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PhD Applications Fall 2019 Season

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parakletos, that was really kind of you to post your experience. I completely agree with the SOP and fit factors. I have lower stats and less impressive grades than you and many other top applicants but I am currently interviewing with a top PhD program because they said they were impressed with my SOP and that my goals were a perfect fit with theirs. And it wasn't pure chance: I spent two months researching the university's mission, goals, faculty, and even grad students (I read all the doctoral student CVs on the website) before deciding to apply. I also have languages, work experience, and international experience, which this particular university values much more than pure numbers, and I knew that before applying. Stats are important, but not everything. If you have the calling to be a theologian or religion professor, there is a program out there for you!  Take a good, long, holistic look at yourself and give it your best. 

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Hey all. I wanted to echo what a few other folks have said because the tone is shifting overall towards this weird quasi-entitled bitterness that I don't think is super healthy. This is my fourth round of applications and I'd be one of those candidates that you'd probably consider spotless. I have two master's degrees, a M.Div from a small div school and a MA from a well-respected research university. I have excellent GRE scores (98th percentile verbal, 99th written). I have publications under my belt and AAR presentations. I have strong letters of recommendation and a good writing sample. I have four research languages. I've been interviewed every year I've applied, including this year (Emory this last weekend, so I'm still in the anxiously waiting to find out stage). But for whatever reason, I've never been the one admitted. That's not because of my ability or my materials or whatever. There's so many factors that go into a PhD acceptance beyond the application materials. Your specific project may not fit with what they're looking for this time. It may be a certain faculty member's turn to get a student whose research and expertise doesn't fit with what you're doing. They may have an internal candidate who they really want. It's important to remember that the application materials are the first step in an insanely nuanced and competitive journey, and getting bitter with admissions committees really is a pretty fruitless endeavor. In my experience, they really are trying to find the best fit for their particular strengths as a program.

EDIT: Also important to remember is that your specific discipline is also just step one in the acceptance process, too. Often the larger department and then the graduate school itself also has a say in acceptances based on a variety of factors.

Edited by tdwightdavis

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9 hours ago, theofan said:

parakletos, that was really kind of you to post your experience. I completely agree with the SOP and fit factors. I have lower stats and less impressive grades than you and many other top applicants but I am currently interviewing with a top PhD program because they said they were impressed with my SOP and that my goals were a perfect fit with theirs. And it wasn't pure chance: I spent two months researching the university's mission, goals, faculty, and even grad students (I read all the doctoral student CVs on the website) before deciding to apply. I also have languages, work experience, and international experience, which this particular university values much more than pure numbers, and I knew that before applying. Stats are important, but not everything. If you have the calling to be a theologian or religion professor, there is a program out there for you!  Take a good, long, holistic look at yourself and give it your best. 

Perhaps I was being too cynical.  Actually hearing that parakletos didn't get a single interview in his first cycle, even with sterling numbers, confirms that grad schools may not be purely blowing smoke when they speak of "fit" and "holistic" review.  The problem now becomes, for those of us with middling-yet-plausible GRE scores (164V/4.5AW) and crappy uGPA but flawless gGPA, determining whether we are being relegated to the trashbin based on uncompetitive numbers or because our SOP suggests a poor fit.  It's harder for us to know when it is time to throw in the towel.  I don't want to be that one weird old guy enrolled at every grad school that no one can figure out exactly why he is there...

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27 minutes ago, tdwightdavis said:

Hey all. I wanted to echo what a few other folks have said because the tone is shifting overall towards this weird quasi-entitled bitterness that I don't think is super healthy. This is my fourth round of applications and I'd be one of those candidates that you'd probably consider spotless. I have two master's degrees, a M.Div from a small div school and a MA from a well-respected research university. I have excellent GRE scores (98th percentile verbal, 99th written). I have publications under my belt and AAR presentations. I have strong letters of recommendation and a good writing sample. I have four research languages. I've been interviewed every year I've applied, including this year (Emory this last weekend, so I'm still in the anxiously waiting to find out stage). But for whatever reason, I've never been the one admitted. That's not because of my ability or my materials or whatever. There's so many factors that go into a PhD acceptance beyond the application materials. Your specific project may not fit with what they're looking for this time. It may be a certain faculty member's turn to get a student whose research and expertise doesn't fit with what you're doing. They may have an internal candidate who they really want. It's important to remember that the application materials are the first step in an insanely nuanced and competitive journey, and getting bitter with admissions committees really is a pretty fruitless endeavor. In my experience, they really are trying to find the best fit for their particular strengths as a program.

