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rejectedndejected

Another "Stats Needed for PhD Admissions" Query

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Hi all.  I am really quite confused about PhD admissions.  I've heard various things from various people--everyone has their own theory on what AdComms are looking for.

Do any decent PhD programs accept applicants with limited language training (1 yr Latin/1 yr German)?  No B.S.: What GRE scores are "safe" for top programs in theology/religion?  I have a 164V/156Q/4.5.  Should I retake, or is this a waste of time?  Obviously my MA theology gpa is stellar (because prettymuch everyone applying for PhD programs has stellar grades...3.95ish).  I have a TAship this semester, but no publications.  Am I S.O.L. for all TT programs?

 

Edited by rejectedndejected
Clarity

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4.5 for writing is not safe. It might get you through some cutoffs, but one prof (who was on the adcom at Yale) suggested I retake the GRE to bump up my 5 to at least a 5.5 (I didn't, and still got in). I think at least a 5 is safe.

In terms of language training, it depends on your field. Latin isn't essential for NT programs (though it helps), and I don't know of any programs that expect more than a year of German. 

Numbers won't make or break your application though. The most important things are your personal statement, writing sample, and fit with the program.

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12 minutes ago, Hopeless_Academic said:

4.5 for writing is not safe. It might get you through some cutoffs, but one prof (who was on the adcom at Yale) suggested I retake the GRE to bump up my 5 to at least a 5.5 (I didn't, and still got in). I think at least a 5 is safe.

In terms of language training, it depends on your field. Latin isn't essential for NT programs (though it helps), and I don't know of any programs that expect more than a year of German. 

Numbers won't make or break your application though. The most important things are your personal statement, writing sample, and fit with the program.

Thanks for the quick reply.  Is 164 Verbal considered "safe"?  Does TAing help an application, or are schools generally indifferent to it?  Many schools say 4.5 is their cutoff.  Also, I've seen many schools that simply say they don't care about the writing at all.  Is this generally not the case, in your experience?  Perhaps it's a "Yale" thing?

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GRE scores simply keep you in the running. Rarely are they the deciding factors. A 164 should be fine. I would try for at least a 5.0 in writing, and yes some schools care about it. Really, the higher the scores the better. 

What will set you apart is your writing sample, statement of purpose, and letters of recommendation. Those are the most important pieces.

The parts with numbers are good for grad school comparison and rankings. The other pieces determine your ability to produce scholarly work, what scholars think of you, and program fit. 

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I tell people that the numbers are "necessary but not sufficient" to get in. All the numbers (i.e. generally 90% on verbal, 5 on writing, good GPA) do is get you past some initial cutoffs . From there its the pieces others have mentioned above: fit, recommendations, etc.

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We need more information about your interests. "Religion/theology" covers basically everything; having 1 year of Latin would be overkill for some programs and utterly insufficient for others. 

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4 minutes ago, sacklunch said:

We need more information about your interests. "Religion/theology" covers basically everything; having 1 year of Latin would be overkill for some programs and utterly insufficient for others. 

I would like to do liturgical studies at Catholic University/Notre Dame/Marquette (although Marquette doesn't have a fixed LS program).  Is one year of ancient and one year of a modern considered decent for programs in general?

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3 hours ago, rejectedndejected said:

I would like to do liturgical studies at Catholic University/Notre Dame/Marquette (although Marquette doesn't have a fixed LS program).  Is one year of ancient and one year of a modern considered decent for programs in general?

No. 

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13 hours ago, rejectedndejected said:

I would like to do liturgical studies at Catholic University/Notre Dame/Marquette (although Marquette doesn't have a fixed LS program).  Is one year of ancient and one year of a modern considered decent for programs in general?

A year of Latin might be enough for Marquette's program, but CUA and ND are heavy on languages. For liturgical studies, you'll be stacked up against candidates who went to Catholic school and did Latin for most of their primary and secondary schooling. They knew they wanted to do something in Religious Studies, so they took Latin in college and grad school. In the least, they have several years of Latin on their transcript. It isn't unheard of for liturgical studies applicants to have a year or two of Greek or Syriac as well. 

 

3 minutes ago, rejectedndejected said:

So then, am I precluded from the aforementioned programs?  Is it even worth applying?

