The Best Online Associate in Theology Programs
Updated September 7, 2022
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Theology examines the foundations, beliefs, and practices of religion. The field explores how individuals experience faith, and how different groups and cultures express and practice their faith traditions. Students may study theology for many reasons. Some seek vocational preparation for careers as pastors or plan to work in educational or counseling positions in religious institutions. Others study theology to better understand and explore the historical and contemporary impact of religion on society.
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For many, the field provides a way to examine, challenge, or strengthen students' personal faiths, or to help them understand the religious beliefs of others. Studying theology requires learners to face challenging questions about the nature of divine existence and spiritual belief.
An online associate degree in theology expands students' knowledge about religious traditions, experiences, and influences. An associate degree can prepare learners for careers in religious organizations and social services, and serve as a stepping stone to a bachelor's degree in theology. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects an 8% growth rate for the employment of clergy between 2016 and 2026, with many positions requiring a bachelor's degree.
A bachelor's can open up career opportunities as pastors and ministers, chaplains, counselors, and religion teachers, as well as better rates of compensation.
Associate in Theology Degree Online Ranking Guidelines
We selected the following degree programs based on their quality and the range of courses they provide, plus school awards, rankings, and reputation.
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The Best Online Associate in Theology Degree Programs
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The Advantages of a Theology Education
An online associate degree in theology can prepare you for a variety of ministry and pastoral-related occupations in areas such as youth ministry, religious education, and church administration. Earning an associate degree in theology online, or in a traditional on-campus program, appeals to students who want to enter the job market quickly. For others, an associate degree provides opportunities to explore college-level courses in a particular field without committing to a four-year program of study.
An associate degree fulfills most of the general education requirements needed to complete a bachelor's degree. Students who plan on earning a bachelor's may reduce the overall cost of their undergraduate degree if they complete an associate program at a two-year community college before transferring to a four-year school.
Associate degree graduates find rewarding employment possibilities, but many positions in church leadership require a bachelor's degree. A bachelor's results in a significant salary increase. According to the BLS, the weekly median wage increases from$862 for an associate degree to $1,198 for bachelor degree holders.Return to the top
Theology Degree Salary Information
With an associate in theology, graduates develop an understanding of scripture in its full context, and are prepared to share practical and educational insight with others through missionary work or church expansion, or as pastors. The annual salary for ministers and clergy members working in religious organizations ranges from $26,160 to $85,040, according to the BLS.
- Youth Minister:
Youth ministers conduct programs for young people from preschool age through college in a variety of church-sponsored settings. Youth ministers may enter the field after receiving their associate degree in theology, but many religious organizations hire bachelor's degree holders and may require some training in counseling.
- Church Administrator:
Usually working directly under the pastor, these administrators run day-to-day operations, oversee budgets, direct the maintenance of facilities, and schedule services and other church activities. This position requires an undergraduate education in business administration, finance, accounting, and theology.
- Worship Pastor:
Typically employed in larger churches, the worship pastor prepares and conducts each week's worship services and other special events including weddings, baptisms, and funerals. In most cases, worship pastors hold a bachelor's degree in theology or pastoral counseling.
A minister's actual duties depend on the size and needs of their specific religious organization. They usually conduct worship services, direct programs, and provide guidance to congregation members. Many churches require ministers to hold at least a bachelor’s degree in ministry or a theology-related field.
- Nonprofit Program Director:
Program directors in church-sponsored agencies arrange events, administer budgets, and seek funding to maintain their organization's goals and projects. The educational requirements for this position depend on the agency type and the complexity of the tasks, but most program directors hold a bachelor's degree.
|Job Title||Entry Level
|Nonprofit Program Director||$43,000||$47,000||$55,000||$62,000|
Source: PayScaleReturn to the top
Choosing an Online Theology Degree Program
Online associate degrees in theology vary considerably in tuition pricing, course delivery formats, and graduation requirements. As you begin your search for the right program for your needs, make sure to ask the right questions: Will you save money by enrolling in a state school? Are the online courses self-paced, or do you have to log in at a set time and day? How flexible are degree requirements, and can you attend full- or part-time?
Because church-sponsored institutions, Christian schools, and Bible colleges administer the majority of theology programs, pay attention to the curriculum. Also ask: Do the course offerings align with your particular theological interests or faith-based perspective, and will you be comfortable in the program?
- Program Cost: Earning an associate degree in theology online may not cost less than a campus-based program; however, attending a two-year community college in your home state tends to cost significantly less than what a four-year school would charge for the same credits. Distance learners may also save on transportation costs and room and board. In addition to tuition, most schools charge technology fees for online courses.
- Transfer Policies: More state and private institutions are entering into transfer articulation agreements with community colleges and other associate degree-granting institutions. These agreements ensure the seamless transfer of credits earned in the associate degree to a baccalaureate-granting college. Keep in mind that regionally accredited four-year schools do not accept transfer credits from associate degrees earned from schools without this accreditation.
- School Size and Type: Earning an associate degree through your local community college may lower tuition costs and provide you with easily transferable general education credits required by four-year schools. Online programs at private colleges may offer fewer course options but more personalized service, while public institutions typically feature more courses and affordable tuition. Theology degree curricula always reflect the mission and denominational values of their sponsoring institutions.
