Theology Degree: Requirements, Costs, Career Options & Salary

Theology Degree: Requirements, Costs, Career Options & Salary
Imed Bouchrika, Phd by Imed Bouchrika, Phd
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

For many students, a theology degree is the first step on the path to a career in ministry or another religious vocation. However, theology degrees can also be helpful for students who are interested in working in fields such as social work, healthcare, or education.

In addition, many students pursue a theology degree simply because they want to deepen their understanding of their own faith. Regardless of their eventual career goals, all students who study theology can benefit from learning about the history and traditions of their faith, as well as its contemporary practices and beliefs. By studying theology, students can develop a greater appreciation for the role that religion plays in the world and in their own lives.

This article lays down the degree requirements for this discipline, possible career paths, the best universities to enroll in and other key details to help you plan your future.

What is theology and how can you get a degree?

  1. What is theology?
  2. Key Theology Statistics
  3. What are the requirements to study theology?
  4. How much does it cost to study theology?
  5. The Best Universities to Study Theology
  6. Possible Careers for Theology  Majors
  7. How much do theologians earn?
  8. Famous People Who Studied Theology

In 2017, 31,451 degrees in theology were awarded. While this number may sound high, the number of graduates in theology had declined by 2.27% from the previous year.

This has led to the high average employee age of theologians, which is 47.6. According to Data USA, this is growing at a rate of 0.768%. Meanwhile, around 320,536 holders of theology degrees are in the workforce. Despite the decline in the number of graduates, those who enter the workforce are increasing by 6.03%.

While theology might not sound like a practical course in higher education, it does have its uses. Theologians go on to have careers in a broad range of areas, such as law, journalism, and politics.

Meanwhile, the most mainstream careers are religious studies instructors, ministers, social workers, and volunteer recruiters.

What is theology?

The dictionary definition of theology is “the study of religious faith, practice, and experience (Dictionary by Merriam-Webster, n.d.).” Usually, practitioners of theology examine religious beliefs; the experience of faith, and the expression of it (Times Higher Education, 2019).

Classically, theology has been defined by St. Anselm as “faith seeking understanding (Badham, 1996).” Similarly, St. Augustine referred to it as “rational discussion respecting the deity (Patton, 2005).”

There are many other definitions of theology but that is the crux of it. One should also remember not to confuse it with religious studies, as this is concerned with all religions and beliefs (Allegheny College, n.d.) and not just Christianity.

Far from being a subject that seeks to evangelize, as many seem to think theology to be, it imparts a wide array of skills to its students. For example, Burton (2013) attests that the University of Oxford trains those enrolled in the program to be historians, linguists, interpreters of ancient and modern texts, among others.

Key Theology Statistics

As mentioned earlier, the number of students taking theology programs is declining. Nevertheless, there is still healthy enrollment in institutions in the United States.

  • There are 687 four-year colleges or universities that offer theology (Data USA, n.d.).
  • Collectively, those institutions awarded 30,210 degrees in 2017 (Data USA, n.d.).
  • 6.57% of theology graduates in 2017 came from Liberty University (Data USA, n.d.).
  • Beth Medrash Gohova has the second-highest number of theology degrees (3.48%) conferred in the same year (Data USA, n.d.).
  • Third is the Moody Bible Institute with 2.36% of graduates (Data USA, n.d.).
  • For the 237 schools in the United States that reported their data to the Association of Theological Schools in 2018, 12,290 or 23% of students took up General Theological courses (Association of Theological Schools, 2019).
  • Students who were enrolled full-time in theology programs numbered 7,124 or 29.6% (ATS, 2019).
  • 225 schools in the U.S. offer programs in General Theological Studies (ATS, 2019).
  • 65.3% of those who have a degree in theology are males (Data USA, n.d.).
  • Caucasians had the most degrees in 2017 with 20,605 degrees (65.5%) (Data USA, n.d.).
  • Globally, South Korea has the most theology degree recipients with 4,948 in 2018 (Data USA, n.d.).
  • It is followed by Mexico with 3,843 degree recipients (Data USA, n.d.).
  • The Philippines is next, with 3,034 degree recipients (Data USA, n.d.).

