preaching because I chose to do a pastoral studies minor along with my student ministries one. Having that skill allows me to be a better preacher and teacher in the area of my vocation-student ministries.
I hope this has helped you if you are wondering how many minors you should take on. If your school allows you to, I would recommend you take two. It may seem like adding two much to your load, but it will be worth it."
Making the decision to study in another country will no doubt lead you down a sometimes frustrating, sometimes expensive road. To help bridge the gap between how your country does education and how your university's country operates you have to do a bit of translation. This is especially true for those traversing between a British model of higher education and the American model. Here are three things to consider when looking into overseas education.
1. Research Online: You will waste a lot of time getting on the internet and randomly searching websites to help you. To better focus your search, consider these things:
2. Talk to a Person: It sounds so simple and yet so many just sit and research for days or weeks online and never reach out to any real person. This is your education we're talking about! Choosing where you will learn and who you will learn from is going to affect the rest of your life. If I'm considering buying a used Honda Accord, I would want to see which of my friends drive one and ask them about the car. Most people would do the same and yet many wouldn't seek out a student or impartial representative to ask about a masters program in London or a doctoral program in Aberdeen. One reason may be that it is just hard to connect with current students overseas or you may not know where to go to find impartial advice. Ok - here are a couple of spots:
Master of Arts in Religion at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary at Liberty University: A Current Student's Prospective
This student perspective is from Austin McCann. Austin just finished his B.A. at Piedmont International University. He is currently working on his Master of Arts in Religion (MAR) at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary while starting in full-time student ministry. You can find more of Austin’s thoughts on his website. Here are his thoughts on that particular school and program:
During my last few semesters at Piedmont International University, I started to think about seminary. I thought, "Do I even want to spend a few more years in school? Or, if I do attend seminary, do I want to work on a M. Div. or shorter Master’s program?" Eventually, after a lot of thought, prayer, and wise counsel I decided to attend Liberty Baptist Theological Baptist Seminary and decided to work on a Master’s of Arts in Religion with a specialization in Christian Leadership online. I wanted to take a few moments and explain how I decided the seminary track I am on and hopefully help you if your on the fence about seminary. Before I share my thoughts, I want to make one thing clear. I do not believe the way I am doing seminary is the only way to go about doing seminary work. There are many options and ways to go about it, but here is why I chose what I am doing.
Master’s of Arts in Religion. As much as I respect the M. Div. program and the practical, pastoral education it gives you, I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend that many more years in school and if seminary was even going to be a good fit for me. So I decided to start a MAR that is somewhat smaller than the M. Div. If you want a good, professional seminary degree that is not an M. Div., go for the MAR. One of the reasons I chose this route is because at most school’s the MAR can roll into an M. Div. that you can finish in another year or two. The MAR is a great degree because it allows you to continue in seminary if you’re financially and willing to do so.
Christian Leadership. Like the M. Div., when you take the MAR, you get to choose a particular specialization. I decided to specialize in Christian Leadership because I believe leadership is an extremely important part of church ministry that we do not focus on a lot. If you’re planning on being in local church ministry in a pastoral role you need to focus on leadership. Our churches need people who are trained leaders. Even if you’re not going into church ministry, leadership is an important aspect in business and family. I am going into full-time student ministry. Part of having an effective student ministry is building a team of leaders to help you serve students. Studying leadership in seminary is helping me become a better team builder, how to handle conflict in leadership, and how to be the right kind of leader in a local church.
Liberty Theological Baptist Seminary. There are so many good seminaries and graduate schools to choose from these days. I decided to go with Liberty for a few reasons. First, I love the legacy of Jerry Falwell and what he did with Liberty University. I respect the school and what the school has and continues to stand for. Second, they are extremely well-known. I went to a relatively unknown school for my undergrad. I wanted to go somewhere more well-known for seminary. I know we shouldn’t judge people by where they went to seminary, but a lot of churches will look for candidates that are from particular schools or schools that are more popular. Third, I went with Liberty because of their great online education.
