Frequently Asked Questions
1. There are hundreds of seminaries in the United States. How is GCS different from the others?
First, we teach from the standpoint of Trinitarian theology – a view of God that is based in grace and centered on Christ. This theology is neither Calvinist nor Arminian, but is in the Reformed tradition as articulated by Thomas F. Torrance, a Scottish theologian. We believe that the doctrine of the Trinity provides an effective means of understanding all other Christian doctrines and their interconnections.
Second, we are designed to meet the needs of working ministers – those who do not wish to leave their ministries in order to attend a residential seminary. The vast majority of our students are part-time, distance-learning adults who are already involved in ministry. Our program provides adequate resources for full-time students, too, but we always keep the part-time students in mind.
Third, our entire program is online. There is no travel involved. Although you do not get the social advantages of meeting faculty and other students face-to-face, neither do you get the social disadvantage of having to leave the people you are already serving. We believe the online format serves the needs of working people (no matter whether they are fulltime pastors, bivocational pastors, volunteer ministers, or just members who’d like to learn more about the Bible or theology).
2. Is Grace Communion Seminary accredited?
Yes, GCS is accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC). DEAC is listed by the U.S. Department of Education as a recognized accrediting agency; DEAC is also recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). GCS has national accreditation rather than regional accreditation.
3. Why is the tuition so low?
More than half of our expenses are subsidized by an endowment created by donations from members of Grace Communion International, the denomination we are affiliated with.
4. Does accreditation mean that I can take courses at GCS and then transfer them to another seminary?
In any field of study, and with any type of accreditation, the acceptance of transfer credits is always at the discretion of the receiving seminary or university. Credits earned at GCS may or may not be accepted by another institution. Any student relying on GCS credit for transfer to or enrollment in another institution is urged to check with that institution before they enroll at GCS. Similarly, if you wish to transfer credits into GCS, please check with us before you enroll in those other courses.
5. What is the purpose of accreditation? Why is it important?
Accreditation is a third-party verification that the courses and programs of GCS are legitimate and comparable to other established institutions. Experts have examined GCS to verify that our courses provide graduate-level training appropriate for the degree that we offer, that students are required to do an appropriate amount of work for the credits that we award, that our faculty are properly trained, and that the institution has the resources to keep operating.
Accreditation is important because some institutions are fraudulent – they sell “degrees” that require no work, or involve only a token amount of work, or offer training that is substandard. On the other hand, some unaccredited institutions offer high-quality courses – it’s just that they have not been verified by independent agencies.
If you want your credits to be recognized in the future by potential employers or other educational institutions, or for your expenses to qualify for reimbursement or tax benefits, then you probably need an accredited institution. Employers and schools don’t have the time or ability to verify whether a given school is up to educational standards – they rely on accreditation agencies to do that research.
6. Who can enroll in GCS classes?
GCS offers graduate-level courses, and our program is designed for students who have a bachelor’s degree. Our accreditation agency requires that at least 95 percent of the students in the master’s degree programs have a bachelor’s degree or higher. This ensures that class lectures and student discussions are at a graduate level of academic achievement. However, a limited number of students without a bachelor’s degree may be admitted based on a demonstration of comparable academic ability.
7. What kind of courses does GCS offer?
We offer courses in theology, biblical studies, church history, and Christian ministry. These four areas of study form the core curriculum at most seminaries. The goal by graduation is that our students are able to integrate these areas, and be able to describe how each field of study informs the others. For example, our biblical studies not only affect the way that we function in ministry, but our experiences in ministry also affect the way that we study Scripture.
8. Where should I begin? What courses should a new student take?
New students are advised to take the “501” courses – they are the introductory courses in theology, biblical studies, and Christian ministry. TH501 is an introductory course in theology, BI501 is an introductory course in biblical studies, and CM501 is the best place to start in Christian ministry. (But when it comes to church history, you may begin with either CH501 or CH502; both are designed for beginning students.)