Source: Data USA, n.d.

What are the requirements to study theology?

Generally, students of theology are expected to be skilled in writing essays. They should also be well-versed in English, philosophy, history, or classic works. It could also help if an applicant took up religion-related courses in high school (Times Higher Education, 2019).

Each school would have its own set of prerequisites as well. For example, the Grace School of Theology (n.d.) requires applicants to its undergraduate programs to have a high school diploma, a GED, or similar.

Some institutions may also require that applicants show how involved they are in Christian service as well as their capabilities to be in Christian Ministry. An example would be the Dallas Theological Seminary (2018). The school also requires that applicants “show evidence of saving faith in Christ,” have a validated Christian character, have the necessary spiritual gifts, and adhere to particular doctrines and the Community Covenant.

How much does it cost to study theology? (Staff Writers, 2020) shows that Huntsville Bible College in Alabama is the most affordable school for a theology degree. The average tuition for the institution is $4,200 per year. It is followed by Summit Christian College, formerly known as the Platte Valley Bible College. Students have to shell out at least $5,600 annually to study here. Next is Saint Louis Christian College, whose tuition averages $10,075 for a year of study. Emmaus Bible College comes next with an average yearly tuition of $15,100. College of the Ozarks is the most expensive among the top five affordable institutions as it can set back a student $18,300 in yearly tuition.

Source:, 2020


The Best Universities to Study Theology

In the United States, these are the top ten schools for a theology degree, according to Top Universities (2020):

  1. University of Notre Dame
  2. Harvard University
  3. Yale University
  4. Duke University
  5. The University of Chicago
  6. Boston College
  7. Princeton University
  8. University of California, Berkeley
  9. Stanford University
  10. Columbia University

For 2020, Top Universities (2020) lists the following institutions as the best in the world for Theology, Divinity & Religious Studies:

  1. University of Notre Dame
  2. University of Oxford
  3. Harvard University
  4. Durham University
  5. University of Cambridge
  6. Yale University
  7. Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen
  8. Duke University
  9. The University of Chicago
  10. Boston College

As an alternative, you can also avail yourself of an online bachelor’s degree in theology.

Possible Careers for Theology Majors

Though it may seem that career paths for theology majors are limited, the reality is far from it. Aside from going into ministry, graduates of theology go on to become lawyers, instructors, counselors, and more.

  • Bible Translator – Works on producing the Bible in different languages for spreading the Word to peoples all over the world (Southeastern University Online, 2018).
  • Religious Educator – Teaches religion to different education levels and philosophy and theology for secondary and tertiary education levels (Southeastern University Online, 2018).
  • Columnist – Writes series or articles for publications, offering commentary and opinion on a broad range of topics (Cawley Career Education Center, 2020).
  • Counselor – Offers guidance to individuals regarding personal, social, spiritual, or psychological issues (Cawley Career Education Center, 2020.
  • Linguist – Studies and interprets foreign languages (Linguistic Society of America, n.d.), such as those in ancient religious texts
  • Lawyer – Practices law as a barrister, attorney at law, canon lawyer, solicitor, legal executive, and more.
  • Psychologist – Assists people in coping with life issues and mental problems effectively (Cawley Career Education Center, 2020; American Psychological Association, 2019)

How much do theologians earn?

As graduates of a theology program have different career paths they can take, the salaries they can earn also vary widely. For example, a professor of theology can have an average yearly salary of $81,251. They can also receive a bonus of $6,931, a commission of $12,500, and a profit-sharing of $4,968 (PayScale, 2020).

If a graduate of theology chooses to become a minister, they are likely to take home an average of $52,561 annually. The lowest possible salary is $29,000 while the highest would be $85,000. Additional cash compensations of an average of $1,647 are also possible, though it ranges from $524 to $5,005. Meanwhile, a Bible translator working for Wycliffe can earn as much as $55,526 per year (Glassdoor, 2020).