Online. If you enjoy the classroom setting and learning in person from a professor, than make sure you attend a seminary on campus. Online education is not for everyone. If you can learn well and stay motivated by online work, than look into doing seminary online. Doing seminary online through Liberty is the most affordable seminary you will find. I went with online for two main reasons. First, it was cheaper and I didn’t want to spend too much on seminary. Second, I wanted to get into full-time ministry. If you want to jump straight into full-time ministry after undergrad, than do seminary online. It allows you to work on your education while doing what you love, ministry!
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary's Master of Theology program is designed for those that have already completed a masters in a theological field. It's particularly attractive for those wanting to teach in a particular area since it will give you the graduate hours in whichever concentration you choose (in case you didn't get 18 hours in your previous masters).
This student perspective is brought to you by Tim Decker. Tim did his BA and MA at Piedmont Baptist College and is completing his ThM at the aforementioned Southeastern. Tim has been a pastor and is currently teaching in Honduras. His blog is Unpluckable. Here is his perspective on SEBTS and their ThM:
"Looking for a solid theological/biblical studies education in North Carolina and the surrounding area is quite simple. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS for short) is one of those seminaries that has an outstanding and diverse faculty that will challenge students to think deeply and critically. My situation coming into SEBTS was a desire for the academic side without the “ministry classes” to go with it. Part of that is based on the fact that I had completed a BA in Biblical Studies with a concentration in pastoral ministry along with three years of pastoral ministry experience. Therefore, an MDiv was not attractive whatsoever. My choices were to do the university MA to PhD route or find a seminary that would accept my MA into their ThM or PhD program. SEBTS was that seminary.
The PhD program of SEBTS is a completely separate post, but needless to say I felt that more preparation was needed before I pursued a PhD. Studying under men like David Alan Black, Maurice Robinson, Jonathan Pennington (a Southern Baptist Seminary prof who taught a class at SEBTS), and (hopefully in the future) Andreas Köstenberger is the chance of a lifetime for any aspiring NT student. These scholars are by no means slouches either. I knew that I would have to step up my game with these men. And so I entered their ThM program, and I have not regretted it since.
SEBTS’ ThM is fairly unique in a couple of ways. First, it is only a 24 credit degree on top of the MDiv (or equivalent). Most are 30 credits past the MDiv, so this smaller load is easier to complete in a year. The MDiv equivalency is part of SEBTS attraction as well. They base their equivalency on certain classes taken and not so much the amount of total graduate hours. For instance, in my case I met much of their requirements for MDiv equivalency with my MA and other postgrad classes I had completed at another institution. However, since most of my Greek was taken at the undergraduate level, I had to make up 6 credits of Greek exegesis classes to show that I was up to snuff. So now I am basically taking 30 credits for a ThM. I also had to do 2 more intro classes as well since part of their MDiv equivalency is 6 credits for OT intro and 6 for NT intro. Having only 3 in each, I was required to do 3 more in each (both online). They were amazing classes, even though they were not directly part of my ThM.
Another unique feature of SEBTS ThM is their 2 different routes: thesis or non-thesis programs. The non-thesis program is the entry level track where the student can take 4 advanced graduate level classes (or a post-grad class or two with permission). Instead of a thesis, the student has 2 guided reading classes (3 credits each) that allows a lot of interaction between the student and his/her faculty mentor. The culmination of the non-thesis track is a 40-60 page “mini-thesis” worth 3 credits. Therefore, those desiring advanced education and enjoy studying but lack the research capabilities for a publishable thesis, this route is excellent. There might be other extenuating circumstances that would prompt a student to this route also. I am still considering it since I am outside the country at this time and the 2 reading classes would allow me to continue my stay in Central America.
