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Applying to schools, need a little guidance


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I have a professor who I have decided is being too discouraging for my own good. Essentially, because I have a 3.65 GPA and got an A- in a few of his classes, he seems to really doubt my fitness for graduate school. I am working on a research project under him, as well as an independent study, a class, and even an audited class (he's the only systematic theologian so I spend a lot of time with him) and am doing quite well by most people's standards. Nonetheless, I have several other teachers who believe in me and are confident in my abilities as a student and I believe this teacher is taking his position because he tends to be very perfectionist and overly dramatic (by his own admission).

I realize I can always improve and have been getting better and better grades as I've progressed (I initially had a 3.58 GPA my first semester, but my earlier performances have kept my GPA around 3.65 even though I'm pulling 3.8's and 3.9's at this time). Basically, I went from getting half B's and A's my first two years to only A-'s and A's my last two years. (I can thank Greek and Hebrew for most of my B's by the way. Biblical languages weren't my specialty)

Anyways, I was so discouraged at one point that I decided not to apply and only to apply to Fuller and La Sierra (Adventist school) in Southern California. l but, as of last week, got my act together and decided to go for it!


1. Does my academic performance really pose a serious challenge? I'm told by nearly everyone that I perform well and have good grades, but that I could of course improve and need to do so for the highly competitive PhD programs. (see my stats at the end for reference)

2. I am applying late, sometimes past the priority deadline. Am I out of luck because of this? (see schools I'm applying to below for reference)

3. If I don't get in, I'll go to one of my denomination's schools and get an MDiv (they have so many elective credits I can actually study more systematic theology in the MDiv program than in an MA/MTS). However, I fear attending this school (La Sierra University, ATS accredited) will hurt my chances of getting into a mainline school for my PhD if I'm competing with other students who went to places like Vandy, Yale, Duke, etc. Is that true?

4. If so, should I consider pursuing another masters at a mainline school (by which I mean well respected non-evangelical schools) in addition to my MDiv or would that not make a difference/be problematic/be a waste of time/etc? I want to emphasize that I really only want a mainline school for my PhD.

Below you'll find my relevant background information.

Where I'm applying, with deadlines and degrees I'm applying for.

University of Chicago, Feb. 1, MDiv

Duke Divinity School, Feb. 1, MTS

Union Theological Seminary, Feb. 15, MTS

Boston University, February 15, MTS

Emory University, Feb. 15, MTS

Princeton Theological Seminary, Feb. 15, MDiv

Claremont School of Theology, Feb. 1, MA

Vanderbilt University, Apr. 1, MTS

Wheaton College, Apr. 15, MA

Fuller Theological Seminary, May 1, MA

University of Denver: Iliff School of Theology, May 1, MA

La Sierra School of Religion, May 1, MDiv

Here's where I plan on applying for my PhD down the road:

1. Boston University School of Theology

2. Claremont School of Theology

3. Duke University Divinity School

4. Emory University Candler School of Theology

5. Berkeley: Graduate Theological Union

6. Harvard University Divinity School

7. Princeton Theological Seminary

8. Union Theological Seminary

9. University of Chicago Divinity School

10. University of Notre Dame Department of Theology

11. Vanderbilt University Divinity School

12. Yale University Divinity School


Ethnicity: Caucasian American

Age: 21

Marital Status: Married

GPA: 3.65

GRE: 156 Verbal (72nd percentile), 146 Quantitative (36th percentile), 4.5 Writing. Retaking before PhD.

Degrees: BA Theology (Andrews University, Berrien Springs, MI)

Honors: Theta Alpha Kappa, Deans list every semester, JN Andrews Honors Scholar (pending, it's my school's honors program)

Religious Affiliation & Background: Seventh-day Adventist

Languages: Intermediate Biblical Greek (2 years), Intermediate Hebrew (1.5 years)

Fields of Interest (in order of favorite): Systematic Theology, Ethics, Philosophy of Religion, Religion and Society, Historical Theology

Specific Interests: Ecclesiology, Hermeneutics, Politics, Eschatology (zoning in my interests still)

Thinkers I like: Kierkegaard, Kant, Bonhoeffer, Niebuhr, Hauerwas, Wright, Tilich, Yoder

Other: Active constant involvement in ministries ranging from door-to-door prayer ministries to leading school organizations and clubs, such as the Andrews Collegiate Theological Society, member of essentially any major scholarly society you can think of related to our field

Edited by Mikeyswen79
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First, stop worrying about your stats. They are fine (and a tad above average for most programs).

