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NTGal

advice for NT PhD apps?

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Hi everyone!

I am finishing up a ThM this year at an evangelical seminary (despite the general reputation to the contrary, my school is rigorous academically and we have students matriculating in top tier PhD programs every year). In addition to two evangelical schools, I am applying to Duke and PTS, which I always knew were long shots. However, after taking the GRE yesterday, I feel absolutely dejected because I only scored 161 on verbal (quant was 164). I might reapply next year, but I'm giving it my best shot this year with a fight to the death, lol. Also, I am wondering if there are any second tier programs that I can still apply to. I would have applied to Baylor, but their deadline was today and by the time I found out there was no way I could have made the deadline. 

Any thoughts and advice on anything related to apps would be greatly appreciated!

I think a few strengths would be that I taught Greek at my seminary for two years, have worked as a research assistant and TA for multiple professors and will have glowing LORs, and also have a very diverse background (I studied science in undergrad, got a masters in business school, and worked in business for a few years before going to seminary). PhD programs like seeing a broad, interdisciplinary background, right? 

Downsides would obviously be my low GRE verbal score. Also, my MDiv GPA was only 3.78. However, I have a 4.0 in my ThM and that includes a few PhD seminars that I received special permission to take as a non-doctoral student. My business masters GPA was only a 3.42, and my undergrad GPA was an atrocious 2.96. However, neither of those degrees was related to biblical studies...I was studying things I didn't want to be studying and trying to do my best. I hope that programs would look at my good grades from masters programs related to the PhD field rather than completely unrelated degrees, but I realize that regardless of the field, low GPAs look bad. I probably should explain them on the SOP, but how do I explain without sounding like I'm just making excuses?  

Again, any thoughts or advice would be greatly appreciated! Thanks! 

Edited by NTGal

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I'm applying for the second time for the ThD at Duke (Systematics, not NT though so YMMV). Just providing a datapoint for Duke.

I have an MS/PhD in a science discipline and was briefly a professor and chaplain at an EMEA campus of an R1 US university. I also have an M.Div (cum laude, not that anyone cares) from an evangelical seminary. My GRE was 170/170, and I have 5 years working in finance and 10 in tech. My LoRs were good, but not stellar.

I didn't get a second look from Duke.

There is a bit of a special circumstance, as I had selected Huetter as my PoI and he stealth left Duke before my application cycle during the recent Catholic faculty bloodbath (oops!), but still. I took one cycle off to write a paper that I presented at SBL and that is in submission to JBL, found another PoI and established a relationship with him (he's writing a supplementary LoR/LoS), completely rewrote my personal statement, and got a couple of new recommenders who are writing much stronger statements, including a MacArthur Fellow with whom I worked.

I'm still not confident.

Duke had a lot of internal admits from the ThM, which means that in effect external candidates are competing for fewer spots. 100% of the current students with whom I have conferred came through the ThM, some of them after being punted down after a doctoral application. And for those vanishingly few spots, while they're looking for interdisciplinary people, a cursory reading of abstracts from the PhD and ThD dissertations over the last ten years indicates that "interdisciplinary" means "social sciences and nothing else." The impression I get from speaking with students is that if you're in the general pool (i.e. not with a PoI who already really wants to work with you), the first-cut criteria used to desk reject or move you to the next round are not really flexible - GPA, GRE, research track record. In your case the last two are mutable, and while there's not really a downside other than the application fee for applying this year, it would probably be worth it to improve those two in order to stand a fighting chance for a Duke admit.

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kenshiro, thanks for sharing about your background and experience! i know that it's almost impossible to get into Duke and I wasn't expecting it even before getting my GRE score (i was aware that they reject tons of people with perfect scores)...but everybody can have a "shoot for the moon" school, right?  :)

I would think I have a slightly better chance at PTS, but they seem to mainly admit their own masters students as well...I'm trying hard to see if there are any programs I'd be interested in that I have a better chance of getting into, hence the question about second tier schools still taking applications. Where else have you applied or are you applying? What is your second choice after Duke?

