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Dear Gradcafe Community,

This is my first post as a newly registered member of gradcafe. I have followed several threads here and found helpful advice, so I thought I would try my own question.

I am going into the final year of my M.Div. program, hoping to continue on to a Ph.D. in patristics. But I have a dilemma. I am not sure whether I would be a very viable candidate for a top-tier Ph.D. program and am wondering what to do. I say this for a couple reasons. First, my languages need some work. I have about four years of Greek between undergrad and divinity school, but it is almost exclusively in Koine. I will have one year of Latin, but will need to work on that. And, I have yet to learn French or German. Furthermore, I have almost no background in classical studies/ancient philosophy (excepting my own independent study). And finally, both of my degrees are from evangelical institutions.

On the upside, I have extensive coursework in the history of Christian thought and have taken several graduate seminars on patristic figures in particular. I also have strong LOR's from profs with good connections to some of the schools I am applying to.

With all of this in mind, should I go ahead and apply for competitive Ph.D. programs in early Christian history/theology or should I take a couple years to do a funded M.A. that will allow me to work on my languages and fill the lacuna of classical studies/philosophy background? Furthermore, if I do apply to doctoral programs and am rejected, will this negatively affect my chances if I apply after having completed an M.A. to the same programs?

I apologize for the length of this, but wanted you to have the specifics. To make this already lengthy question even more tedious, here are my stats:

B.A. from Christian liberal arts college (3.94 GPA)

M.Div. from evangelical divinity school (3.97 GPA)

GRE: 730V/760Q 5.0

Greek (NT) 4 years

Biblical Hebrew 2 years

Latin 1 year

Spanish 2 years

Edited by Tollelege
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Well, I suppose the (temporary) lack of French/German might affect your admittance, but sign up for a independent course now and mention that in your application. Realistically, if you’re going into an American/Canadian Ph.D., you have enough mandatory coursework ahead of you to make up deficiencies. A more problematic issue might be research preparation, assuming your M.Div. didn’t include a thesis. Barring personal issues which can strike at any time, most Ph.D. students that drop out and become (from the university’s point of view) a negative statistic and a waste of resources do so in the dissertation phase. Research really is a different animal.

These don’t sound like insurmountable challenges, so I would encourage you to apply to both types of programs. Carefully select Ph.D. programs that won’t dismiss your application for the lack of modern research languages, narrowing your field to just the universities with faculty who will supervise what you want to research. You can also pick out some academically strong M.A./Th.M. programs that are structured to allow you to complete them in one year and would give you the chance to write a thesis.

Best wishes on your journey!


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I think it depends on where you are applying. Evangelical divinity school that people will have heard of? That has professors (and more importantly, your recommenders) that people will know? You might consider a 1 year ThM instead of a full two year degree, it will not be difficult to get into a ThM at the top tier schools with your credentials, and it's a way to show your chops at what might be perceived as tougher schools. It's common to do a research language in a ThM as well, though unfortunately ThM's are commonly unfunded. If you do go the two year MA route you would need to explain why you need to do another MA in your application (you should contact programs about this, I think Harvard might have a problem with this), but assuming you can get past that, you shouldn't have much trouble being accepted. Perhaps apply to a couple MA's as backups (to say, Yale, etc) along with your PhD apps.

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I have slightly more languages than you, and also will be coming out of a masters (MTS, not MDiv). I have considered the exact same thing, and I think i'll just apply for both. I'm only applying to MA degrees that give full funding, mostly in Classics, ancient philosophy, classical archeology, ect. There is no sense doing another "theology" degree at another institution, especially since a related masters such as Classics will allow you the time to focus more on languages.

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Thank you all for your input. I have considered the S.T.M./Th.M. option, but am hesitant for two reasons. First, I have been luckily able to avoid student debt thus far and don't like the idea of having to pay for such a degree. As 11Q13 said, they are typically unfunded. And, second, my education to this point has been heavily centered on the theology/history side of things and what I feel that I really need is more language study, ancient philosophy, and Classics (something I don't think would be focused on if I were to pursue a S.T.M./Th.M. at a school like Yale or Duke).

Westcott, thank you for your emphasis on research experience. There has been a dearth of any real substantive research in my master's degree (I chose not to do a thesis), so that would certainly be something to keep in mind if I do end up taking the M.A. route.

At the end of the day, I will probably apply for both. I have professors who are strongly encouraging me to go ahead for the Ph.D. One who did his doctorate in a program I am applying for told me he doesn't know why I would want to do another master's (though I think he is overestimating my preparation).

11Q13, you brought up an interesting point that I have thought about before. You said that adding a second master's such as an M.A. could possibly throw up a red flag to doctoral admissions committees who may question why I felt the need to do something like that. Have any of you heard of whether doing an M.A. after an M.Div. may in any way negatively affect one's application for a doctoral program?

Thanks again for your suggestions. If you don't mind me asking, jdmhotness, what M.A. programs are you applying to? Your needs some almost identical to mine and I would love to know what you've found out there.

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As far as throwing up a red flag for doing a second degree, I think that is a valid concern for anyone. However, if I don't feel ready, then I just don't feel ready. I have heard both sides. Some have told me it looks "questionable" others say more grad work is always a good thing. Who knows? I somehow doubt when applying for doctoral work if you have the right SOP, sample, and letters, that they would really care much? There seem to be a lot of people who do MDivs + ThM, which doesn't seem to be much different than another masters, right (considering some ThM degrees area slightly longer than 1 year)?

As far as specific programs I haven't narrowed it down too much. I'll prolly apply to Tufts' Philosophy MA (very well ranked and funded), perhaps GSU's Philosophy MA (also funded), BU's classical archeology/classics, KU classics, MU classics, ect. If you'd like I can get with you through PM about more specific info (why I am applying to some of these, ect).


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At the school where I did my M* (in theo), most of the PhD students had multiple master's. Very few of them had both in religion, though. An MDiv and an MA in philosophy was probably the most common (and most intimidating! except for the guy who had an MS in math. yeesh). I can think of one case where someone had an MA in religious studies and then did an MDiv with an eye towards the ministry qualification, but not the MDiv first.

At my current school, whose theology dept* is excellent and fairly representative of "what top schools are looking for," they are very very big on language prep and constantly bemoan lack of language training, so I suspect that an MA in classics, biblical languages, etc. would be highly appreciated.

As far as it being a red flag? That's what the SOP is for. :) "While the coursework and pastoral training of the MDiv provided me with a solid foundation in biblical studies, I knew that my desire to grapple firsthand with the texts themselves required more intensive language skills than I already possessed. I therefore chose to pursue a degree/whatnot in Classical Languages, concentrating on biblical Greek, etc etc."

* for those of you who don't know, I'm in an interdisciplinary program--which is absolutely the right call for me--but my background is in theo

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