On a similar note, a theology graduate who becomes a linguist can have an average salary of $72,452 annually. The lower 10% can expect at least $43,000 while those in the 90% spectrum are looking at $116,000 every year (PayScale, 2020).

Those who go on to become counselors can earn as much as $54,560 for one year (, 2020). Similarly, the median salary for counseling psychologists is $81,330 per year (, 2020).

Source:, 2020; PayScale, 2020; Glassdoor, 2020

Famous People Who Studied Theology

As a wide-reaching program, theology caught the attention of many people who took it up for their college or university education even if they did not eventually go into the fields where theology is most applicable.

  • Jack Gleeson – Popular for portraying King Joffrey in Game of Thrones, he enrolled in theology after his stint as an actor (Top Universities, 2015).
  • Martin Luther King Jr. – This famous figure in history had a Doctorate in Theology awarded by the University of Boston (Times Higher Education, 2019).
  • David Nussbaum – This CEO of several U.K.-based charities took up theology for both his undergraduate and graduate studies (Times Higher Education, 2019).
  • Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Alois Ratzinger) – He received his Doctorate in Theology from the University of Munich in 1953 (Frassetto, 2020).

Theology in Present Times

It may seem like theology should be a program best left behind in the past. However, it is still very applicable today. For example, it guides the exploration and discovery of historical places mentioned in the Bible. With the help of theology or of people who are well-versed with the Bible, there have been interfaces with archaeology. One instance would be the discovery of the Tel Dan Inscription, which points towards “the house of David” as the enemy of the Arameans (Merrill, 2015).

Theology can also be surprisingly helpful in other disciplines. For example, a knowledge of theology can help students taking an associate degrees in paralegal studies or even a master’s in criminal justice should they provide service to specific religious groups.

Moreover, theology is not simply an inquiry into the divine. It is also interdisciplinary, as students need to learn about philosophy, history, sociology, anthropology, and even psychology. Because it encompasses a wide range of subjects, those who take up theology for their undergraduate studies can go on to have careers in various fields.



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  2. All Psychology Schools (2020, May 11). Counseling salaries.
  3. APA (2019, December 11). What do practicing psychologists do?
  4. ATS (2019). 2019-2020 annual data tables.
  5. Badham, P. (1996). What is theology? Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge99 (788), 101-106.
  6. Burton, T. I. (2013, October 30). Study theology, even if you don’t believe in god. The Atlantic.
  7. CareerProfiles (2020). Highest paying psychology careers.
  8. Cawley Career Education Center (2020, January 15). What can I do with my theology major?
  9. Colorado Christian University (n.d.). Program: Theology major.
  10. Dallas Theological Seminary (2018, May 10). Requirements.
  11. Data USA (n.d.). Theology.
  12. Merriam-Webster (n.d.). Definition of theology. Dictionary by Merriam-Webster.
  13. Frassetto, M. (2020, April 12). Benedict XVI. Encyclopedia Britannica.
  14. Glassdoor (2020). Wycliffe Bible translators salaries.
  15. Grace School of Theology (n.d.). Prerequisites.
  16. Liberty University (n.d.). Theology & apologetics (B.A.) – Resident.
  17. Linguistic Society of America (n.d.). Linguistics as a profession.
  18. Merrill, E. (2015). Archaeology and OT theology: Their interface and reciprocal usefulness. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society58(4), 667-678.
  19. Patton, M. (2005, August 22). What is theology?
  20. PayScale (2020). Linguist salary.
  21. PayScale (2020). Professor of theology salary.
  22. Southeastern University (2018, November 1). What can I do with a theology degree? Southeastern University Online Learning.
  23. Staff Writers. (2020, February 6). Affordable bible and Christian colleges.
  24. Bachelor’s degree in theology: Program overview (n.d.).

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