One must normally have an M.Div. or an M.A. in a religious or theological field before being admitted to study for the S.T.M. The S.T.M. typically is designed to enhance a student’s academic credentials for entrance to a doctoral program or as a way of furthering theological education for ordained ministers.
S.T.M. degrees are typically awarded after having completed thirty hours of study at the Master’s level beyond that required for the first professional degree. In some programs this degree may be awarded solely on the basis of taught academic courses. However, many S.T.M. programs require or permit the student to write a thesis as a part of the degree requirements. The thesis is especially helpful for those individuals who wish to use the S.T.M. to further their qualifications for doctoral study and who did not complete a thesis or major research project as a part of the first professional degree. Some seminaries will also credit part of the work done for the S.T.M. towards a student moving on to the D.Min. degree once the S.T.M. has been awarded.
In Roman Catholic universities with pontifical charters, the equivalent is the Licentiate in Sacred Theology (S.T.L.), the intermediate degree between the S.T.B. (bachelor's) and S.T.D. (doctorate). The S.T.L. is an additional two years of study beyond that required for the S.T.B.
Another related academic degree in theology is the Master of Theology (M.Th. or Th.M.). The M.Th. and the S.T.M. differ in that the former places more emphasis on the academic study of theology while the later (usually) places emphasis on pastoral and practical aspects of theology.
In addition, the title "Sacrae Theologiae Magister" (S.T.M.) or "Master of Sacred Theology" is also the name given to an honorary title bestowed by the Roman Catholic Order of Preachers (the Dominicans) on its most distinguished scholars. Thus it is not a "master's degree" in the traditional sense, but more like an honorary doctorate. The recipient must be a full-time professor for ten years and have published books and articles of international scholarly repute. The initial nomination is made by the friar's own province (local distrinct) and then must be approved by the intellectual commission of the Generalate in Rome. The final decision is then made, after review, by the Master of this Order and his council. The regalia of the S.T.M. is a four-finned biretta trimmed with bishop's purple and a ring.