EDIT: Also important to remember is that your specific discipline is also just step one in the acceptance process, too. Often the larger department and then the graduate school itself also has a say in acceptances based on a variety of factors.

Just a little steering here: I think a lot of the bitterness comes from the fact that (1) grad schools charge absurd amounts just for (often cash-strapped) applicants to have the privilege of having their materials considered, promising "holistic" review, when most often for top programs, there are articulable GRE and GPA cutoffs; (2) schools are generally very, very tardy in communicating rejections to unsuccessful applicants (decisions are made in late February, but rejections go out in late March/early April) despite the fact that everyone knows that applicants are waiting with a good amount of anxiety, counting down minutes; (3) programs don't even do us the courtesy of mailing out tangible letters of rejection--most are electronic and often you aren't notified that there has been a change in your application status; you just log in to check one day and a soul-crushing epistle is staring you in the face; (4) many programs just seem like they couldn't care less about professionalism and politeness in responding to applicant questions: SLU got my name wrong in their correspondence with me (lol); yet, if heaven forbid, my CV had a simple typo on it, according to some ad comm members, it would have been discarded.  Parity anyone?  No one is "entitled."  We know we aren't guaranteed a spot in a doctoral program.  But it'd be nice to be treated like a human with dignity, as opposed to a mere collection of soulless papers in an application file.

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2 hours ago, rejectedndejected said:

Just a little steering here: I think a lot of the bitterness comes from the fact that (1) grad schools charge absurd amounts just for (often cash-strapped) applicants to have the privilege of having their materials considered, promising "holistic" review, when most often for top programs, there are articulable GRE and GPA cutoffs; (2) schools are generally very, very tardy in communicating rejections to unsuccessful applicants (decisions are made in late February, but rejections go out in late March/early April) despite the fact that everyone knows that applicants are waiting with a good amount of anxiety, counting down minutes; (3) programs don't even do us the courtesy of mailing out tangible letters of rejection--most are electronic and often you aren't notified that there has been a change in your application status; you just log in to check one day and a soul-crushing epistle is staring you in the face; (4) many programs just seem like they couldn't care less about professionalism and politeness in responding to applicant questions: SLU got my name wrong in their correspondence with me (lol); yet, if heaven forbid, my CV had a simple typo on it, according to some ad comm members, it would have been discarded.  Parity anyone?  No one is "entitled."  We know we aren't guaranteed a spot in a doctoral program.  But it'd be nice to be treated like a human with dignity, as opposed to a mere collection of soulless papers in an application file.

Just because a program has made an offer does not mean that the offer has been accepted. Programs are under no obligation to inform students of decisions until April 15, just as students are under no obligation to accept or reject an offer until April 15. Yes, the waiting is hard. Like I said, this is the fourth time in five years that I’ve played this game. I’m intimately acquainted with the anxiety of application season. But it’s also just part of it. There’s not a lack of dignity in getting an e-mail over a paper rejection (and, honestly, it’s preferred considering how quickly we’re sending our planet to its death). There’s not a lack of dignity in programs waiting until the explicitly stated deadline to send official notifications of rejection. 

As far as financial concerns go, that’s very real. But did you try to get any of your fees waived? I was able to get 4 out of 6 of mine waived based on demonstrated financial need. There are ways around that as well. 

All I’m saying is that this is all part of it and very little of it is actually stripping anyone of their dignity. And, honestly, it’s going to be part of it moving forward if a life in academia is what you’re after. The job market is even more brutal than this and there’s a very real lack of dignity in contingent faculty jobs. 

I get that emotions are high. I’ve been rejected around 21 times at this point, not taking into account the rejections I already got this round. So really, I get it.

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On 2/9/2019 at 7:48 PM, rejectedndejected said:

I know this is a PhD forum, but did anyone here apply to Harvard or Yale's divinity schools?  Does anyone know how they typically assess applicants for their MTS/MAR programs?  How many apps do they usually get?  What GRE scores does HDS typically smile upon?  I know their MDiv degrees aren't terribly competitive, but I get the impression that the MTS programs are quite difficult to get in to....

Last year or so HDS' GRE scores for M* applicants was leaked and I shared it here, I think (maybe it was the Reddit sub, I'll check). They were holding an admissions event in China to recruit wealthy students and GRE scores were on some staff material that was left laying around. Through a friend of a friend a screenshot got forwarded to me. In short, GRE V scores for M* students is/was in the mid to high 150s from what I recall. Q scores are largely ignored unless you're interested in something rather analytical or heavy interests in philosophy. Writing scores are rather important but I can't recall what their guidelines were.