 

9 minutes ago, kenshiro said:

-

I'm applying for the second time for the ThD at Duke (Systematics, not NT though so YMMV). Just providing a datapoint for Duke.

I have an MS/PhD in a science discipline and was briefly a professor and chaplain at an EMEA campus of an R1 US university. I also have an M.Div (cum laude, not that anyone cares) from an evangelical seminary. My GRE was 170/170, and I have 5 years working in finance and 10 in tech. My LoRs were good, but not stellar.

I didn't get a second look from Duke.

There is a bit of a special circumstance, as I had selected Huetter as my PoI and he stealth left Duke before my application cycle during the recent Catholic faculty bloodbath (oops!), but still. I took one cycle off to write a paper that I presented at SBL and that is in submission to JBL, found another PoI and established a relationship with him (he's writing a supplementary LoR/LoS), completely rewrote my personal statement, and got a couple of new recommenders who are writing much stronger statements, including a MacArthur Fellow with whom I worked.

I'm still not confident.

Duke had a lot of internal admits from the ThM, which means that in effect external candidates are competing for fewer spots. 100% of the current students with whom I have conferred came through the ThM, some of them after being punted down after a doctoral application. And for those vanishingly few spots, while they're looking for interdisciplinary people, a cursory reading of abstracts from the PhD and ThD dissertations over the last ten years indicates that "interdisciplinary" means "social sciences and nothing else." The impression I get from speaking with students is that if you're in the general pool (i.e. not with a PoI who already really wants to work with you), the first-cut criteria used to desk reject or move you to the next round are not really flexible - GPA, GRE, research track record. In your case the last two are mutable, and while there's not really a downside other than the application fee for applying this year, it would probably be worth it to improve those two in order to stand a fighting chance for a Duke admit.

 

Edited by NTGal

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17 hours ago, NTGal said:

kenshiro, thanks for sharing about your background and experience! i know that it's almost impossible to get into Duke and I wasn't expecting it even before getting my GRE score (i was aware that they reject tons of people with perfect scores)...but everybody can have a "shoot for the moon" school, right?  :)

I would think I have a slightly better chance at PTS, but they seem to mainly admit their own masters students as well...I'm trying hard to see if there are any programs I'd be interested in that I have a better chance of getting into, hence the question about second tier schools still taking applications. Where else have you applied or are you applying? What is your second choice after Duke?

Yes, everyone should have a moonshot school. The issue for me is that my partner and I live in Durham (I am the second body in a two-body academic problem) so in systematics, it's Duke or bust.

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1 hour ago, kenshiro said:

Yes, everyone should have a moonshot school. The issue for me is that my partner and I live in Durham (I am the second body in a two-body academic problem) so in systematics, it's Duke or bust.

 

kenshiro, I hope you get in!!

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17 hours ago, NTGal said:

kenshiro, I hope you get in!!

Thanks! 😃

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On 12/1/2019 at 9:22 PM, NTGal said:

I am finishing up a ThM this year at an evangelical seminary (despite the general reputation to the contrary, my school is rigorous academically and we have students matriculating in top tier PhD programs every year). 

Evangelical schools certainly can place students in TT US PhD programs, esp. places like Fuller, Wheaton, and sometimes TEDS. And your choice of Duke (div or gdr?) and PTS makes good sense. I don't know if you've considered other programs, but I'd consider it if you have the extra cash for apps. 

You have some strengths for sure. Seminars can be a boon to an application, esp in LOR. Hopefully you can have a professor who taught a seminar or two write on your behalf. I would not over emphasize teaching Greek in your SOP. Mention it if you have some reason to think the program you are applying to would value that, and if you do, mention your student evaluations if you did well (and presumably have them). 

I personally would not dwell long on your previous non-biblical studies work. Talk about your interests and your preparation for doctoral work: critical theories you work in, topics that you've taken up in course work, areas you want to focus on, language prep, etc. Apologizing for previous academic experience will not be the best way to spend your precious word cap. 

