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PonderingPerson400

Harvard Divinity School MTS or Straight to PhD

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Hello, everyone. I am struggling to decide if I should go towards an MTS at schools like Harvard and Yale or go straight into a Ph.D. program. For context, I have a 3.20 cumulative GPA and have done very well in my Philosophy classes. Yet I think that if I go straight into a Ph.D. program, I would be missing out on the education that Divinity school offers. Age matters as well, since I plan to be on the tenure track. Going into a Ph.D. at 22 vs 24 could make a lot of difference in the long run. Since I want to get a Ph.D. in Philosophy, I am wary of how an MTS is seen in the eyes of the Philosophy department's admissions teams. There is the sentiment that if I decline an acceptance from HDS, I would be forfeiting a one in a lifetime opportunity. If any Philosophy PhDs or HDS alums can chime in, I would greatly appreciate it.

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Posted (edited)

You won't get into a reputable PhD program with a 3.2 GPA straight from undergrad and it absolutely won't happen in Philosophy.

If you want a PhD in Philosophy you need to get your MA in Philosophy. If you go the MTS route, be prepared for 1) PhD programs in Philosophy to reject you outright or 2) refer you to their MA program. Philosophy Departments do not like their students having graduate degrees in theology without an MA in Philosophy to go along with it. Some programs don't like students with M* in Theology, no matter how many MAs in Philosophy you pick up. You'll be forever tainted to them.

Apply for every funded, several partially funded, and a few unfunded MA programs that you can afford to send materials to. Unless you just destroy the GRE and/or clutch LORs, you'll ideally land 2-3 acceptances if you apply to 10+ schools with some strategic choices.

I think philosophy applicants still tend to stick to one MA. So, if you produce good solid graduate work, you should count on being closer to 24 when you get accepted into a PhD program. That said, if you don't make it on your first cycle of PhD applications, don't be discouraged! I took a grad course in philosophy and my classmates were almost all later in their 20s and a couple in their 30s - all first and second year students.

Edited by xypathos

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48 minutes ago, xypathos said:

You won't get into a reputable PhD program with a 3.2 GPA straight from undergrad and it absolutely won't happen in Philosophy.

If you want a PhD in Philosophy you need to get your MA in Philosophy. If you go the MTS route, be prepared for 1) PhD programs in Philosophy to reject you outright or 2) refer you to their MA program. Philosophy Departments do not like their students having graduate degrees in theology without an MA in Philosophy to go along with it. Some programs don't like students with M* in Theology, no matter how many MAs in Philosophy you pick up. You'll be forever tainted to them.

Apply for every funded, several partially funded, and a few unfunded MA programs that you can afford to send materials to. Unless you just destroy the GRE and/or clutch LORs, you'll ideally land 2-3 acceptances if you apply to 10+ schools with some strategic choices.

I think philosophy applicants still tend to stick to one MA. So, if you produce good solid graduate work, you should count on being closer to 24 when you get accepted into a PhD program. That said, if you don't make it on your first cycle of PhD applications, don't be discouraged! I took a grad course in philosophy and my classmates were almost all later in their 20s and a couple in their 30s - all first and second year students.

Thanks for the honest feedback. I'm drawn to go towards Divinity School since I feel that it is more of my field that Philosophy, anyway. If I were to graduate from Divinity School (HDS for example) with good grades, what are the chances of getting accepted into a top PhD in Religion? Also, what are your thoughts about HDS as a school?

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Posted (edited)

If you're feeling drawn to divinity school because that's the field of philosophy you want, then you want PhD programs in Religious Studies or Theology that do Philosophy of Religion. For job security and doors that open for you, I'd encourage you to put a preference on Religious Studies. With a RS degree you'll be employable at secular universities, liberal arts colleges, and theological schools. With a degree in theology, you're likely only to find a job at a theological school that's aligned with the theo-political curve of the institution you got the degree from.

HDS is a phenomenal school and its name opens a lot of doors for its students. If you're wanting to do philosophy seriously, you'll need to apply to other schools. Applying to one school sounds like a nightmare.

I don't particularly work within philosophy of religion but I'd suggest you apply broadly: HDS, Chicago (absolutely), Yale Div (not particularly known for their philosophy professors but they're there), Vandy, UTSNYC (Union Theological in NYC), maybe Drew, PTS (Princeton Theological). Syracuse if you're considering applying to non-div schools. I think they only accept like 2-3 students a year and most of them were already quite competitive for the PhD program. That said, they internal apply so a lot of their MA students stay on for a PhD. Others will surely toss out some other names.

If you tell us what you're interested in we can try and encourage specific schools. This isn't as necessary for a MTS, though.

Edited by xypathos

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12 minutes ago, xypathos said:

If you're feeling drawn to divinity school because that's the field of philosophy you want, then you want PhD programs in Religious Studies or Theology that do Philosophy of Religion. For job security and doors that open for you, I'd encourage you to put a preference on Religious Studies. With a RS degree you'll be employable at secular universities, liberal arts colleges, and theological schools. With a degree in theology, you're likely only to find a job at a theological school that's aligned with the theo-political curve of the institution you got the degree from.

