By Maggie Helmick, MTS ’23
Editor’s Note: Determining which degree program to apply to is the most important decision HDS applicants must make in their application process. While the Master of Theological Studies (MTS) and Master of Divinity (MDiv) programs have much in common, they also diverge from each other in a number of important ways. In this article, we hope to illuminate the similarities and differences between these two programs to help prospective students determine which program is right for them.
Are you struggling to decide between the MTS and MDiv programs at HDS? Questions about which program one should choose are among the most common questions we receive from prospective students. To help you determine which of these two programs would be the best fit for you, we’ve put together this break down of their similarities and differences. Starting with their structural commonalities and variations and then diving into their conceptual distinctions, in this post we cover all you need to know to choose between our two most popular degree programs!
From a logistical standpoint, there are clear differences between the two degree programs, as illustrated in the table below:
There are, however, functional similarities shared between the MDiv and the MTS programs, too. Both offer institutional grant aid, work-study opportunities, and federal loans to eligible students. No prior graduate study is expected or required of either MTS or MDiv students. Additionally, MTS and MDiv students must both fulfill language competency requirements, though the specifications of how language requirements may be completed differ between the programs. You can learn more about the language requirements for the MTS program here and for the MDiv program here. Most importantly, MTS and MDiv students share the classroom, as they choose from the same roster of classes – there are no classes that either group of students are barred from taking. For a more in-depth look at the core requirements of these two programs, check out the HDS Student Handbook “Degree Programs and Requirements” section.
The real differences between the MTS and MDiv programs at HDS are not, however, structural, but are theoretical in nature. In truth, the vast majority of MTS and MDiv students would likely be able to fulfill their academic goals and provide a strong basis for their professional ambitions in either program, but there are certain conceptual differences that set the two programs apart and lead students to choose one over the other. The biggest of those differences is that the MDiv program is built to ground its students’ academic work in practice through its Field Education and Arts of Ministry requirements. (Tip: type “field education” on the search bar of our blog website to read several stories that have been shared by our MDiv and MTS students about their experiences).
The MDiv’s practical bent makes it an excellent choice for anyone looking to work within a religious tradition or community, as it provides participatory opportunities for those who plan to pursue more actively engaged paths post-graduation, like ministry, pastoral care, conflict resolution, community organizing, or social justice activism. However, to be clear, the MDiv program is not limited to those who wish to practice traditional ministry or who identify as members of a particular religious tradition. In fact, the MDiv program has a strong history of supporting non-religious or multi-religious students, as well as those pursuing nontraditional ministry initiatives that include the fine arts, agriculture, healthcare, or prison systems, to name a few.
While this functional education can absolutely be of use to MTS students and is open to them if they wish to participate, many MTS students find that the work they plan to pursue post-graduation is fully supported by the academically-grounded foundation of the MTS program. This program places its focus on providing students with the skills they need to research, analyze, and critically engage with the claims, texts, thought, and practices of any religious tradition, the ways that religion intersects with other fields of study, and the role that religion plays in our everyday lives. As such, it is a great choice for those preparing for doctoral work in religion or a related field, as well as individuals interested in practicing law, creating public policy, teaching, or entering the medical field, for example. To learn more about the goals of the MTS and MDiv programs, check out the Master of Theological Studies and Master of Divinity program pages on our website.
Students from both programs go on to succeed in numerous career settings. In the long term, approximately half of HDS’s MDiv graduates entered ministerial vocations and about the same portion of MTS graduates work in the education sector. That is not to say that MDiv graduates do not succeed in education positions, as about a quarter of MDiv graduates have gone on to work in secondary and university teaching, as well as university administration. Of the remaining MTS graduates, significant numbers hold medical, legal, and management positions. For more information on career outcomes and statistics for both programs, you can check out our Career Services Employment Report here.
Ultimately, differentiating between the MTS and MDiv degree programs is not nearly as simple as categorizing one as the academic or secular track and the other as the ministerial or theological track. Similarly, deciding which program to choose involves many more considerations than one might first expect, including the amount of time a prospective student has to dedicate to a degree program, how the cost of attending differs due to the time enrolled, and the direction of the prospective student’s career ambitions. If you are interested in learning more about the student experience in either program, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to connect with a current HDS student.
We hope that this post was helpful at explaining the difference between the MTS and MDiv programs at HDS. If you have additional questions feel free to contact us at email@example.com.