If you want to eventually go to a "mainline" school for a doctorate, then I would try to get into one of schools you listed. IMO the 'hardest' schools you listed are HDS and ND. Partially because they get a lot of applicants, but also because they are top notch programs (again, this is just based off being on the board for several years). And have no fear about not having enough time to take systematics courses at any of those programs. I'm not in that field, but I'm sure most will have outstanding faculty.

As far as deciding which school(s) to apply, really take a look at what faculty each has and what fits best with your interests. If that happens to be HDS, then apply. But at the end of the day the deciding factor is going to be your SOP, and if they require it, your writing sample. Your GPA is fine, your GRE is average (and some of them do not even require it, YDS for one), you have more language experience than most entering students. In short, don't worry. You will get into some of those schools as long as your SOP isn't complete crap.

good luck, mate.

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Also, if it helps: I applied to 4 or 5 of those programs listed and received competitive offers. My GPA was slightly higher than yours, but not by a long shot (cum. 3.75). And honestly in hindsight my SOP was not all that great (I didn't know for sure what I wanted).

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Not to hijack the thread, I am planning to apply to similar programs. N.D requires "At least 18 semester credit hours in philosophy or the equivalent, and 12 credit hours in theology or religious studies" for the m.div program. What exactly is 18 semester credit hours? How do you calculate this? Is it just enough classes to have sat through 18 hours of lecture?

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Performing well at any of the first 8 programs on your M.Div./M.T.S. list could get you into a good Phd. program. [i noticed you didn't apply to Yale Div.; you should.] Obviously the more competitive programs -- like Duke, Yale, Princeton, Harvard and to a lesser extent U. Chicago -- tend to place more people into elite programs, but that outcome is not set in stone. You want to do very well in whatever program you end up at in order to make up for your low undergraduate gpa. Work closely with faculty and secure good letters of recommendation. Study for and retake the GRE, as those scores are not competitive. Produce a good writing sample and statement of purpose. In short, the door is not closed, but you will have to work hard to compensate from a slightly weaker undergrad record. My recommendation is that if you get into Duke, Yale, Princeton, or Harvard, go if it's economically feasible, as those schools based on my own observations tend to produce an inordinate number of Phd. students in elite graduate religion/theology programs.

Edited by Lux Lex Pax
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Not to hijack the thread, I am planning to apply to similar programs. N.D requires "At least 18 semester credit hours in philosophy or the equivalent, and 12 credit hours in theology or religious studies" for the m.div program. What exactly is 18 semester credit hours? How do you calculate this? Is it just enough classes to have sat through 18 hours of lecture?

18 credit hours at MOST institutions is 6 courses; the equivalent is a minor, usually. "Hours" does not mean actual hours, it's just how they describe a course, which is usually "3 credit hours" (or in some cases, certain programs use 4 credits per course, or even Harvard who uses like .5 credits per course).

Edited by jdmhotness
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All the advice so far makes sense to me, but I wanted to add one thing to respond to your question #2. The priority deadline issue will probably affect scholarship aid more than admission itself, so bear in mind that you could probably expect more money from schools if you were to apply next year. This might not necessarily be so, of course.

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Like others have said, don't worry about your undergraduate stats, they're fine. If you want a serious shot at a tier 1 PhD program, it's safer to attend such a school for an MDiv, MTS, etc. Sure, some get in from non-Tier 1 programs, but it's less likely. Remember, you have to convince your future PhD advisor and admissions committee at, say, Duke, Chicago, or Emory, that your La Sierra MDiv makes you a better candidate than their plethora of Harvard applicants. Maybe you can convince them, but it would be more challenging to do so. Also, I'll say from experience that it is more or less impossible to be admitted to tier 1 programs with a verbal GRE lower than the 85th percentile. This is true despite what they claim about there being no cut-off GRE score and that it's "merely" one part of the application, etc. Don't bank on compensating for a low GRE score with a 4.0 GPA and glowing letters either. The GRE won't matter much or at all for applying to most master's programs because there's less (or no) funding at stake. But when the most competitive (i.e., best funded) PhD programs pick 5 to 20 applicants out of 300 or more each year, they look very hard at GRE scores regardless of GPA, letters of rec., statement of purpose, etc.

Edited by ghost6
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  • 1 month later...

Hope you read this in time so it helps. Well My gpa was 3.50 at the time of applying. I got into Union, BU and Fuller so I'm sure your stats are good enough. That's said, you NEED to put as much effort as possible into the personal statement, writing sampling or anything else that can demonstrate why they would want to take you. BU told me thats the really what stood out in my app.

GRE's weren't required for those programs either so I dont know if yours are good compared to the average (I never took them) but that wouldn't matter for those 3 and yale as well. Best of luck though!

p.s if all else fails, fuller is still a good school. ( I almost picked it over BU and Union) but I would skip on the non-ATS school.

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