For GRE, Duke does weigh scores heavily, perhaps more than most others. I'm not sure about PTS. In the end, if the program wants you, they will take you--poor GRE included. I know a few people over the years who earned only slightly in the mid-80s percentile on verbal and abysmally on the analytical section yet got into TT programs because that student fit objective and subject criteria the program was looking for. The process can be a crapshoot.

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1 hour ago, turktheman said:

Evangelical schools certainly can place students in TT US PhD programs, esp. places like Fuller, Wheaton, and sometimes TEDS. And your choice of Duke (div or gdr?) and PTS makes good sense. I don't know if you've considered other programs, but I'd consider it if you have the extra cash for apps. 

You have some strengths for sure. Seminars can be a boon to an application, esp in LOR. Hopefully you can have a professor who taught a seminar or two write on your behalf. I would not over emphasize teaching Greek in your SOP. Mention it if you have some reason to think the program you are applying to would value that, and if you do, mention your student evaluations if you did well (and presumably have them). 

I personally would not dwell long on your previous non-biblical studies work. Talk about your interests and your preparation for doctoral work: critical theories you work in, topics that you've taken up in course work, areas you want to focus on, language prep, etc. Apologizing for previous academic experience will not be the best way to spend your precious word cap. 

For GRE, Duke does weigh scores heavily, perhaps more than most others. I'm not sure about PTS. In the end, if the program wants you, they will take you--poor GRE included. I know a few people over the years who earned only slightly in the mid-80s percentile on verbal and abysmally on the analytical section yet got into TT programs because that student fit objective and subject criteria the program was looking for. The process can be a crapshoot.

Turkman, thank you so much for the helpful response!

I definitely want to apply for more programs but I'm not sure where I should apply to, which is why I was asking for suggestions in the OP.  Right now my programs are either guaranteed or almost no chance, and I would like to apply to some programs in between...Baylor would have been great as a middle-of-the-road option (and they have some NT scholars whose work I love), but their deadline was Dec 1. Do you have any suggestions for other programs I should consider? 

I have had the privilege of being able to interact closely and work as RA/TA for multiple profs, and I am thankful to have very enthusiastic LOR writers. 

Thanks for the suggestion to not dwell on teaching or apologizing for previous academic experience. I was definitely inclined to dwell on the latter...and 1,000 words would have been used up before I knew it. I am glad to know that, although it happens rarely, it is possible to get into a TT school with lower scores. I will put all my efforts into showing them why I would be a good fit for them, haha. 

Based on your profile info, I assume you are currently in an NT PhD program? If so, where?

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46 minutes ago, NTGal said:

Turkman, thank you so much for the helpful response!

I definitely want to apply for more programs but I'm not sure where I should apply to, which is why I was asking for suggestions in the OP.  Right now my programs are either guaranteed or almost no chance, and I would like to apply to some programs in between...Baylor would have been great as a middle-of-the-road option (and they have some NT scholars whose work I love), but their deadline was Dec 1. Do you have any suggestions for other programs I should consider? 

I have had the privilege of being able to interact closely and work as RA/TA for multiple profs, and I am thankful to have very enthusiastic LOR writers. 

Thanks for the suggestion to not dwell on teaching or apologizing for previous academic experience. I was definitely inclined to dwell on the latter...and 1,000 words would have been used up before I knew it. I am glad to know that, although it happens rarely, it is possible to get into a TT school with lower scores. I will put all my efforts into showing them why I would be a good fit for them, haha. 

Based on your profile info, I assume you are currently in an NT PhD program? If so, where?