Ultimately, the process is far more subjective than anyone ever let's on. It happens all the time that an applicant with minimal language training gets into top programs. It also happens that students with just a BA get into top doctoral programs. After all, the US program is built with 2 years of coursework before exams in part to beef up your languages before the dissertation phase. As for the GRE, yours is probably good enough for any program to admit you if they want you. The TA position isn't likely going to help or hurt your application. In short, I'd apply if you have the money and are fully aware of the incredibly slim chances of getting in.

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31 minutes ago, turktheman said:

A year of Latin might be enough for Marquette's program, but CUA and ND are heavy on languages. For liturgical studies, you'll be stacked up against candidates who went to Catholic school and did Latin for most of their primary and secondary schooling. They knew they wanted to do something in Religious Studies, so they took Latin in college and grad school. In the least, they have several years of Latin on their transcript. It isn't unheard of for liturgical studies applicants to have a year or two of Greek or Syriac as well. 

 

Ultimately, the process is far more subjective than anyone ever let's on. It happens all the time that an applicant with minimal language training gets into top programs. It also happens that students with just a BA get into top doctoral programs. After all, the US program is built with 2 years of coursework before exams in part to beef up your languages before the dissertation phase. As for the GRE, yours is probably good enough for any program to admit you if they want you. The TA position isn't likely going to help or hurt your application. In short, I'd apply if you have the money and are fully aware of the incredibly slim chances of getting in.

Then how do I go about getting in to a PhD program? Do I really need to sit around for 2 years post M* degree doing language 101?  Aren't there some programs that provide integrated language remediation?  Is there a practical path forward at all?

Edited by rejectedndejected

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45 minutes ago, rejectedndejected said:

Then how do I go about getting in to a PhD program? Do I really need to sit around for 2 years post M* degree doing language 101?  Aren't there some programs that provide integrated language remediation?  Is there a practical path forward at all?

You have options. Attend the Summer Language Institute at U of Chicago. Go get a second MA, this time in classics. Apply to an MTS program for a second degree.  If you study on your own, work on a writing sample that demonstrates you ability in languages. I know this seems frustrating and a long time to wait, but as the job market shrinks, so do PhD cohorts, and the level of the accepted applicant rises well above the baseline admission stats.

For many who have not been preparing for this path since they were in undergrad, it can take two MA's or the like to get enough classes and language acquisition to be competitive in PhD applications. Also, if you have not yet contacted a POI at your prospective schools, do so. If you have a project they see value in, they may be able to help you over one hump in the application process. However, you cannot always hope for this. Get inside information from students who have been accepted to the programs you want to apply to on what they had to do to get in. 

Also, it takes a lot of qualified applicants multiple years to get into programs. Have backup plans in place. Every year you need to be able to significantly improve your application. Learn new languages, present at conferences, network, etc. Does this suck? Yeah. But a lot of us, until we got into the place you are, were not confronted with the reality of the current academic climate. There's no shame is deciding this isn't for you. But if you want to stick with this, you have to realize how difficult it is to get in, how meager the job prospects really are, and how taxing the whole process can be. Then you get to it and keep going at it. 

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2 hours ago, rejectedndejected said:

Then how do I go about getting in to a PhD program? Do I really need to sit around for 2 years post M* degree doing language 101?  Aren't there some programs that provide integrated language remediation?  Is there a practical path forward at all?

I'd look around online for student profiles to the programs you mentioned. See if you can come across CVs or something. You might find that your portfolio stacks up with some of the previously admitted students. You shouldn't need 2 years of intensive language preparation to be in liturgical studies (this is probably my woefully ignorant opinion).  If there's weight placed on your musical talent, then that might be of more importance than advanced Latin. I realize there's probably all types of emphasis in these programs from liturgical praxis, liturgical theology, liturgical history, etc.  If what you are wanting to do is work on the development of western liturgical traditions, then the case for Latin becomes greater.

The best bet for answering your question is to find profiles of admitted students or to e-mail the department's admission's secretary to inquire about "fit."  I'd ask how important language is for your desired program. There's no one size fits all even within programs. The same program could admit someone with hardly any language prep one year and another year admit someone with eight languages.