HDS is a phenomenal school and its name opens a lot of doors for its students. If you're wanting to do philosophy seriously, you'll need to apply to other schools. Applying to one school sounds like a nightmare.

I don't particularly work within philosophy of religion but I'd suggest you apply broadly: HDS, Chicago (absolutely), Yale Div (not particularly known for their philosophy professors but they're there), Vandy, UTSNYC (Union Theological in NYC), maybe Drew, PTS (Princeton Theological). Syracuse if you're considering applying to non-div schools. I think they only accept like 2-3 students a year and most of them were already quite competitive for the PhD program. That said, they internal apply so a lot of their MA students stay on for a PhD. Others will surely toss out some other names.

If you tell us what you're interested in we can try and encourage specific schools. This isn't as necessary for a MTS, though.

Oh, I apologize I should have been more clear. I actually considered applying to the MDiv to most of the divinity schools that you listed. If I get an MDiv with a concentration in Philosophy of Religion, would that help me when Ph.D. application season in Religion comes along in my final year of the masters? My main interests are Philosophy of Religion. Mythology, and Religious Studies.

 

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An MDiv can prepare you for a PhD if you go to a school that'll help you prepare for it. When at all possible, my advice has been: If you want a PhD, go to a school that grants PhDs. It'll put you around such students, you can take courses with them, and the faculty you're around know how the current Admissions game is played. So many faculty at smaller-medium schools graduated in 1978 and haven't sat on a PhD Admissions Committee their entire career.

Being admitted to a MDiv is easier than a MTS but you have to spend an extra year in school. If you have no interest in serving in ministry, running a non-profit, etc -- think long and hard about doing a MDiv.

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Posted (edited)
22 hours ago, xypathos said:

An MDiv can prepare you for a PhD if you go to a school that'll help you prepare for it. When at all possible, my advice has been: If you want a PhD, go to a school that grants PhDs. It'll put you around such students, you can take courses with them, and the faculty you're around know how the current Admissions game is played. So many faculty at smaller-medium schools graduated in 1978 and haven't sat on a PhD Admissions Committee their entire career.

Being admitted to a MDiv is easier than a MTS but you have to spend an extra year in school. If you have no interest in serving in ministry, running a non-profit, etc -- think long and hard about doing a MDiv.

Gotcha. Just for future reference, do you know of any PhD programs within the humanities that are more receptive or have certain negative basis when it comes to a MTS or Mdiv? Also, how is the acceptance rate of the PhD program at Harvard compared to the MTS or Mdiv? 

Edited by PonderingPerson400

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7 hours ago, PonderingPerson400 said:

Gotcha. Just for future reference, do you know of any PhD programs within the humanities that are more receptive or have certain negative basis when it comes to a MTS or Mdiv? Also, how is the acceptance rate of the PhD program at Harvard compared to the MTS or Mdiv? 

That's not really something I can answer.

So many applicants with a MTS went somewhere like Duke, Yale, Harvard, etc and were able to cater their coursework to their specific field. That's a lot harder to do with a MDiv.

It's why the MST (one year post-MDiv degree, some schools call it something else) is popular. My professional advice, unless you've already got a solid application and (ideally) the MST is at the same institution you did your MDiv and it's a Top Five school - they're a waste of time. You just can't build the rapport with faculty there for it to mean anything and often your grades for your first semester won't post to a transcript before evaluation.

If you're going to do the MDiv, being encouraged to do a second M* is becoming more common. Doing a second M* after a MTS is also becoming more common, just at a slower pace. If you're doing something language heavy and you didn't also do it in undergrad (i.e., Biblical Studies), you're going to do 2-3 M* degrees. I'm exaggerating on the Biblical Studies front but not by a lot.

Go with the degree that feels right at the time. Damn near all institutions allow students to swap between degrees with permission of their advisor and by signing a piece of paper - that's it. Often, barring a denominational scholarship or something, your aid tends to come with you too. We don't advertise this but we're not looking to lock students into a life they've learned isn't for them.

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You might post in the philosophy section, if you haven't already. The expectations, biases, and so on, of fields varies wildly, and often even within the same subfield between schools. Thus, an MDiv may not be all that odd if you are applying to a doctoral program in 'philosophy' at one school, but at another you will immediately be disregarded. Find graduate students doing the kinds of things you want to study and ask them. Be wary of what anyone tells you who is not a) in a doctoral program currently (or has finished within the last few years) and b) not in a (sub)field you see yourself in. 

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@PonderingPerson400 I just finished my Ph.D. in religious studies and my subfields are philosophy of religion/theology/social philosophy. You can PM me if you want some more detail, but let me throw some things out to consider.