Baylor's early deadline is tough. I am sorry if you had mentioned wanting to have suggestions for programs. I skim too lightly. I would apply to Vanderbilt (who apparently is taking NT students again), Notre Dame (I think their application is in January), Marquette, UT Austin, and maybe to University of Virginia and Emory. These schools are vastly different in faculty strengths and student profiles. Depending on what you would like to do, some of these would be a waste. UT Austin is not a place to do constructive theology in the guise of biblical studies. The same is mostly true for UVa and maybe Vanderbilt (have checked in on thier program in years). Notre Dame is a wild card: all things to all people. Marquette would be a great place for that, but not great for critical race theory or historical criticism or the like. We all talk about fit, and this is mostly what is meant: will your academic interests align with faculty strengths and other student profiles. Now, sometimes people get into every program despite these differences and despite their (mis)aligned interests--that's why doctoral admissions is ultimately subjective with a good mixture of department politics. The other factor is the pool of applicants. It seems pretty dead in gradcafe. Usually people are anxiously chatting in early October about profiles, programs, and strategies. Perhaps there are less applicants out there, which if true might help everyone who is applying.

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1 hour ago, turktheman said:

Baylor's early deadline is tough. I am sorry if you had mentioned wanting to have suggestions for programs. I skim too lightly. I would apply to Vanderbilt (who apparently is taking NT students again), Notre Dame (I think their application is in January), Marquette, UT Austin, and maybe to University of Virginia and Emory. These schools are vastly different in faculty strengths and student profiles. Depending on what you would like to do, some of these would be a waste. UT Austin is not a place to do constructive theology in the guise of biblical studies. The same is mostly true for UVa and maybe Vanderbilt (have checked in on thier program in years). Notre Dame is a wild card: all things to all people. Marquette would be a great place for that, but not great for critical race theory or historical criticism or the like. We all talk about fit, and this is mostly what is meant: will your academic interests align with faculty strengths and other student profiles. Now, sometimes people get into every program despite these differences and despite their (mis)aligned interests--that's why doctoral admissions is ultimately subjective with a good mixture of department politics. The other factor is the pool of applicants. It seems pretty dead in gradcafe. Usually people are anxiously chatting in early October about profiles, programs, and strategies. Perhaps there are less applicants out there, which if true might help everyone who is applying.

 

Thanks for the suggestions! I will look into those schools. I am also surprised at how dead it is in this forum...if it means there are fewer appllicants...well, I need all the help I can get!

Are you currently in a program, or are you applying again this year? If the latter, where are you applying and in what field?

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12 hours ago, turktheman said:

These schools are vastly different in faculty strengths and student profiles. Depending on what you would like to do, some of these would be a waste.

This comment is spot on. It's really hard to offer advice about where to apply without knowing more about your specific interests, NTGal. Tell us more about what you envision working on.

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On 12/4/2019 at 12:25 AM, turktheman said:

Baylor's early deadline is tough. I am sorry if you had mentioned wanting to have suggestions for programs. I skim too lightly. I would apply to Vanderbilt (who apparently is taking NT students again), Notre Dame (I think their application is in January), Marquette, UT Austin, and maybe to University of Virginia and Emory. These schools are vastly different in faculty strengths and student profiles. Depending on what you would like to do, some of these would be a waste. UT Austin is not a place to do constructive theology in the guise of biblical studies. The same is mostly true for UVa and maybe Vanderbilt (have checked in on thier program in years). Notre Dame is a wild card: all things to all people. Marquette would be a great place for that, but not great for critical race theory or historical criticism or the like. We all talk about fit, and this is mostly what is meant: will your academic interests align with faculty strengths and other student profiles. Now, sometimes people get into every program despite these differences and despite their (mis)aligned interests--that's why doctoral admissions is ultimately subjective with a good mixture of department politics. The other factor is the pool of applicants. It seems pretty dead in gradcafe. Usually people are anxiously chatting in early October about profiles, programs, and strategies. Perhaps there are less applicants out there, which if true might help everyone who is applying.