- Program Length: An online associate degree in theology generally requires two years of full-time enrollment, though some programs offer accelerated formats that take 18 months or less. Students enrolled in programs following a semester calendar typically need 60-65 credits to graduate. Some schools use a quarter-based schedule, requiring 90 credits for degree completion.
- On-Campus Requirements: Most online theology programs do not require on-campus attendance, though a few may offer an on-campus orientation for new students. Before enrolling in any program with a residency requirement or a hybrid course format, you should decide if the benefits of face-to-face meetings outweigh the time, travel, and financial expense of fully online programs.
Accreditation for Online Theology Degrees
Accrediting agencies provide an extensive evaluation of schools' academic standards and financial practices. These independent agencies hold recognition by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Most degree-granting institutions seek out either national or regional accreditation. Technical, vocational, and for-profit schools usually acquire national accreditation. These institutions often offer less rigorous admissions requirements and inexpensive tuition.
Regional accreditation, the most popular and prestigious designation, requires higher professional and academic standards.
A school’s accreditation status determines credit transferability and eligibility for federal financial aid. If you plan to earn a bachelor's after completing your associate degree, keep in mind that most four-year schools only accept credits from regionally accredited colleges. Employers often prefer applicants with degrees from accredited institutions.
Many colleges offering theology degrees hold regional accreditation, but some seek out specialized accreditation recognizing program-specific excellence, as well. For example, Bible schools may acquire programmatic accreditation from theAssociation of Biblical Higher Education. TheAssociation of Theological Schools grants accreditation to seminary schools offering graduate degrees.
Two major organizations oversee the accreditation review process for U.S. colleges and universities. The ED administers federal financial aid programs and establishes national educational policy. TheCHEA coordinates postsecondary accreditation and advocates on behalf of its 3,000-member academic institutions. Both regional and national accreditation associations, and some programmatic accreditors, receive approval from the ED or CHEA to ensure they meet regulatory standards.
The accreditation review considers several variables, including curriculum quality, faculty reputation, student services, and financial integrity.Students considering any online theology degree should confirm each prospective school’s accreditation status by checking the ED and CHEA websites.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Degree in Theology?
Requirements for earning an associate degree in theology online vary widely across institutions, but most programs require 60-65 credits taken over two years of full-time attendance. Students who must manage work or family responsibilities often choose online programs offering part-time study.
Programs following asynchronous course delivery formats allow students to progress at their own pace. They finish in as little as 18 months or as long as four years, depending on the number of credits they complete each term. Some online programs use a cohort model, in which students progress together in lock-step through synchronously delivered courses that meet weekly at the same time.
Cohort programs encourage faculty and peer interaction, because they require all students to take the same classes in a fixed sequence each semester. Degree completion may take longer to complete than self-paced course formats. Depending on the program's theological focus, students may have to participate in ministry leadership or preaching practicums.
Courses in an Online Associate in Theology Program
Coursework for an online associate in theology varies between departments and programs, depending on whether a school affiliates with a specific denomination or religious tradition. In general, theology programs provide an overview of the scriptures, church leadership, and basic questions of theology and doctrine. Some common courses are listed below.
- Biblical Studies in the Old and New Testament:
This gateway class for students entering the theology field presents an overview of the canonical books of the Old Testament through the New Testament. Students acquire skills in biblical hermeneutics, analyzing biblical language and text, synthesizing biblical knowledge, and integrating principles to contemporary applications.
- Church History:
The knowledge and understanding of church history represents a central focus of theological training for future church leaders, ministers, and educators. This course explores the history of Christianity and the church both in the United States and globally, with a special emphasis on non-Western traditions. Students examine various theological developments and major social movements that have shaped the church over time.
- Introduction to Ministry:
This course prepares future church leaders for the responsibilities and challenges of contemporary church ministry. Students learn about leadership principles, organizational and managerial procedures and practices, counseling, and ethics. The course also addresses practical considerations, such as the management of staff, volunteers, and finances; physical plant upkeep; and congregants' worship and pastoral needs.
- Pastoral Counseling:
Students learn to apply theological foundations to the psychological practices used in pastoral counseling and care. Course content focuses on case studies illustrating marriage and family counseling, bereavement support, and ministries designed for youth and other special populations. This course appeals to students seeking positions in pastoral ministry and provides the academic foundation for more advanced undergraduate and graduate studies or licensure.
- World Religions:
This survey course compares the history and growth of Western and non-Western religious theories, viewpoints, and practices. Students will explore the foundations, key concepts, and historical and contemporary influences of Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. The course also includes research on ancient religions and religious practices among non-literate societies.
Theology Membership Associations
- National Association of Christian Ministers:
This nondenominational fellowship of ordained Christian ministers, serves members through mentorship programs, professional development for church leaders, and ministry training. NACM accepts members from Baptist, Methodist, Assembly of God, Pentecostal, and nondenominational backgrounds. The organization provides assistance with ordination, minister licensure, and church charter development.
- American Association of Pastoral Counselors:
Established in 1967, this association assists pastoral counselors and spiritual caregivers with professional development programs, networking opportunities, and educational resources. AAPC administers accreditation programs in clinical pastoral education, publishes an online journal, and hosts an annual conference. Students may apply for discounted membership.
- Association of Youth Ministry Educators:
AYME membership is open to all teachers, researchers, and students engaged in youth ministry in academic and non-traditional educational settings. The association publishes the Journal of Youth Ministry and sponsors an annual conference, networking and professional development opportunities, and award programs.
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