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dkhp124

What are my chances at PhD admission at Duke or U of Chicago Divinity?

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Hi all,

I'm thinking about applying to Duke (both ThD and PhD), Chicago, and Fuller for a PhD in theology (with an emphasis on theological ethics, political theology, modern theology (19th century European)). I would love to hear feedback from some people with experience regarding my chances for acceptance. I have two major concerns about my credentials, but I'll lay out my profile to provide some context.

  • B.A. in Philosophy from Rutgers University. (GPA 2.0) <-- first major point of concern-- I was NOT in a good place at the time, struggling with depression and probably generally was too immature.
  • M.Div Westminster Theological Seminary (GPA 3.65)
  • M.Th University of Edinburgh (67.5% -- 2:1 honors)
  • According to the Fulbright UK-US Commission, the UK mark conversion to US goes something like this:
    • 65-69 --> 2:1 honors --> 3.7 GPA, 70+ --> 1st Class honors --> 4.0 GPA
    • I received a 70 on my dissertation portion.
    • I had one rogue negative mark (48%) in one of my classes due to severe illness. Without this one class, my cumulative average jumps up to 70% which would have made me eligible for graduation with distinction and 1st class honors.
    • I was also the Postgraduate Taught Masters Programme Student Representative
    • I've received feedback from two professors who know me well, one of whom is a very well established scholar in the field of theology and society/politics (David Fergusson) at UoE and they both said they are happy to write a strong reference for me. Fergusson especially was one of the markers for my dissertation and I also received a 71 in his class.
    • The prof for whose class I received the low mark told me he'd be willing to write a note to explain that my mark would have been significantly higher if not for the late penalty for a paper submitted due to illness.
  • I have presented 2 papers at two separate academic conferences, and I have 1 published book review.
  • I have not yet taken the GRE, but I will be taking it in a week. The Practice Test from ETS PowerPrep marked me at 163V, 151Q and a practice test from Princeton Review at me at 163V, 150Q, 5.5AW. That was from about 2 months ago, and I've been studying aggressively since then to brush up on my math, so I believe both my verbal and my math would see some improvement when I take it next week.
  • I also have, as part of my M.Th degree, a 15,000 word dissertation written.

I've worked hard since finishing my undergrad to make up for my past flaws, but that one negative mark on my Edinburgh record is haunting me. I know that both Duke and Chicago are extremely competitive, so I don't know to what realistic extent I can actually compensate for my undergrad record with my UoE record. The negative mark doesn't help either.

Does anyone with experience at either of these schools have some honest, blunt feedback for how competitive (or not) I'd be as a candidate?

Sorry for the long wall of text and thanks in advance for any feedback you guys can give me!

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The undergrad GPA will be somewhat concerning, but it can be addressed in your SOP (briefly) and your graduate work so far clearly demonstrates that you're not that student anymore. I honestly wouldn't be too concerned about one low mark in a graduate program. My two MA GPAs were 3.89 and 3.7, my BA was 3.17, and I got into an elite school. Thankfully with Ph.D applications, numbers usually tend to count a lot less than more subjective measurements like fit determined by your writing sample and SOP. Your M* GPAs are good enough I think.

Regarding the GRE, I'll say my experience was that I routinely scored slightly higher on my Princeton Review practice tests than the actual GRE. Not sure why that was, and I don't know if that's a common experience. If you were to score exactly what you got on the practice test, you'd be in pretty good shape. A verbal score of 163, while not out of this world, is high enough to be competitive I think, and a 5.5 on AW is definitely good enough.

Aside from those factors, strong letters will definitely go a long way as will a strong writing sample and SOP. It's hard to gauge chances for individual programs without knowing your more specific areas of interest and who you want to work with, but generally, your chances of getting into Fuller will be higher than Duke or Chicago. That said, I'd strongly caution against going to a program that you'll have to pay for (Fuller.) I did my second MA at Fuller and knew many Ph.D students who struggled financially and went into enormous debt for their degree. With job prospects being what they are, that is, in my view, a huge mistake. 