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In short, no, one year of Latin is far from enough. Re a couple points made above. No MA in Classics will accept you, since basically all of them in the US require advanced proficiency in Greek or Latin and intermediate in the other (though you might look at 'ancient history' programs). A post-bacc in Classics is your only real option outside of religious studies/theology programs. And yes, if you expect to get into a decent doctoral program in that field, you are going to spend most of said MA in intro/intermediate language classes. There is no practical option here because academia is anything but practical. Catholic University has a great program, but many of its doctoral students are paying (through loans) for it, so that's something to consider (i.e. they might accept you, but expect you to take on 100k+ to get a degree that, in this job market, may not get you any job you want, unless you enjoy adjucting and making poverty wages). As someone else mentioned, many people in this field have two M* degrees; and I'll add that some of us even have two M* despite the fact that we had decent language exposure in undergrad. I'm not saying this is the norm, but it is not uncommon, which means at places like Notre Dame you are going to be applying against applicants who have been studying Latin and/or Greek since undergrad or even high school, through two M*, putting them a solid number of years beyond you.

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49 minutes ago, sacklunch said:

In short, no, one year of Latin is far from enough. Re a couple points made above. No MA in Classics will accept you, since basically all of them in the US require advanced proficiency in Greek or Latin and intermediate in the other (though you might look at 'ancient history' programs). A post-bacc in Classics is your only real option outside of religious studies/theology programs. And yes, if you expect to get into a decent doctoral program in that field, you are going to spend most of said MA in intro/intermediate language classes. There is no practical option here because academia is anything but practical. Catholic University has a great program, but many of its doctoral students are paying (through loans) for it, so that's something to consider (i.e. they might accept you, but expect you to take on 100k+ to get a degree that, in this job market, may not get you any job you want, unless you enjoy adjucting and making poverty wages). As someone else mentioned, many people in this field have two M* degrees; and I'll add that some of us even have two M* despite the fact that we had decent language exposure in undergrad. I'm not saying this is the norm, but it is not uncommon, which means at places like Notre Dame you are going to be applying against applicants who have been studying Latin and/or Greek since undergrad or even high school, through two M*, putting them a solid number of years beyond you.

Yikes.  Thanks for the candor.  So what amount of language training (and in which languages) IS sufficient for top tier theology admissions?  

For those of us who haven't known that we wanted to be theologians since the time we were mere gleams in our fathers' eyes, how on earth is it feasible to take the necessary steps to groom ourselves for doctoral work?!

Sacklunch, would you mind PMing where you are dissertating/were accepted?  If not, I understand.  Maybe you are at a place that is more rigorous in language expectations... It seems that secular and Protestant Universities are more stringent on language standards, although perhaps I'm wrong. 

Edited by rejectedndejected

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Hey there,

 

I notice there are lots of bible folks weighing in on this thread. I’m (roughly speaking) a biblical studies person, too, and I can tell you that our subfield is heavily driven by language skills. In the majority of (legitimate) biblical studies PhD programs, a successful applicant will have several years in the languages relevant to their interest.

 

That might not be the case for you, however. We don’t know what you’re interested in studying. If, for example, you want to study the development of the eucharist in the second century, then yes; you’d need a lot of Greek and latin and should probably know Hebrew and maybe Coptic for good measure. But if you want to study post-Vatican II liturgy in Western Europe, for example, you shouldn’t waste your time in antiquity. You’d probably need Latin then some modern European languages. This is to say that your question doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all answer.

 

Typically, PhD programs across the subfields want you to be Abel to read modern scholarship from Europe, which means learning German and French in most cases. But if you want to study middle-english prayer books or the Russian Orthodox hymnal or some other thing, your language needs are going to change. Maybe you want to study architecture and your language needs are minimal at this stage.

 

We can give you better advice if you can be more clear about the work you want to do.

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Welp, looks like I spoke too soon. I don’t know anything about that from a modern perspective. If you’re trying to do a constructive, theological project for the benefit of the Church, I imagine your language needs will be largely Latin, German, and French (the first because you’d be working with Catholic documents, and the latter two because they’re the assumed - for better or worse - standard languages of academic study alongside English).

 

Getting back to your initial post a bit, your GRE scores are probably fine if you’re strong elsewhere. Work on your personal statement so much that you have it nearly memorized. Show it to faculty and colleagues regularly. Make sure your writing sample showcases your abilities as a writer and solid thinker. Make sure you’ve got good recommendation letters. Reach out to friends already in PhD programs in your field and ask for their advice. Apply broadly. Vote tomorrow (this has nothing to do with applications but you should still do it).

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2 hours ago, rejectedndejected said:

Yikes.  Thanks for the candor.  So what amount of language training (and in which languages) IS sufficient for top tier theology admissions?  

