The MA in religion is similar to any standard Master's Degree in the humanities. It is an academic degree and requires 36 credit hours of study, a major thesis, and oral examinations.
The MDiv is a much more intensive degree in that it requires 81 credit hours. The MDiv is considered a professional degree in that it has a lot more "practical" classes (applied theology). This is the standard degree required for pastors. Rather than a thesis, this degree requires a full year of field work.
For me, the MA seems to make sense. I would prefer an academic degree on my resume and it reflects what I'm doing in a more honest way. I am studying religion academically and I am interested in writing...
However, I am also interested in taking a lot of the classes ESR has to offer. I want to take all the history classes, several of the Quaker classes, counseling classes (marriage and family), bible classes, greek classes, writing classes...you get my point. The MDiv degree allows me a lot more room to take a lot more classes. And because of the emphasis system, where we choose from several emphases: pastoral care and counseling, pastoral ministry, peace and justice, spirituality, teaching, unprogrammed friends ministry, and writing, I can focus on the things I'm interested in studying academically and avoid the training to become a pastor.
Another piece is financial. The full scholarship offered to most students covers two years for MDiv students and one year for MA students. This means, that I would lose my scholarship next year if I switched. That's a big financial hit.
So...even though I would prefer an MA on my resume, at this point I am planning to continue in the MDiv program. I've learned that people in the writing emphasis have been doing major writing projects as their field work, which adds a good twist for me. It would allow me to do a major written work similar to a thesis, but give me freedom to be more creative.
In May I'm taking a two week intensive class designed to help us choose our emphases. So, I'm sure I will be much more clear then. One can only hope!