I will chime in here and just note that successful applicants in NT and related fields over the past 6 years or so (since I've been in a doctoral program, at Duke) seem to have changed quite a bit. There are certain prerequisites that remain essential, mostly languages, but honestly in NT this is less and less of an issue, I think. A smattering of NT Greek (a very small subset of koine, I should note) can be enough, if you have other non-traditional interests that align with faculty interests. For better or worse, as many fields in the humanities become more interdisciplinary (among other trends), the old requirements are giving way to new ones, ones that better align with the interests of young(ish) faculty hires. Now, this shift will certainly help certain people applying to RS departments who have those 'non-traditional' interests; but the Grad cafe is, so far as I can tell, populated by far more 'traditionalists', e.g. certain subfields of biblical studies (philologically oriented ones). This trend, if I am seeing things at all clearly (others at my stage or beyond please chime in to correct me), will also hurt the traditionalists once they graduate and are on the market for a professorship, since universities are hiring less and less scholars doing traditional research (though they are hiring less overall, too!). Hopefully I'm wrong. Anyways, to anyone undergoing doctoral admissions this season, I hope you're hanging in there. It will all be okay, eventually. You are more than your application.

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We're seeing this at my school as well. Classically trained biblical studies PhD grads are sitting on the market longer and longer, while those with unique interests - disability studies and NT and had a grad in May that did a NT interpretation of transhumanist philosophy. Both of the latter had multiple TT offers, those with a more classical approach equipping them to teach NT and maybe Paul are all headed for one year visiting positions.

It's anecdotal but its caused a lot of tension among the older faculty as they're getting less inquiries from prospective students, and general fear that they're going to be "pushed out."

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Good to hear it's not all in my head. Even though I probably count as one of those traditionalists (at least for most hiring committees), I welcome these changes.

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18 hours ago, sacklunch said:

I will chime in here and just note that successful applicants in NT and related fields over the past 6 years or so (since I've been in a doctoral program, at Duke) seem to have changed quite a bit. There are certain prerequisites that remain essential, mostly languages, but honestly in NT this is less and less of an issue, I think. A smattering of NT Greek (a very small subset of koine, I should note) can be enough, if you have other non-traditional interests that align with faculty interests. For better or worse, as many fields in the humanities become more interdisciplinary (among other trends), the old requirements are giving way to new ones, ones that better align with the interests of young(ish) faculty hires. Now, this shift will certainly help certain people applying to RS departments who have those 'non-traditional' interests; but the Grad cafe is, so far as I can tell, populated by far more 'traditionalists', e.g. certain subfields of biblical studies (philologically oriented ones). This trend, if I am seeing things at all clearly (others at my stage or beyond please chime in to correct me), will also hurt the traditionalists once they graduate and are on the market for a professorship, since universities are hiring less and less scholars doing traditional research (though they are hiring less overall, too!). Hopefully I'm wrong. Anyways, to anyone undergoing doctoral admissions this season, I hope you're hanging in there. It will all be okay, eventually. You are more than your application.

This definitely seems to be true, even of more traditional programs like Yale, which used to require extensive knowledge of classical Greek for NT students but now seems to have lowered their Greek requirements. It's a shame, really, since I don't think "non-traditional interests" should mean lowering the bar on things like language requirements. This does mean that classically trained students shouldn't assume that their extensive language skills will make that much of a difference for NT programs.

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My field is contemporary theology, more or less. I just want to put that out there as I'm biased and slightly outside the circle that my biblical studies friends circulate in but ... I just don't think languages are that important. There I said it! ☠️

Obviously if you're doing something hyper focused on Syriac Christianity but these are exceptions. My classmates have 6+ semesters of Greek, 2-4 of Hebrew, and then some specialized languages. If you add in students with multiple MAs, you're looking at double those numbers! Yet, they've all eventually come to the realization that despite the academy drilling the importance of languages and Adcoms wanting years of it -- they largely haven't used any skills they didn't acquire by the 2-3rd semester. They wasted time solely pursuing languages when they should've been pursuing tangential interests to their field.

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5 hours ago, Epaphroditus said:

This definitely seems to be true, even of more traditional programs like Yale, which used to require extensive knowledge of classical Greek for NT students but now seems to have lowered their Greek requirements. It's a shame, really, since I don't think "non-traditional interests" should mean lowering the bar on things like language requirements. This does mean that classically trained students shouldn't assume that their extensive language skills will make that much of a difference for NT programs.