For those of us who haven't known that we wanted to be theologians since the time we were mere gleams in our fathers' eyes, how on earth is it feasible to take the necessary steps to groom ourselves for doctoral work?!

Sacklunch, would you mind PMing where you are dissertating/were accepted?  If not, I understand.  Maybe you are at a place that is more rigorous in language expectations... It seems that secular and Protestant Universities are more stringent on language standards, although perhaps I'm wrong. 

It really depends on the subfield. Given your stated interests, I am not the right person to say. You need to look at the backgrounds of students at programs of interest. This will be your best guide. On that note, take any recommendation here with a certain amount of suspicion, even from those of us who are currently in doctoral programs. What's expected varies so much from one subfield to another. 

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My sense from other Theology/Philosophy folks (and even some Biblical Studies folks) is that not having languages does not disqualify a candidate. They might expect you to draw up a plan on your personal statement on how you will address the lack of language skills, but having it also doesn't make you a strong candidate either. 

With regard to your GRE scores, I would say a 164 Verbal is pretty good and should already establish you as a viable candidate. Professors who review your file and select students seem to rely heavily on how a candidate would "fit" into their department, and "fit" seems to come down to

1. how well your research interests align with other professors in the department/area of focus (and not just your advisor)

2. how open do you seem to be molded/challenged by your advisors (or are you already too wedded to your proposed dissertation topic?

3. do you have the basic tools to be a scholar in your field/sub-field (if you're doing history for example, have you worked with primary sources? can you show that you know how to analyze one through a religious-historical lens?)

Most programs seem to want students who are already aware of the types of questions scholars are asking and finding ways to contribute to the discussions that are already ongoing within religion departments. If your personal statement doesn't reflect an understanding of the disciplinary tradition you're entering into, then it'll be difficult to make a case for how you might be a strong fit for a religion department. 

If you really want to prepare for the next round, talk to others who are already in the program. Ask them what they're researching. Attend conferences and get a sense/feel for the types of questions people are asking. And also (this helped me as well), don't be afraid to ask your professors straight up: what's a good thing for me to research if I want to get into a PhD program and am interested in this thing?

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Does being a good "fit" mean wanting to dissertate on a matter that is exactly the same as or closely related to what a POI is currently researching?  Professors have broad ranges of expertise.  They can have a multifaceted research outlook, right.  Perhaps someone could kindly explain better what is meant by "fit."  Does it mean they just really think I have a swell face and a winning personality?  

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13 hours ago, rejectedndejected said:

Does being a good "fit" mean wanting to dissertate on a matter that is exactly the same as or closely related to what a POI is currently researching?  Professors have broad ranges of expertise.  They can have a multifaceted research outlook, right.  Perhaps someone could kindly explain better what is meant by "fit."  Does it mean they just really think I have a swell face and a winning personality?  

Again, this really depends on the faculty member, but for a lot of programs, if they think your project sounds really interesting and promising and they think that there is at least a combination of faculty who can support it, you have a shot. There are, of course, advisors out there who want to produce clones. But by and large I think many faculty are happy to supervise projects they think are really interesting even if those projects are only adjacent to their own interests. 

Fit can also depend on who else an adcom is considering for your cohort. I remember being told in my second or third year that part of the reason I was admitted along with two other students in my cohort is because the three of us were all roughly interested in similar periods of German philosophy/theology, but they do Jewish philosophy/theology, and I do Protestant and social theory. The adcom, I guess, thought we could benefit each other by coming in together and going through the program together. (And they were right!)

That's a really specific and somewhat arbitrary way to judge fit--but it speaks to the arbitrariness of this process. There's no magic bullet. Sometimes you just have to be applying to the right place at the right time. And I know that the job market is likely the furthest thing from your mind right now (it was for me when I was applying) but the level of arbitrariness just gets worse. At this level (both Ph.D and job applications) nearly everyone has merited enough to deserve a place in a program. All the things people are suggesting in this thread? More applicants than there are spaces in programs have done those things and more. Sure, there are people who have absolutely no business applying to top Ph.D programs. But the majority who are have done enough to earn a spot on merit alone. This is even more true for the job market. I would say 99.9% of job applicants have merited enough to deserve a job. If you've been admitted to a program, gone through the whole thing, and are on the verge of defending your dissertation, you have done enough to earn a job. But there's more! Publications? Yep. Conference presentations? Probably more than the applicant can remember. Grant wins? Yes. But everyone who is up for the same jobs likely has all of that too. And there really is no way to know for sure what it is that puts one over the top for a given job. You send an application out into the void and just hope that something clicks with at least one hiring committee because, usually, everyone applying has revised their letters dozens of times, refined writing samples, research and teaching statements, diversity statements, statements of faith in some cases, etc. and usually in such a way that they've hit all the buzzwords, all the eye-catching turns of phrase, all the things that are supposed to get the attention of a hiring committee. But whether or not they do really is almost completely arbitrary.