First, you ought to look at the kinds of jobs that are out there. Things will almost certainly change by the time you're in my position, which, realistically, could be nearly a decade if you pursue an M* degree before your Ph.D. I took 6+ years, which was the norm for my cohort (we all defended within about two months of each other.) Still, it's helpful to see the kinds of jobs that are out there for someone with an MTS and a Ph.D. with a dissertation broadly in philosophy of religion and/or theology. This is where you want to look: https://academicjobs.wikia.org/wiki/Religious_Studies_and_Theology_2018-2019

I'd recommend anyone thinking about a Ph.D. in RS to look through this year's job opportunities. There were actually a decent number of jobs for people in phil of religion/theology both this year and last year. Here's the thing though: You'll notice how many of these jobs are at Catholic schools. That doesn't preclude non-Catholics from applying to them, but some are very clear that they want someone with an expertise in Catholic systematics/moral theology/social teaching/etc. specifically. Note also that some schools are places like Calvin College and George Fox--both evangelical schools. I only point that out to say that some of these theology/philosophy jobs require a significant amount of finesse if the school happens to be more conservative than you are. I had to spin my dissertation research, which is about the relationship between normativity and history in theology from the perspective of German philosophy of history/religion, for each of these schools I applied to. Finally, you'll note that some of these postings are looking for someone with expertise in African American theology, gender/sexuality, etc. I would strongly recommend adding an emphasis like that to your work to open up those kinds of opportunities. 

Second, tenure track jobs are extremely hard to come by. There is a great deal of luck and chance involved--even more so than Ph.D. admissions. If you think about it, that makes sense. If you've finished a Ph.D. program at a reputable school, chances are you are eminently qualified to take a teaching position at a university. No not everyone's research is world-changing or even good, but it was good enough to earn a Ph.D. which means it's probably pretty good. You could say that at least 90% of people coming out of top programs are more than qualified for a TT job. That's obviously not true for Ph.D. admissions, where anyone who can pay for the application can apply. People who have no business applying to Ph.D. programs do all the time. That's not true of the job market (at least not nearly to as great a degree). The vast majority of people have done the work: they've earned the degree, they've published, they're part of professional organizations in one way or another, they've won major grants, they've done 20+ drafts of all their materials, etc. 

I know people who are brilliant scholars who bounced around from temporary position to temporary position for 5-7 years before finally landing a tenure track job. I'm talking about people who have contributed significantly to the field, published at least one book and multiple articles, sit on editorial boards of journals and steering committees of AAR program units. Even those kinds of people can struggle to find a job. On the other side of the coin, I've known a few colleagues from my program who landed a TT job before even defending their dissertation. They're fine scholars, but nowhere near the caliber of the first group. They just happened across the right job at the right time. 

Because of that, if you're dead set on a Ph.D., back up options for a university teaching job are really important to begin thinking about even now. Normally, I would strongly recommend against an MDiv, simply because you have to do a lot of "fluff" that likely isn't going to be relevant to your academic work. BUT if you are already firmly committed to a denomination and could see yourself going into ministry as an alternative to a TT job, then I would actually do the MDiv. While I can't exactly say that I regret not pursuing an MDiv, I do kinda wish I had that in my back pocket right now because I think it would make me a more attractive candidate to churches and would open more options for the kinds of church jobs I could apply to. For example, I'm unlikely to land a solo pastor gig somewhere unless it's a nondenominational church that doesn't care about an MDiv. But I'm also very unlikely to be considered by a nondenominational church since they tend to be hyper conservative and somewhat anti-intellectual. They're going to look upon someone with two MAs and a PhD from a "secular" school with extreme suspicion. So the MDiv would really be helpful because a lot of more liberal denominations want to hire people who are willing to pursue ordination, which I probably can't do because I don't have an MDiv.

That isn't to say that ministry is the only backup option. I've been applying to a wide range of jobs that have nothing to do with ministry. So in an ideal world, I would say doing an MTS or, perhaps better, an MA in Chicago's philosophy of religion program (or Yale's MARc) is going to give you the best leg up for getting into a Ph.D. program in religious studies to do something philosophy of religion related.

Like I said, feel free to PM me if you have any follow up questions.

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On 6/17/2019 at 10:37 PM, PonderingPerson400 said:

Hello, everyone. I am struggling to decide if I should go towards an MTS at schools like Harvard and Yale or go straight into a Ph.D. program. For context, I have a 3.20 cumulative GPA and have done very well in my Philosophy classes. Yet I think that if I go straight into a Ph.D. program, I would be missing out on the education that Divinity school offers. Age matters as well, since I plan to be on the tenure track. Going into a Ph.D. at 22 vs 24 could make a lot of difference in the long run. Since I want to get a Ph.D. in Philosophy, I am wary of how an MTS is seen in the eyes of the Philosophy department's admissions teams. There is the sentiment that if I decline an acceptance from HDS, I would be forfeiting a one in a lifetime opportunity. If any Philosophy PhDs or HDS alums can chime in, I would greatly appreciate it.

To be honest, I think your GPA will make it difficult to go straight to a PhD program. Also, if your goal is to get into philosophy PhD, then consider philosophy MA's, not an MTS. If you are open to doing a PhD in religious studies with a specialization in philosophy of X [i.e. Islamic philosophy] , then MTS is a good idea.

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