The thesis route must be approved by the ThM office and faculty mentor, usually demonstrated by a previously written research paper showing one’s capabilities at a higher academic level. The differences between the two programs are minor. Instead of 4 advance graduate level classes, the student takes 2 advance graduate classes and 2 post-graduate classes or seminars. Instead of the guided reading and mini-thesis totaling 9 credits, the student labors on a 9 credit, 120 page thesis (mine happens to be on “The Form and Structure of the Pauline Euloghtos Sentence of Ephesians”). Perhaps the nicest thing about these two different routes is that it offers flexibility for students. In case you were doing your math and realized that only 21 credits have been accounted for, both routes require a bibliographic class towards the beginning wherein the mentor can guide the student into the school’s library and research capabilities. It is a beneficial (maybe “tedious” would be a better word) class for the exposure of research materials, but it also proved very helpful for thesis or mini-thesis research down the road.
The faculty mentor is another wonderful feature of the program. Considering the stellar teachers that the school employs, finding capable mentors is not difficult. My first choice was David Alan Black, who gave me his own application that was a bit lengthier than the school’s. He has been extremely encouraging and a wonderful testimony of what it means to serve Jesus in his kingdom. In fact, the faculty is part of the reason I so highly recommend a Southeastern degree. Along with this is the school’s gold-standard accreditation (SACS and ATS). This leads into a negative, however. Having ATS accreditation leaves it nearly impossible to do any kind of non-residence studying for a post-graduate degree. For instance, directed studies are virtually non-existent, and you can definitely rule out online classes that go toward the ThM.
There are a few unattractive features of SEBTS’ ThM. For instance, I feel that it is one of their better degree programs, although it is rarely advertised. Many profs will encourage their students to do the MDiv to PhD/DMin route as most of them did. But the ThM is a well respected degree and will prepare the student for future PhD level work (especially a European PhD) or simply give the student a good terminal degree if a PhD is not an option.
Unfortunately, the PhD program at SEBTS (and 4 of the remaining 5 SBC seminaries as far as I know) do not accept the ThM credits into their PhD programs. They are separate and distinct from the ThM, which makes the degree a bit superfluous if the PhD is one’s ultimate goal. In my case, a ThM was attractive because I do not have an MDiv, did not want the extra ministry classes for an MDiv, and may desire to do a PhD later thus needing an MDiv or ThM. Yet knowing that a PhD is another 60+ credits at the same seminary is a bit disheartening. At least it also opens the doors for schools outside the SBC and even opportunities to study at the university level if so desired.
Besides these few issues, I have found my studies at SEBTS to be very fruitful and enriching. Anyone in the southeast looking for a quality, advanced education should seriously consider SEBTS’ ThM (and for that matter the ThM degree, period!). The interaction with scholars like the ones mentioned above is reason enough to study at SEBTS. But a ThM from SEBTS will look very attractive on a resume and intensely prepare the student for future ministry, academic or otherwise."
One thing I want to do in this blog is to present real students/graduates from different seminaries, colleges, and universities and have them comment briefly about their degree program and school. The first is Dr. Jerry Hullinger, who is currently a professor at Piedmont International University. He completed his undergrad work at Moody Bible Institute and Colorado Christian University and then underwent the Master of Theology and Doctor of Theology programs at Dallas Theological Seminary. Here are his thought on their Th.D. program:
"As I think back on my time at Dallas Seminary working on the Th.D., I can honestly say that I don't regret one moment of it. I'm sure most people say that about where they attended, but I honestly would not change a thing. After I had finished my Th.M. at Dallas, I wanted to leave and get my doctorate from somewhere else to get a different perspective. However, as I looked at the various programs, I ended up staying at Dallas because of its emphasis on the Scriptural text rather than peripheral topics related to Christianity in general--my feeling was that I wanted to know the Bible as well as humanly I could which is why I don't regret the time invested at DTS.
One of the things which turns people off from Dallas' program is the need to learn, in addition to Hebrew and Greek, French and German. I remember the late Harold Hoehner (who was director of the program when I attended) asking me if I knew I would have to do this as if to try and dissuade me from continuing. I took that as a challenge and was able to survive.
The stated purpose for the program is to produce those who are capable of doing research at the highest level. Though we all have a long way to go, I feel that the program was critical in helping me along that path."