I know that's depressing. But it's the reality of the academe at just about every stage of one's career (since the same arbitrariness applies to the grants and fellowships one tries to win as a faculty member.)

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Thanks for the great and thoughtful response.  That actually goes a long way in demystifying the process somewhat.  One thing you said intrigued me (and it could be a whole thread in and of itself) and elaborating on this could actually enlighten quite a few lurkers:

What applicants would you consider as falling into the class of "People who have absolutely no business applying to top PhD programs"?

I would like to think that such applicants make up a significant portion of the applicant pool, since the idea of competing against 200+ applicants whose credentials > or = to my credentials is truly horrifying. 

I also would like to make sure that I could not fairly be numbered among said class of peeps...

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1 hour ago, rejectedndejected said:

What applicants would you consider as falling into the class of "People who have absolutely no business applying to top PhD programs"?

Based on what you've said, you don't fall into this class. I mean people applying with just a BA, a below 3.0 GPA, and bad GREs. Or maybe someone who just slapped an application together from scratch days before a deadline with no editing at all let alone polishing. Maybe someone who only has a BA and an MDiv from a school like Liberty but is applying to TT PhD programs.

It really depends on the subfield too, especially for language preparation as others have already said. In Biblical Studies, if I had a BA from Harvard with a high GPA and good GRE scores but absolutely no formal language training, I would have no business applying to top Biblical Studies programs. There's just no way I would get in. In my field (theology/phil of religion, broadly speaking) things are different. I had very little language training before being admitted (1 semester of German from 4 years before my application, 1 semester of Italian from almost 10 years before.) But I was admitted, and the department just expected me to figure it out (I passed the German and French language exams in my second year.) It's less of a concern the more modern your period of study. If I'd wanted to work on any figure from the 18th century or earlier, I would've needed Latin--but again, my advisor was willing to let me pick that up as I was doing my other coursework.

So when you say "liturgical studies," it really depends on both the period and the methodology. A colleague of mine from my department wrote her dissertation on the history of the change in the Mass liturgy from Latin to English in the U.S. during the 20th century, focused mostly on working class communities. She did not learn Latin to write that dissertation let alone need it to be admitted to the program. But she's also a historian, not a text scholar. Two modern research languages was enough to satisfy her advisor. 

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On 11/7/2018 at 5:28 PM, rejectedndejected said:

What applicants would you consider as falling into the class of "People who have absolutely no business applying to top PhD programs"?

I would like to think that such applicants make up a significant portion of the applicant pool, since the idea of competing against 200+ applicants whose credentials > or = to my credentials is truly horrifying. 

I also would like to make sure that I could not fairly be numbered among said class of peeps...

At the base-level, having a strong Master's-level GPA and good GRE scores is important. Undergraduate GPA might not be too important. I had a barely 3.0 undergraduate GPA (granted it was in a completely different discipline and I accounted for this low GPA in my personal statement) and was able to get into a top-tiered PhD program.

In my first year of applications, I was rejected from all schools I applied to (even low-tiered seminary PhD programs that offered no funding). Second-round, I got interviews at half the schools I applied to (about 12) and was accepted into four strong programs. One of my advisors at my current program mentioned that she remembered my application from the previous year and said that I was simply lacking the research skills to succeed in the program. And that was me having near-perfect Master's level GPA and strong recommendations from my professors.

So from my experience, not even having the research skills already placed me in the "People who have absolutely no business applying to top PhD programs" as exemplified by me not getting any interviews/acceptances, even from no-stipend seminary programs. I want to say most people are probably really qualified by certain metrics (GPA/GRE scores-wise), but the range of "people who have absolutely no business applying to top PhD programs" extends well into how equipped someone is to do PhD-level work in their particular discipline, familiarity with methodology, and their knowledge of the scholarship that's already there. 

 

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