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Thinking about Applying to Seminary - Help!


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I've been thinking about applying to seminary for quite some time now, and I'd greatly appreciate some advice and guidance! I live in Boston, but I'm originally from the Midwest and am the first person in my family to attend college. I double majored in English and philosophy at Boston College, where I was a member of the Arts and Sciences Honors Program, and I studied abroad at Oxford University during my junior year (specializing in Romanticism and 19th century continental philosophy and aesthetics). While at Oxford, I became pregnant, but I still returned to BC for my senior year and made plans to graduate on time with my class. However, my plans basically fell apart, and I ended up failing a few (but not all) of my classes the first semester (due to incompletes that became Fs) and withdrew completely from the second semester (after my daughter was born and I fell into a deep depression).

I never stopped dreaming of completing my BA, however, and, several years later, I finally managed to return to Boston and re-enrolled at BC. I ended up graduating a full decade later than my peers, and in the process I failed to finish my honors thesis, due to the demands of juggling school/work/single parenthood. As a result, my transcript has several withdrawals appearing on it, and my GPA sank due to those Fs I had received (although all of my other grades are As and Bs). My final GPA was just under 3.3 (but would've been over 3.5 otherwise), and my final GPA in English was a 3.6, in philosophy a 3.5.

I'm wondering how this will affect my chances of getting into a good graduate school, and how I should explain all of this (my pregnancy and depression, etc.) in my statement of purpose.

I'm also still trying to figure out which degree program is right for me. For a long time, I assumed that I'd pursue a Ph.D. in English literature, with the goal of eventually entering academia and becoming a literature professor. I'm still very much interested in studying literature (and also philosophy), but I want to focus specifically on literature and religion. Should I do this by pursuing a traditional MA/Ph.D. through an English department, or is it better to study at a seminary or theological school? I find myself increasingly leaning towards seminary, and thinking that the MTS makes the most sense.

At the same time, however, I find myself also seriously considering a ministerial vocation. I don't necessarily see myself in parish ministry, though, but rather community ministry, perhaps as a university chaplain or religious educator. So should I set my sights on the MDiv instead? In an ideal world, I'd want to pursue both, to experience the full breadth of a ministerial education but to also have the opportunity to specialize on the scholarly topics that interest me.

I consider myself a progressive Christian (with ties to both Unitarian Universalism and the United Church of Christ), and I'm interested in the divine feminine, sacred sexuality, comparative religion, mysticism/religious experience, and spiritual formation and direction. I'm currently employed as a part-time church administrator for a liberal UCC congregation (prior to that, I worked as an admin assistant at the UUA for several years) and as a self-employed massage therapist (which ties into my interest in embodied Christianity).

My dream school is HDS for a variety of reasons, but I'm also open to Andover Newton, BC, BU, and Episcopal Divinity School. (In fact, I've been thinking about applying to EDS's certificate program to get my feet wet, sharpen my credentials, and better discern my call, but I can't afford graduate school without substantial financial aid and don't know how much aid, if any, I'd receive for a one-year program.) I prefer to stay in Boston, but I'm also open to Union in NYC and the GTU in the Bay Area.

Also, I don't know if it's better for me to align myself with the UUs or the UCC - theologically, I consider myself somewhere in between (perhaps too Christian to be 100% UU, but too radical to be 100% UCC). Does it make a difference if I don't seek ordination? If I do ultimately decide to become ordained, how common is it to pursue dual standing? Would choosing one over the other affect my chances of being admitted to any of the BTI schools (in particular, I'm thinking of HDS and ANTS, which are popular with both UU and UCC seminarians)?

Last but not least, I haven't taken the GRE yet, but am planning to do so this summer. What scores would help make my application a competitive one and help counter my low GPA? Should I take the GRE before or after the changes are made in August? What else should I be doing to make myself an attractive applicant to HDS and the other BTI schools?

I really apologize for the long, rambling post, but, again, would be extremely grateful for any advice you could provide!

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Aloysha. Wow! I will try to share my opinion. No right or wrong answers.

1. First you may need to exactly Identify what you want to achieve in life. Kind of like Mission Vision Thing. If you were given just one opportunity to do the one thing that in your perspective would change the world in the best way that only you alone know best how to do it. what would that be? Colleges receive many applicants and they want to give opportunity to only those persons who are already focused on extaclty what they want to become and also know how they will make maximum use of the courses.

2. What is your calling? I can see you are juggling between Literature professor and religious educator/chaplin. So I assume that you are more into imparting training to others.

Have you contributed in any significant or small way/obtained some achievement in any of the areas of your interest? Such that the college can see flashes of your interest in these areas right from your early years even if its at a very low level like Sunday school teaching?

3. Many Schools mention that there is no minimum GRE score. But I think a high score will definately be helpful if its the only common denominator that will end up differentiating between two similar candidates for one position.

4. Utilise the previous links in this religion forum. I recommend the one entitled. 2011 Theology Application Results!!!

All the Best as you try to figure out exactly what you want.


Uncle Sam

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What a story! Your conflict and internal debate about ministry is probably not entirely unfamiliar to most students entering divinity school; it’s described as a “calling” for a reason! Ministry is a very interesting and enigmatic profession, so explaining the call to yourself, let alone to someone else, can be tricky. Discernment is a long and tricky path.

Let me see if I can address some of your concerns…

Regarding your GPA: I was accepted into both Harvard and Andover Newton with a 3.3 GPA. My GRE scores were okay, but not great (610 verbal, 540 quantitative), and I suspect that my Letters of Recommendation and Statement of Purpose is what really got me accepted.

As for your background, you have an amazing story that gives character to your life and to the numbers, and will certainly be considered. On most applications, there was a section for explaining any discrepancies in your academic record, and that would certainly be a place to explain your path to finishing your BA. Additionally, I would think that your experiences over the course of your life have influenced your career goals and your interest in the ministry, and would be an integral part of your Statement of Purpose. When you start to put those things on paper, I think it will all come together.

I agree that discerning your career goals is important. For me, I went to Open Houses and spoke to seminary students to clarify if ministry was the right path for me. You might want to talk to people in the professions you are considering, to see which aligns with your passions.

As for your denominational affiliation, I can’t give you much advice about UU vs. UCC. I think that a joint ordination might be difficult, and you should probably speak to the ordination committee/councils for both denominations. Personally, I was raised UU but have discovered a UCC-bent in my theology that is suprising even to me! I am attending Andover Newton this fall, and I suspect that the environment there, immersed in a Christian seminary but surrounded by a vibrant UU community, will help me clarify my own theology.

I hope some of this has been helpful, and best of luck as you go forward! I have found TheGradCafe to be very helpful throughout the application process, and hope to see you back here.

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