The Associateship or Associate of King's College (AKC) award was the degree-equivalent qualification of King's College London from 1833. It is the original qualification that King's awarded to its students. In current practice, it is an optional award that students can study in addition to their degree proper. According to the Department of Theology & Religious Studies, the Associateship is considered a degree based in the Department of Theology & Religious Studies. After successfully completing the AKC course, participants may apply to be elected by the Dean's office as Associates, whereafter they are permitted to use the post-nominal letters AKC along with their main qualification. Since 1909, only students registered for a University of London degree at King's have normally been allowed to study for the associateship. The three-year course involves weekly lectures concerning theology, ethics and philosophy. At the discretion of the Dean, some postgraduates, and medical/dental students who do not intercalate, are allowed to compress the programme into two years. All members of staff at King's may study for the AKC as a free-standing qualification. From 2015, King's alumni—who in their student days opted out of the AKC study—can now study for the programme via distance learning. Registered students/alumni/staff take an annual assessment. Successfully passing all the exams for three years (subject to specific exceptions e.g. students studying abroad for part of their degree programme) will entitle the students to wear an epitoge on their academic dress during their graduation exercises. After graduating from King's, students/alumni who succeed in the AKC exams will be eligible to be elected as Associates of King's College. Staff who also succeed in the AKC will likewise be eligible for election.