MAR/MTS applications are more competitive but not by a huge margin. YDS' was sitting in the 40s, admitted wise, last time I made any hard checks. Chicago admits about 12 for their MDiv, which seems like it would mean significant competition but as the Director once told me - on a heavy year they get 20 applications. Not that long ago they maintained a near 100% acceptance rate. Then again, applicants to elite M* programs in Religion tend to be self-selecting and there's a bit of a poor perception of them (I can't afford it, I'm not smart enough to get in, don't have the pedigree, etc...) among applicants. In reality, they tend to be well funded, not that competitive, and they favor more whole-person analysis than their respective UG schools.

Edited by xypathos

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1 hour ago, KingsGambit said:

What do y'all do to relax when you're waiting for application decisions?  Is it wine by the box?  Playing a bunch of sports?  Eating too much?  TV binges?

Way too many movies and video games. 

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1 hour ago, KingsGambit said:

What do y'all do to relax when you're waiting for application decisions?  Is it wine by the box?  Playing a bunch of sports?  Eating too much?  TV binges?

I used to be a touring musician before I embarked on my graduate education, so I typically play, write, and record music in my downtime to take my mind off things. It’s very therapeutic.

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14 hours ago, xypathos said:

Last year or so HDS' GRE scores for M* applicants was leaked and I shared it here, I think (maybe it was the Reddit sub, I'll check). They were holding an admissions event in China to recruit wealthy students and GRE scores were on some staff material that was left laying around. Through a friend of a friend a screenshot got forwarded to me. In short, GRE V scores for M* students is/was in the mid to high 150s from what I recall. Q scores are largely ignored unless you're interested in something rather analytical or heavy interests in philosophy. Writing scores are rather important but I can't recall what their guidelines were.

MAR/MTS applications are more competitive but not by a huge margin. YDS' was sitting in the 40s, admitted wise, last time I made any hard checks. Chicago admits about 12 for their MDiv, which seems like it would mean significant competition but as the Director once told me - on a heavy year they get 20 applications. Not that long ago they maintained a near 100% acceptance rate. Then again, applicants to elite M* programs in Religion tend to be self-selecting and there's a bit of a poor perception of them (I can't afford it, I'm not smart enough to get in, don't have the pedigree, etc...) among applicants. In reality, they tend to be well funded, not that competitive, and they favor more whole-person analysis than their respective UG schools.

Thanks for this.  Do you guys all apply to second M* degree programs as safeties, in the event that you strike out on PhDs?  I have it on good counsel that second M* degrees are quite common prior to PhD work, and yet I'm not getting any younger and I don't want the stigma of "too many degrees" if there be such a thing.

Also, where would you put the median age for an individual entering a religion PhD program?  I would bet it's significantly higher than the national average because of the language study that is prerequisite. 

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20 hours ago, KingsGambit said:

What do y'all do to relax when you're waiting for application decisions?  Is it wine by the box?  Playing a bunch of sports?  Eating too much?  TV binges?

Translating the hell out of my native language into English so I can get some ca$h. It really helps me to get the anxiety out because I enjoy translating.

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20 hours ago, KingsGambit said:

What do y'all do to relax when you're waiting for application decisions?  Is it wine by the box?  Playing a bunch of sports?  Eating too much?  TV binges?

Grinding it out in parish ministry and denominational responsibilities, and trying to watch a little NCAA basketball.  

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6 hours ago, rejectedndejected said:

Thanks for this.  Do you guys all apply to second M* degree programs as safeties, in the event that you strike out on PhDs?  I have it on good counsel that second M* degrees are quite common prior to PhD work, and yet I'm not getting any younger and I don't want the stigma of "too many degrees" if there be such a thing.

Also, where would you put the median age for an individual entering a religion PhD program?  I would bet it's significantly higher than the national average because of the language study that is prerequisite. 

Re your question about having too many degrees: So far as I have noticed, a number of academics in our generation are taking 3–4 years of masters-level coursework before pursuing a doctorate in religious studies. Even among a number of well-established faculty in the field, having a second master's is not unheard of (and by "second master's" I don't mean an MA that is awarded to Ph.D. students who reach ABD status). I imagine that having all the more research experience (and in my case language experience) can only help you with the admissions process and, ultimately, your marketability as a professor to religion departments upon graduation. 