Well, it's a bit more complicated, I think. From the perspective of other (emerging) subfields, they are not really 'lowering' the bar, just changing it. They are, in some way, 'lowering' the bar for the number of years one needs to study x or y before one can be successful at getting into a good doctoral program. But it's a more fundamental shift of how people, scholars, perceive a discipline, and the disagreement usually stems from whether that shift is appropriate or not. To take an 'extreme' example: is it 'appropriate' to accept doctoral students in NT without any ancient language training? Most traditionalists would say no and on the assumption that NT scholarship is this or that, but always with an ancient language text of the NT as the base text of that discipline. But what about someone interested in studying, say, how Americans read the NT (in English) or how Japanese speakers do so, and so on. Many of the traditionalists would say, no, the latter belong in other subfields of religion/religious studies or in other disciplines entirely (English, linguistics, etc.). These kinds of debates happened long ago for many disciplines/departments in the humanities, at least in the US. The reason, I think, why they are so slow going in religion and especially subfields of biblical studies is because of the relative number of students in them compared with other subfields of religion, historic reasons/inheritance of tradition at US schools, and the 'energy' surrounding them (not to even speak of the money!). I count myself as one such 'traditionalist', so I lament this shift in some way. But, regarding the field of biblical studies, it has been bloated for so many decades (centuries...), it is time, I think, to put those resources to other use. 

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I have a somewhat random question. As someone who has decided to pursue a NT Phd, does it matter if I take classes pass/fail outside of NT? That is - is it better to "guard" my GPA by eliminating the risk of lower grades in classes outside of NT (by taking classes pass/fail instead of for a letter grade), or is it better to try and score well in every class, regardless of discipline? 

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I think it would be beneficial to take it and get an A if it's in any way related to biblical studies (so, e.g., Hebrew, cognate languages, OT, early Judaism, early Christianity, Greco-Roman stuff...). but if it's completely unrelated, e.g., physics...then pass/fail is fine

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@NTGal

Sorry - I should have prefaced by saying that I'm in my second year of an MDiv at Princeton Seminary. So a lot of the core requirements (practical theology/ethics/homiletics) aren't directly related to Biblical Studies, but might still fall under the umbrella of religious studies. This is why I'm not sure whether there is any benefit to taking these classes for letter grades, or alternatively any harm in taking them pass/fail.

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@JDD is there an option of pass/fail for courses required for your degree? I assumed that required courses can't be taken for pass/fail, but I could be wrong or it might differ from institution to institution. I also did an MDiv, and I definitely have classes in areas that you mentioned pulling down my GPA 😭 My hope is that the pure academic (i.e., non-seminary) programs won't evaluate me negatively when they see non-As on ministry courses on my transcript. Sorry I can't answer your question specifically, hopefully someone else can. 

Since you are at Princeton Sem, do you know how their PhD admissions works? From grad cafe it seems that some years they interview, and other years people have gotten in without an interview. I am also not sure how much I can trust the results page because people might sometimes get PU and PTS mixed up. 

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@NTGal

Admissions to PTS's PhD programs vary widely between disciplines and within the same disciplines from year to year. I've heard of some students still in their M* program being asked by faculty to apply for PhD studies when they graduate. Their experience is going to be far different from someone who has never attended/met their faculty person.

For NT - who do you want to work with? That would help determine what you might expect.

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Thanks @JDD! it's helpful to hear from you that admissions can vary in the same discipline from year to year, because that is the impression that I got from looking through the results thread from previous years. I do recognize that PTS greatly favors their own masters students, and that I have very little chance as a person without a PTS degree...I know I'm shooting for the moon this year. After my initial question to you someone actually posted on the results thread that they got an email from PTS today for a skype interview. In my SOP I wrote about research interests in Matthew, so that was tacitly (probably obviously, lol) pointing toward Dale Allison. 

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