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dkhp -- sounds like you have a very strong application. Temper expectations for Duke and Chicago, of course. (I only say that as a pure generality, not about you specifically -- longshot for anyone and everyone.)

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1 minute ago, Phenomenologist said:

You have to PAY for a PhD at Fuller? Oof

Well, not necessarily. They do have scholarships that cover full tuition.

 

The thing is that, while schools like Duke and Chicago guarantee tuition coverage as a part of their admission conditions, Fuller doesn't. So full funding isn't guaranteed there. Def no stipend.

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Given the metrics you've shared (GRE and GPA), I would say you're a very competitive candidate.

That being said, being competitive does not mean you're a strong candidate for a particular department. As others have already echoed, it all comes down to more subjective factors like "departmental fit" and your research interests. What might help is if you use the SOP as a way to tell your story, incorporating the challenges you've faced along the way (accounting for your undergraduate and graduate shortcomings) with the evolution of your interests over the years, leading up to what you hope to bring to the program you're applying for and the research interventions you will make as a member of that department. As I've heard it said in the business world, show the progress you've made in your weaknesses and it becomes a strength. 

I share this as someone whose undergraduate GPA wasn't stellar (I was a Finance major in undergrad and wasn't all to interested in it as a subject) and whose GRE scores weren't impressive by any means (averaged around 160 on both), yet was accepted into a top-tier program. 

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23 hours ago, marXian said:

It's hard to gauge chances for individual programs without knowing your more specific areas of interest and who you want to work with, but generally, your chances of getting into Fuller will be higher than Duke or Chicago. That said, I'd strongly caution against going to a program that you'll have to pay for (Fuller.) I did my second MA at Fuller and knew many Ph.D students who struggled financially and went into enormous debt for their degree. With job prospects being what they are, that is, in my view, a huge mistake. 

@marXian Thanks for the feedback. I am editing this post to remove possibly disclosing too much about myself on a public forum.

Anyway, my area of interest lies in an exploration of modern theology (more specifically 19th century European theology) and its potential resources for a modern day theology of religions or principles for inter-religious engagement from a particularly Christian perspective.

My dissertation at Edinburgh was on the relationship between a leading Dutch Reformed theologian in the 19th/20th century (Herman Bavinck) and the influence of Hegel to his thought, particularly in the area of the role of religion in the public sphere. Also, the view of the world and the individual as "organism", espoused by theologians like Hegel, Bavinck, Schleiermacher, the Romantics as well as the idealists, as a reaction against the growing mechanistic outlook resulting from the principles of the Enlightenment, has been an area of interest for me for the past few years.

My reason for wanting to study at Duke lies primarily with the prospect of working with Luke Bretherton, who specializes in Christian ethics and religion and society/politics/culture.

My reason for Chicago is primarily because of Kevin Hector and his recent work on The Theological Project of Modernism, as it has identified certain themes in modern theology (such as the conditions of "mineness" that seems to fit well with my interest in the organic perspective) that relates heavily with the ideas I was exploring in my MTh dissertation.

As for what you said about Fuller and the risks of doing a PhD that I have to pay out of pocket for... I absolutely agree with you. I have made contact with two particular people at Fuller who would be a great fit for me, which is primarily why I'm considering Fuller, but the funding will obviously be the deciding factor as to whether I can study there or not.

 

 

Edited by dkhp124

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So just an update to my previous post:

I took the GRE on 11/2 and my scores came out as 170V (99th percentile), 159Q (72nd), 6AWA (99th).

The quant is quite low, but I'm hoping that the verbal and writing would help offset that. Neither Duke nor Chicago provide a clear cut off, but I'm wondering if my quant score would put me below whatever the "unstated" cutoff is. Does anyone with experience at these schools know? Would love some feedback.