Re your question about median age range for admitted students: It varies somewhat. But, in my estimation, applicants tend to be in their 20–30's. For example, two colleagues of mine got into their respective programs two years ago; one was 29 and the other 24. Another colleague got into a different program just last year; they were in their mid-late 30's. Coming into this application cycle, I will be 27. For me at least, language prep did factor in somewhat to how long I have been in school so far, but this is not the case for everyone. You also have to consider the prereqs of different religion programs and departments, life events that might impact one's decision to continue their education, and so on. We are all hiking the trails of academia at our own pace.

If it will be useful, I will use some of my experience as an example. Last spring I was finishing up the second and final year of my first master's program (Hebrew Bible), and I was faced with a question that no aspiring academic wants to ask themselves: What do I do when all of my prospective schools have rejected my application? So, I sought some advice from a few mentors and they all steered me toward applying for a Master of Sacred Theology (known by its acronym, STM). Very few schools offer this degree or one like it. Often times it is offered by top-tier divinity schools. I applied to the STM programs at YDS and BU-STH. I got into BU-STH.

Now an STM is essentially a one-year master's degree where you can take all manner of upper-level graduate courses. The important thing, at least for BU, is that a majority of these courses have to be relevant to your program focus (or major) and have to be taken at the university. A cool thing about BU is that it is part of a consortium of other graduate universities and seminaries across the Greater Boston area. This way, you have access to a wide range of course offerings from a variety of different institutions. Taking advantage of this opportunity, I studied Akkadian at Harvard NELC, took a doctoral seminar on the Minor Prophets at BC, and a seminar on ancient Jewish wisdom literature at HDS. To finish up the program, you can either take the standard final comprehensive exam or write a thesis. I opted to write a thesis for various reasons. From my experience so far, the STM program at BU is super flexible and will allow you to use your credit hours and program resources as best you see fit. 

In this year's application cycle, I bring to my file a full transcript from my first master's degree, a fall transcript for my second master's, another year of different ancient languages under my belt, and more coursework in areas of biblical studies with which I am unfamiliar. Compared to last year, my application looks a lot stronger, and as a result, I was fortunate enough to receive an offer from a top-tier program earlier in the month. Though I also received a rejection from a program I really wanted to get into and am still waiting to hear back from some other programs, I would not be in this position without this STM program. So, for a backup option, I highly recommend an STM. 

Edited by Nihilisticromantic

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21 hours ago, KingsGambit said:

What do y'all do to relax when you're waiting for application decisions?  Is it wine by the box?  Playing a bunch of sports?  Eating too much?  TV binges?

I'm also a fan of video games, habitual user of Reddit, and a rather prolific baker. Really I just do sourdoughs and things with sourdough starters (pretzels, pizza, cinnamon rolls, etc). I've developed a solid following at the local farmers' market and word of mouth.

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52 minutes ago, CartesianDemon said:

Rejection from SMU. But acceptance from Baylor. Anybody hear about results from the Emory interviews?

I was told in my interview that it would probably be at least 10 days from then (Fri. the 8th) before they send acceptances. So probably nothing till at least next Monday, at least for theological studies. 

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56 minutes ago, CartesianDemon said:

Rejection from SMU. But acceptance from Baylor. Anybody hear about results from the Emory interviews?

Congrats! That's big! 

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2 hours ago, EarlyXianity said:

Congrats! That's big! 

Seriously--congratulations.  Does Baylor interview?  Did you have any hunch/inclination that you were going to get in?  I can only imagine what it feels like to open a letter of acceptance.  Has to be cathartic and surreal. 

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2 minutes ago, rejectedndejected said:

Seriously--congratulations.  Does Baylor interview?  Did you have any hunch/inclination that you were going to get in?  I can only imagine what it feels like to open a letter of acceptance.  Has to be cathartic and surreal. 

Interview weekend was last weekend. Typically Baylor notifies their chosen candidates fairly quickly after interview weekend and starts sending out wait list notifications around this time too.  

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@rejectedndejected I don't know if this helps, but regarding the courtesy of sending a paper rejection, getting your name right, etc: All grant/fellowship rejections I've had have been via email, if they email at all. And I'd say I've only been notified of rejection from maybe 40-50% of the TT jobs I've applied for. Most of the time those applications go into the void, and they are a lot more work than grad school applications were. For one job I applied to last year, I received a rejection letter, which was very kindly worded, but was addressed to me and someone else--another scholar whom I actually knew through acquaintance at AAR. The committee sent it to both me and him. The chair of the committee wrote back the next day and apologized profusely.

All that to say, think of this experience as good preparation for the rest off academia! Job apps and fellowship/grant apps are exactly the same way. Everything has to be perfect, and you have no clue how your stack up or why you're being rejected. None.

Edited by marXian

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