The terms “seminary” and “bible college” are often used interchangeably, but, while the terms are related, they are not usually synonymous. A bible college and a seminary are both institutions of higher learning, and both focus on some aspect of scriptural study; both can also grant degrees in theology or elements of religious teaching. It is the overarching purpose of the institutions where the difference lies. Most of the time, bible colleges are undergraduate institutions that focus their learning on scripture and offer degrees on religious topics, but usually also offer mainstream degrees in the arts and sciences. Seminaries, on the other hand, are generally graduate institutions wholly dedicated to preparing students to become religious leaders.
Students generally choose to attend a bible college and a seminary for different reasons. Bible colleges are usually billed as regular colleges, just with a biblical slant. Students from Christian backgrounds who want a college campus community that will nurture their beliefs often choose to attend bible colleges. Seminary is for students who want to pursue a career in ministry.
Most bible colleges require a certain number of credit hours in bible studies or other religion classes, but often offer degree programs comparable to secular schools. Students who graduate from bible colleges will have a firm foundation in biblical theology, but can pursue a variety of career paths. Bible colleges do not usually train students for any specific vocation, but rather aim to provide a broad — but biblically-centered — college education. A bible college degree can be in any number of disciplines. A bible college and a seminary are primarily different in this respect.
The main goal of a seminary is to educate future church leaders. Most seminaries are graduate-level institutions, meaning that they offer only masters and doctorate degrees. An undergraduate degree is usually required before attending seminary. Some seminaries require applicants to hold prior degrees in religion or theology, as one would attain from a bible college, but not all do.
Seminary students take courses at their seminary that are tailored to preparing them for a specific job within a church. Deacons, priests, and pastors are usually required to be seminary graduates before they can be appointed to lead in churches. Many lay ministers also hold a seminary degree.
Another difference between a bible college and a seminary is often denomination. There are different types of bible colleges. While there are some that are closely aligned with a particular church, many others are interdenominational, focusing on shared biblical history apart from specific church tradition. Seminaries are almost always single-denomination. Choosing a bible college or choosing a seminary many times depends on a student’s church affiliations.
Each Christian denomination has different requirements of its leaders. In some churches, like the Roman Catholic Church, the priesthood is reserved for men. Catholic seminaries are accordingly only open to men, and the lessons, courses, and degrees offered are specifically Catholic in nature. Seminaries follow the teachings of their founding denomination, and usually prepare students for ministry in a specific church.
Sometimes, a school will offer both a bible college and a seminary. The two will often share faculty, but students are generally confined to one program. A bible college degree can lead to seminary admission, and hosting the same schools on one campus makes the transition easier. There is not usually any direct correlation between attending a bible college and a seminary, however.