However, we do not require that you begin with the “501” courses. If your main interest is in theology, and we don’t happen to offer TH501 in the semester you wish to start, then you are free to take other theology courses. All new GCS students are enrolled in the Master’s Level Continuing Education program, which means that you can take courses in any sequence you wish. (Only a few of our courses have formal prerequisites.)
9. What diplomas or degrees do you offer?
We offer three master’s degrees, and a certificate and a diploma to mark progress toward those degrees. After you have taken TH501 and BI501, plus two other courses anywhere in our curriculum, then we will award you a Certificate of Theological Studies. You have a noteworthy accomplishment, and we congratulate you. Some students are studying for their own intellectual enrichment, and are content with this achievement.
Most students want to go further, and we are happy to mark their progress after seven courses with an Advanced Diploma of Christian Ministry. The ADCM requires that students have taken TH501, BI501, CM501, at least one course in church history, at least one more course in ministry, and two more courses from anywhere in our curriculum. This diploma is not a degree, but is still a noteworthy achievement.
After a student has taken seven courses, the student may apply to be a candidate for one of our degree program, either the Master of Pastoral Studies (MPS), the Master of Theological Studies (MTS) or the Master of Divinity (MDiv). The MPS and MTS require 42 units (14 courses) and the MDiv requires 72 units (25 courses), some of which may come from transfer credit or experiential learning. See our Academic Catalog for details on that. The master’s degree must be completed within ten years of when you began taking classes at GCS.
Each capstone requires a thesis, in which you demonstrate your ability to integrate what you have learned in theology, biblical studies, history and ministry. It is a significant achievement!
10. What are the computer requirements for taking GCS classes?
If you are viewing this document, you probably already have sufficient computer resources: an internet connection, and a browser such as Chrome, Firefox, or Microsoft Edge. Your computer needs to be able to view PDF documents, because that’s how most of our lectures are published. We recommend but do not require Microsoft Word for your papers and assignments; a free program such as Google Docs is also acceptable.
Some programs have audio or video lectures. The audio may be downloaded so that you can listen at some other time, or you may listen online.
Some of our courses require proctored final exams. These may be done by a third party, or the proctoring can be done remotely if you have a webcam on your computer. (See the Academic Catalog for the details.) A webcam is not required, but most students find it more convenient than third-party proctoring.
11. What library services do you offer?
GCS has a library in Charlotte, North Carolina, and we can mail books to you. However, if you are like many students and don’t plan very far in advance, mail delivery may not be fast enough for you. We therefore teach you how to conduct respectable research on the internet. That way, you’ll still be able to do your research even after you graduate and no longer have borrowing privileges at the GCS library. For more details, see the “Research Resources” document on the Public Information section of our website (https://learn.gcs.edu/mod/book/view.php?id=5048 ).
12. Do you offer any financial aid?
Our tuition is already very low; tuition covers less than half of our operating expenses. However, due to funds donated for this particular purpose, scholarships are available to GCI senior pastors and to those who are part of the official GCI internship program. For more details, ask our Registrar. For other students, the most likely source of additional financial assistance is the congregation in which the student is currently ministering.
13. What does a typical class look like?
Most of our courses have ten written lectures — one lecture is posted each Monday for ten weeks. It may take you two hours to study the lecture.
All classes also require readings in several textbooks. We do not sell textbooks; you must obtain them from online booksellers or other sources before the class begins. You’ll need to read in these textbooks several hours each week.
Our courses also have online discussions. Since our students live in all four U.S. time zones, and some in other nations, we cannot all be online at the same time. So students respond to questions and type their comments in an online forum, and type responses to what other students have written. In some ways this is like a classroom discussion, but in an online discussion, the comments are generally better quality, since students have time to think about what they are saying.
Most classes also require students to write book reviews, reaction papers, or research papers. These may take a significant amount of time, and usually the last paper is due two weeks after the last lecture.
Some classes have quizzes, projects, audio or video assignments, and other activities that we hope will help you learn the materials. All total, you will need to invest 12 or 13 hours each week in order to do well in a class.