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Does one year (ThM/STM) advanced theology degree help in PhD admissions


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Hi I am new to the Forum. I have been perusing the boards for a while and decided to join recently.

I am currently applying for ThM and STM programs. I have received acceptance to one of the programs. My interest is in NT studies.

I am wondering how much (if at all) will this one year degree help me to get into a Ph.D program?

And what can I do in the program in order to strengthen my application?

Is there a preference between ThM and STM? I know that the general understanding is that ThM is more research oriented. However it seems like most of the ThM and STM programs are one year, 24 credit programs.

Should I wait until I complete my one year program to apply for PhD or should I apply while I am in the program? (If I join Fall 2010 for thm/stm, could I apply for Fall 2011 for PhD? I know that the advantage of waiting would be that I could get recommendations from professors who taught me for more than one semester.)

Best wishes to everyone applying this year. I am really new to the whole process and would appreciate any advice.


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Well, in my understanding it all depends. If current weaknesses/holes in your record include lack of coursework or less than stellar grades, then a Th.M./S.T.M can definitely help if you do really well. I think this is especially true if you do it at a top program, or at a program more highly regarded than your master's school. You demonstrate your academic ability, perhaps even get a reference from a distinguished person there, which all works to your benefit. Also, I think the Th.M. can be especially useful if you apply to that school's doctoral program; you are already on the inside and can develop helpful connections (though of course there are no guarantees!).

If, on the other hand, your record is weak in the area of GRE's, for example, but you have plenty of coursework and a high GPA already, I'm not sure the ThM will add significantly or get you over the hump. Your time might be better spent shoring up other aspects of your record.

So, will a ThM help you with doctoral admissions? It might, or might not, depending on your current record, where you perceive the holes in your record to be, and, of course, how well you do at that program.

If it were me (assuming you choose to do the program), I'd recommend doing as well as possible in the fall semester, and applying that fall for programs, though I know others may disagree. But again, this depends on the current strengths and weaknesses of your record. If you feel like you're very close to being competitive at the doctoral level but just need a few more courses, you can probably move more quickly than if you feel like you need to reinvent yourself in your ThM.

The bottom line for me is, know exactly why you want to do this program, what weaknesses admissions committees might see in your record, and proceed with specific goals in mind of addressing those issues.

Best of luck!

Edited by kalnds
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Also, what kind of shape are your Greek and Hebrew in? A solid grounding in both is typically necessary to be competitive for NT programs. If you think you might come up short, it might be worth spending a year of intensive language training after completing the ThM/STM before applying for Ph.Ds.

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I'm doing a ThM in NT right now, and for me it was the right move. I didn't have any ground to make up - that's not the only reason to enroll in one. I've been taking nothing but PhD seminars for three terms, and I think it has given me a lot of perspective, really helped me define what I want to do after. I've been taking mainly methods seminars (one general one, one in social science approaches to biblical studies, one in cultural studies [postcolonial theory, critical race theory, gender theory, lgbtq approaches], and one in imperial critical approaches), so that has been the difference for me.

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I can't see how a ThM/STM would be a bad thing in preparing for Ph.D work, so long as the courses you take are directly relevant to NT studies. I would agree that language training is crucially important for biblical studies. Greek and Hebrew are pretty much a prerequisite for advanced coursework, and even if you have a couple of years of them, rapid-reading classes both develop your skills more and familiarize you with more biblical texts. But if it's a year where you take one or two bible classes and then the rest in theology...that won't hurt, but I'm not sure it will help but so much.

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Thanks for the responses...All of them were helpful.

Here is my background :

I did my undergrad in Engineering from a top US school. I also dabbled in some religion courses there. I went to a denominational seminary (outside US). At the seminary I studied Greek and Syriac. I only have a basic introduction to Hebrew. Greek - moderate proficiency (1 year language course followed by 3 NT courses with exegetical work from Greek). Syriac - moderate proficiency (3 years language course followed by a certificate course after seminary.)

So I guess use this upcoming one year program to study Hebrew, strengthen Biblical Languages, take upper level courses in Biblical Studies.

Thanks for the responses.

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The answer to your title is an absolute, unequivocal "yes." I can't think of any way in which a ThM/STM would hurt your chances unless it's that the year you applied for THM was the year you should have applied to PHD (the timing is often as important as anything else). I can't comment much on an STM, but a THM shows advanced coursework, often at the PHD course level and is an excellent way to (1) show your commitment to advanced study and (2) further hone your knowledge of the subject area. Obviously apply for both, but if you are not accepted to Ph.D. but do get into Th.M. (and can afford it) accept.

The bottom line is that this is a VERY tight time for PhD applicants because of decreased funding from the economic fallout, and the smallest thing can be the difference between being accepted and waitlisted/rejected (or being accepted at 75% tuition vs 100% & stipend). Between two comparable candidates, all other things being equal*, the student with an advanced masters is likely to "win out" every single time. Again, this is not to say you need a ThM/STM to get into PhD, but it most certainly increases your competitiveness in tight situations.

*There are thousands of factors that could "be equal" of course ;)

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