Q. Do you need a college degree to become a priest?
A. The simple answer to your question is yes. Perhaps you are asking this question because you or someone you know has an interest in the priesthood. In that case, allow me to give more detail about the whole process of preparing to become a priest.
If a young man begins preparation for the priesthood right out of high school, the normal process would be to attend 4 years of college seminary, followed by 4 years of graduate studies at a major seminary. At the college seminary, the seminarian would typically get a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. Additionally, he might study languages—such as Latin, Greek, and Spanish—as well as some undergraduate studies in theology. Then, after graduation, he would attend a major seminary which would provide 4 years of graduate level studies in theology, including Doctrine, Canon Law, Church History, Scripture, Liturgy, and more.
Sometimes it happens that someone has already received a bachelor’s degree in another topic from a college other than a college seminary. In that case, he can complete his studies in 6 additional years. First, he would study what we call pre-theology for 2 years. This is primarily philosophy. After that he would enter into major seminary and fulfill the studies I mentioned above.
It’s also important to note that there is a difference between a diocesan priest and a religious order priest. The process above is used for all diocesan priests, but religious order priests might also have some additional formation period, either before or during the seminary process. For example, a Franciscan might first spend time learning about the life of St. Francis and might need to be formed in the rule of the order before even beginning seminary studies. This is usually the case for all religious orders.
Lastly, I should point out that the process of becoming a priest involves much more than just studies. Throughout his time as a seminarian, there will be an emphasis upon what we call spiritual, human, and pastoral formation. Spiritual formation consists of retreats, times of regular prayer, the daily liturgies, spiritual direction, and spiritual conferences. Human formation is a way of seeking to form the seminarian’s human personality so that his human qualities become a bridge to Christ for others. Through conferences and spiritual direction and with the assistance of other formators, the seminarian will be challenged to let grace transform the parts of his personality that need to become more Christlike. Pastoral formation consists of giving the seminarian opportunities to get involved in parish life, teaching, hospital ministry, and the like. These experiences will help prepare him for the time when he must function as Christ’s priest.
I hope that helps! And if you, or someone you know, feels as though God is calling him to become a priest, then I suggest the first step is to contact his pastor or the diocesan Vocation Director for some guidance.