Right – the idea is that, at this point, you’re all fired up about being a Catholic, but since the priesthood is a lifetime commitment, the Church wants to make sure that it’s not primarily emotion that’s driving your discernment experience at this point.
I still want to get the same Priestly education.
As others have noted, the academic portion of formation includes the study of philosophy and theology. (Typically, if you enter seminary without a bachelor’s degree, you’d study four years for a BA in Philosophy. If you enter with a bachelor’s degree, you’d typically spend two years, and would study philosophy (either at the bachelors or perhaps masters level). During this time, you’d be a seminarian at a “minor seminary.” Following that experience, if you and the diocese have discerned that you’'ll continue your formation, you’ll enroll in a “major seminary”, for another four years of formation. The academic portion of that formation will include studies for a graduate degree in theology. The particular degree varies – it might be an MA in Theology, or an MDiv, or an STB.)
However, academic work is only one of four parts of formation. The USCCB has defined what formation programs in the U.S. must accomplish; their document The Program of Priestly Formation might be interesting reading for you, and will help you understand the process a bit better.
As I understand it, a theology degree from a Catholic university would be accepted by a Catholic seminary, and if I did become a Priest (or a Deacon), I could simply transfer over my theology degree from the Catholic university and skip that portion of Seminary entirely (or almost entirely).
Perhaps, but that doesn’t mean that it would shorten the formation process. Generally speaking, you’d still be in seminary for the same length of time, whether or not you enter with your philosophy and/or theology work already completed. I know of priests who entered with some of their degrees already complete – and they just took additional academic work or completed different or advanced degrees while in seminary.
And so regardless of where I eventually end up, it seems most logical to me that I just get a jump start on the whole process.
Fair enough. Just don’t presuppose that you’d be shortening the process of discernment and formation by getting a degree in philosophy or theology; you might end up disappointed.