It's not shocking to say that we live in a different mindset than even 20 years ago. Let's think about this, though. 20 years ago there was no widespread use of the internet, cordless phones were popular, but cellphone usage was at a minimum. Today's world allows us to have amazing access to an abundance of information. The repercussions of this mindset have led to some terrible distance education programs and some truly great ones. For those looking into distance education options it can be difficult to tell the better ones from the not-so-great ones. Here are four tips that help you pick out a good program.
1. Accreditation, Accreditation, Accreditation -If real estate evaluation begins with location, then looking for a good online degree programs needs to begin with a look at the school's accreditation. You want to see a link (usually in their About section of the website) that takes you to their accreditation statement. It should read "Such-and-Such College is accredited by the This-and-That Accrediting Body. The This and That Accrediting Body is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation."
So, it's really a two-part thing. Is the school accredited? If yes, then is the accrediting body one that is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation? The reason this last part has become important is that some colleges have created their own accrediting bodies . . . and accredit themselves . . . which is legal, but unethical. That is for institutions in the United States. For non-U.S. institutions you would just make certain that they are authorized by their government's education ministry (or equivalent), since accreditation is a mostly American phenomenon. When in doubt check with an agency like the World Education Services which can provide information about an overseas schools and tell you if their program is equivalent to regional accreditation in the U.S.
2. Delivery Format - Degrees by correspondence never really gained widespread acceptance the way online education has. A good online program is going to take you away from the "complete this at your own pace and mail it back" format to "take this course in this many weeks and complete the weekly assignments" format. The latter format is used by most of the preferred online programs. An online environment generally allows for discussion (by way of discussion forums and chat rooms), timed exams, and access to online lectures or lectures on DVD. This provides the structure that most need to be successful in this type of endeavor. It also allows for interaction with other students, which still isn't as nice as sitting in a classroom with them, but infinitely better than the old correspondence method. Some programs, especially graduate and doctoral programs, may be geared to be hybrids of some sort. By this I mean that you come to class for a week and complete assignments online when you get home. It's kind of the best of both worlds, but I realize that it's not always a possibility.
3. Faculty - Before applying to any program, check out who will be teaching you. I tend to shy away from places that have most of the professors that have ALL of their degrees from the same place. It's common for someone to have a degree or two from the place they're teaching. It is also common to have faculty members at great schools that received all of their degrees from the school they're teaching in. That's not a bad thing. What does make me cautious is when just about everyone has their every one of their degrees from that institution. That is academic inbreeding and a subject for another post.
4. Cost - Sometimes it just comes down to this. "I like this program better, but this other program is cheaper . . . " We can talk about all the rest of the stuff to consider, but without a way to pay for it, then it's not going to do you much good. College or Seminary can be more affordable than you think - and even more affordable than the tuition you see on a school's website. Every school that accepts federal financial aid (which is pretty much all of them) has to have on their website a "cost of attendance calculator." This will allow you to find out what the base cost for you completing your degree will be. This isn't the end of the road, though. Take this figure and talk to the institution's financial aid office. They will be able to tell you what scholarships and grants you apply for. One of the schools that I teach at offers scholarships that take 1/3 off of tuition for several categories. Southern Baptist seminaries offer considerable discounts for members of Southern Baptist churches. Also, many Christian universities and seminaries will offer tuition discounts for those already in ministry. Once your hear back from them about what you are eligible for, this should give you an idea of the real cost of attendance. While some disagree, I also suggest loans for some students. This approach allows you to not have to work full time and go to school (although you still can if you need the money to live on). I find that sometimes using loans for a couple of semester just to "finish up" can relieve a lot of stress for a student. Ideally you would want to not use loans and pay as you go, but it's not the end of the world if you need to take out a loan or two.
Most of this info can apply to any degree program, online or otherwise. However, it's particularly relevant to evaluating online programs. I would love to hear your first-hand accounts of online education and, of course, if you have any questions, feel free to ask those too!
Mark Stevens is a former seminary student himself and currently researches and teaches in the area of theological studies.