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The common wisdom is that the quantitative portion is MUCH less important. I think as long as you didn't flat out fail you're alright, especially with verbal and writing scores like that

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I'll echo what @marXian said. Your percentile ranking is fine in quant. The schools that typically care about quant, only do so because the Graduate school as a whole does.  A Big 12 school I looked at said, the average for the religion program was 60th percentile. I doubt most other schools would have a higher average in their humanities departments. And for cross grad school comparison, most graduate schools have enough math and science MA's to cover those in the humanities that score between the 60th-80th percentile, or even lower. 

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Thanks for the responses. The Duke University PhD enrollment and admission statistics actually has last year's PhD students' average GRE scores as 168V/160Q. With those kinds of scores which are already very high, I'm concerned that getting scores below the average will hurt more than scores above average will help. I've heard from some profs at my previous institution that, at these TT schools, the admission committees are basically looking for any reason to cut students out of consideration and narrow down their pool, so I was hoping to make sure everything I submit, insofar as I have control over it, will be above reproach.

But then again, I've also been coming across a lot of posts recently about how some of these TT schools simply don't care much about the GRE either.. I've had one prof tell me that, with my undergrad grades, unless I score in the 95th percentile or above across the board on the GRE, I won't even be considered in a serious way. On the other hand, I've also had a prof telling me that TT schools "don't give a sh*t" about the GRE. So.. wildly differing opinions on this issue, lol.

With the average statistics of the Duke PhD students, I was beginning to believe that the first prof was actually right in telling me I have to score extremely high on the GRE...

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Per the director of the Ph.D. program at Duke last year, they definitely care about the GRE.  He mentioned it along with recommendations and the SOP as the three things that are most important.   

 

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They may care about the GRE, but I would be surprised if a lower than average Q score outweighed perfect V and AW scores. Not surprised--shocked. If the GRE is that important, then perfect V and AW scores have to matter a lot.

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@marXian

12 minutes ago, marXian said:

They may care about the GRE, but I would be surprised if a lower than average Q score outweighed perfect V and AW scores. Not surprised--shocked. If the GRE is that important, then perfect V and AW scores have to matter a lot.

Exactly what I'm hoping for. I don't know how hyperbolic the professor was, but he was one of the several profs in the UK who did their PhD in a TT American program. He was saying candidly that the competition for these TT school admissions is on a different level than the competition for even schools like Oxbridge. He had mentioned that my undergrad GPA may have already made it a possible waste of time and effort to apply, because so many applicants to these TT US programs apply having already won numerous academic awards or national awards, who have had basically perfect academic records since childhood. He's the one who said I would need basically a perfect GRE score to somewhat offset my undergrad GPA.

The optimist in me has prevailed so I'm applying anyway, but his words are always at the back of my mind!

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On 11/15/2018 at 3:15 PM, dkhp124 said:

@marXian

Exactly what I'm hoping for. I don't know how hyperbolic the professor was, but he was one of the several profs in the UK who did their PhD in a TT American program. He was saying candidly that the competition for these TT school admissions is on a different level than the competition for even schools like Oxbridge. He had mentioned that my undergrad GPA may have already made it a possible waste of time and effort to apply, because so many applicants to these TT US programs apply having already won numerous academic awards or national awards, who have had basically perfect academic records since childhood. He's the one who said I would need basically a perfect GRE score to somewhat offset my undergrad GPA.

The optimist in me has prevailed so I'm applying anyway, but his words are always at the back of my mind!

For most Americans, Oxbridge is just not that competitive. It is very difficult to get full funding as an American there, but what isn't difficult is getting in and even paying for it through US government loans. Every American academic knows this, so they are very skeptical of any American who has a DPhil from basically any non-North American school. And honestly, I can't say I blame them. The few Americans I know who have a DPhil from a well-known European school (including Oxford) just don't seem to be all that well-prepared, academically and professionally, for the US market. They have no teaching experience and their writing is worse than most coming out of even a middling American department.

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