Academic Environment

Taken as a whole, the academic environment for theological study at Starr King provides a comprehensive context for religious leadership preparation. Beginning with the personal attention of Starr King's faculty, a student is directed to engage with the learning opportunities at the ecumenical and interfaith Graduate Theological Union, the extensive resources available for scholarship and research at the University of California, Berkeley, and the transformations that occur through direct involvement with congregations and community settings, both local and global.

Read more about Starr King School's Educational Philosophy.

Individually Designed Programs

Each person's path to religious leadership is unique, and at Starr King each student's course of study is individually designed.

The school meets students where they are and attempts to understand their needs and potential. Starr King then directs students to resources and offers counsel in identifying and satisfying development through experience, study, evaluation and growth.

We ask students to reciprocate, as members of our community. This means participating fully in the community and worship life of the school, from planning a special event to stuffing fund-raising envelopes, as well as shaping school policy and practice through representation on faculty-student committees and board of trustees committees.

Intensive Advising

The entire Starr King core faculty is available to advise students in their course of study. Additionally, each student is assigned a primary advisor. In advising students, faculty members:

  • guide students' program of study and direct them to educational resources and options,
  • encourage stretching and risk in the learning process,
  • consult with students regarding Unitarian Universalist denominational expectations and requirements, (contact UUA)
  • read and reflect with students regarding evaluations from coursework, fieldwork and, if students choose, the career assessment,
  • guide students in the preparation of a representative piece from the student's portfolio (M.Div.), final project (MASC), or master's thesis (M.A.) for placement in the school's permanent collection at the time of graduation.

Holistic Study and Experiential Learning

Starr King considers each student’s whole life experience during seminary as relevant to his or her studies.

Significant learning takes place in contexts other than structured courses and formal fieldwork.  Independent projects, creative undertakings, learning from workplace challenges, life crises or major events, such as the birth of a child, the death of a friend or national mobilization for war, are all occasions for grappling with fundamental religious questions.

Small Classes

The school intentionally keeps its classes and seminars small, with emphasis on the active participation of all present.

Our practice is to accept no auditors.  Each person in the classroom acts as a full participant.

Written Evaluations

As a general practice, Starr King employs written evaluations in coursework and fieldwork rather than letter grades.  Through written evaluations, students receive regular feedback and counsel regarding the quality of their work and path of preparation for ministry, scholarship or religious leadership in society. 

M.A. students receive both written evaluations and letter grades for all courses taken at Starr King.  Letter grades will be given to other Starr King students under certain circumstances and with the agreement of the student and the student’s advisor.

Fieldwork and Community Placement

Starr King School emphasizes fieldwork and community placement to foster learning through first-hand experience. M.Div. students spend time away from the school working with a congregation; in a prison, hospital or other setting; or traveling for research or cross-cultural experiences. Starr King arranges credit in accordance with its understanding that life experiences of many kinds constitute educational opportunities of significant depth and breadth.

Formal, structured fieldwork, such as a full-time parish and community internships or participation in a clinical pastoral education setting, also can be arranged.

In addition, students may work with faculty to create individually designed fieldwork projects. One Starr King student traveled to Morocco for cross-cultural research on youth. Another spent a semester riding her bicycle throughout the southeastern United States to visit Unitarian Universalist congregations. Another lived and worked for a semester among Transylvanian Unitarians. Since 1990, Starr King scholarship students have traveled to Japan to study at Tsubaki Grand Shrine, a Shinto community established in 3 B.C.E.

Contextual Learning through Congregations, Community Settings and Global Engagement

Starr King School works closely with Unitarian Universalist congregations, which provide contexts for ministerial student to learn by direct engagement with parish-based ministries. Unitarian Universalist ministers across the continent serve as mentors and teachers for Starr King students. Lay leaders also serve as educational guides.

Our students also work in prisons, hospitals, youth communities, hospices and other settings. The diverse communities of the San Francisco Bay Area make this region a microcostm of the global community and provide abundant learning opportunities. International travel for research, service or cross-cultural experience is also encouraged as part of theological study at Starr King.

Learning in Community

Participation in the community life of the school is fundamental to the educational experience at Starr King. All-school meetings are held monthly, providing an opportunity for students, faculty and staff to gather and reflect on a question or topic of common concern. Starr King holds chapel services every Tuesday that are led by students, faculty, staff, trustees or invited guests. The school also provides a setting for spiritual practice from a variety of religious traditions.

Our student body meets regularly to conduct business, such as planning a collective social justice action or responding to emergent issues in the lives of students. Community meals, recreation and conversation provide informal opportunities to create sustaining ties.

Partners and children of Starr King students are a welcome part of the education and community life of the school. Partners may take one course per semester at the school free of charge (with the permission of the instructor if it is a limited-enrollment course). Children and youth are welcome at community meals, chapels and recreational activities.

Graduate Theological Union

Starr King students and faculty work in close cooperation with people of diverse denominations and faith traditions through the school's membership in the GTU. SKSM students enjoy free and open cross-registration at all GTU-member institutions, where distinguished faculty offer course in theology, bliblical studies, ethics, interdisciplinary studies, religion and the arts, psychology and religion, church history, spirituality, liturgy, preaching, world religions and more.

Because we regard the GTU's ecumenical and interfaith scholarly community as a primary context for our educational program, we expect our students to accomplish a significant part of their study at other GTU schools.

University of California, Berkeley

Free cross-registration for one class each semester is available to all Starr King students at the University of California, Berkeley. Located two blocks from the Starr King campus, UC Berkeley is one of the world's finest public universities. Its courses, libraries, research centers and world-renowned faculty are resources for specialized and advanced study in a variety of topics that enhance preparation for religious leadership. Starr King students are encouraged to draw on university resources in designing their course of study.


Click to view the Starr King catalog in PDF format. (Note: Seminary for the Laity certificate program is no longer offered.)