Deciding Between an MDiv and M.A.R. for Counseling

The Master of Arts (M.A.R) and Master of Divinity (M.Div.) are two standard seminary degrees that train students for a diverse array of ministries, including counseling. While both degrees can be used as the educational foundation for a future counseling ministry, however, the capacities that students are able to work in after graduating sometimes differ. If you’re considering pursuing an M.A.R. or M.Div. for counseling purposes, consider what role you’d like to counsel in before selecting one degree program or the other.

Both Degrees Offer Counseling Specialization

Both M.A.R. and M.Div. degrees offer opportunities to specialize in counseling, and some schools even have tracks in specific types of counseling. Although the M.Div. degree is a longer program, they tend to follow a similar track in their curriculum.

The foundation of both degrees is a sizeable amount of coursework in the basics of seminary education. For example, students should expect to take courses in Hermeneutics, Biblical Theology, Systematic Theology, Practical Theology, Church History and similar fields. The M.Div. usually has more courses in these disciplines because it’s a more comprehensive program, but students of both degrees are exposed to these fields. In fact, they often take courses together.

In addition to the foundational required curriculum, most seminaries also have a certain number of credit hours set aside for electives. At some schools, these are true electives and there’s no stipulation on what they need to be in. At other schools, it’s these electives that afford students the opportunity to specialize in certain areas -- such as counseling.

Thus, students who pursue an M.A.R. or an M.Div. degree with a focus in counseling usually devote a large portion of their electives to counseling. Depending on a school’s particular program, a series of electives might lead to a concentration in Biblical Counseling, Pastoral Counseling, Family Counseling, Addiction Counseling or any number of other narrower fields.

M.Div. Degrees Qualify Students for Ordination

As mentioned, the main difference between the M.A.R. and M.Div. isn’t the area of study but rather the length of study. The M.Div. is a longer and more comprehensive program, with students taking more courses than M.A.R. students do. It’s this additional course load that may impact what students are able to do with their degree in the future.

M.Div. degrees meet the educational requirements for ordination in almost all denominations. An M.Div. degree alone normally won’t qualify candidates for ordination, and some denominations don’t require an M.Div. for ordination. Almost no candidate will be turned away because they don’t have enough education if they have an M.Div., though. (Some denominations may require candidates who studied at another denomination’s seminary to take a few courses on the denomination’s specific history before ordination.)

M.A.R. degrees, in contrast, don’t meet every denomination’s educational requirements for ordination. Because M.A.R. programs are shorter, they frequently cut out Homiletics, Practical Theology and other courses that M.Div. students complete. For this reason, not all denominations consider an M.A.R. sufficient. Only certain denominations accept M.A.R. degrees as sufficient for ordination.

Students May Counsel in Ordained or Non-Ordained Roles

Thus, whether the M.A.R. or M.Div. degree is a more suitable option depends a lot on whether students want to counsel in an ordained or non-ordained capacity. In order to counsel as a pastor, bishop, priest or deacon, students might have to complete a full M.Div. degree program depending on their denomination. In order to counsel as a traditional counselor, caseworker or in another non-ordained role, an M.A.R. is likely fine.

Students should work with their seminary and denomination to help clarify their future calling and determine which of these two degree options is better for their specific situation.

Spotlight MDiv & MAR Programs

Scott M. Brodie