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Why are some seminarians more successful than others? What is the background of these star students? Is there such a thing as a "best" seminarian? 

In 2013, Barbara Wheeler sought out these answers as part of the Pathways to Seminary Project. Her research resulted in a research study from the Auburn Center for the Study of Theological Education: “On our way: A study of students’ paths to seminary.” Wheeler distilled her findings in an Autumn 2013 article in In Trust.

To complete her study, Wheeler worked with the Auburn Center and the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), collaborating to interview 261 graduate students cited by their schools as the “best,” in order to discern what made them different from their peers. Some of these commonalities included:

  • Family stability. Successful students came from stable family backgrounds, with only 17% of students stating their parents were divorced.
  • Religious nurturing. Almost all of the "best" seminarians interviewed had a background that included intensive religious participation.
  • Role models. Successful students reported strong role models who showed them how ministry is done well.  

Wheeler's research also reported on how students decided which seminary to attend: Theological comfort level and a student's opinion of the school were ranked higher than location or convenience of scheduling.

For more on Wheeler’s reflections from this research, read “Pathways to Seminary” online. For the longer, more complete version of the report, read “On our way: A study of students’ paths to seminary” which is online at the Auburn Center website.

This research was released in 2013. Do you see anything that has changed since that time? Does your school have students whom you identify as the “best”? If so, are you familiar with their backgrounds? Let us know.

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