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How to strengthen a PhD/ThD application?


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What sets a doctoral application apart? Assuming everyone has great grades and stellar references and an outstanding GRE score, what else can you do to make your application stand out?

Does it help to:

Have publications?

Present at conferences?

Teach somewhere?

Know the admissions committee?


If you've applied and been accepted to a doctoral program in religion/theology, what do you think made your application stand out?

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Yes to all, except maybe teaching experience. That can't hurt, obviously, but I think many schools just assume that you're going to pick up teaching experience during their doctoral program. I could be wrong.

I think you probably want to strike a balance when it comes to publications and conferences and the like. You want to appear active, but not as though you have been so active as to be unteachable. I was speaking with a friend recently and we agreed that having, say, a monograph already published before a doctoral program is probably a strike against you. Sure, it shows that you can write and work hard, but it also may indicate that you consider yourself to be beyond the "student" phase of your academic career, ready to be the teacher. I think, at the end of even the best M* program, that is a little premature. But, I don't have anything but a few reviews published, so I could be dead wrong. Grain of salt and all that.

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^ Agreed. I have been worried about not having anything really published (one smaller uni publication). But just browsing CV's I have found that many, if not most, doctoral students do not have any publications coming into their doctoral programs.

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Body Politics is absolutely right: You do not want to come across as if you have nothing left to learn and that you just need a school to pay you to write your dissertation. Much of that impression is going to be made in your SOP, but having a list of publications and conference presentations that is *too long* is not going to help you. I've heard this from professors at multiple institutions. Of course, like with literally everything else in a doctoral application, it's going to be subjective. But if you don't have any of the things listed above, I wouldn't worry too much--just make sure you've done your homework on the schools you're applying to, have contacted some POIs, and work really really hard on your SOP and writing sample.

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Thanks, everyone! As I start to look at the next application cycle, it just seems like everyone has the grades, the scores, the references. I hope I can do enough to make my application stand out from the, oh, 100 or 200 others that want the same spot.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I'll echo all of the above, and add one thing to think about:


Think about measurability. For instance, if you were on the BIble side of things, biblical and cognate languages can be fairly measurable competencies. But since you fall on the theology-y side of things, I think it could be to your advantage to think through the sorts of things that will give adcoms something concrete with which to judge you."He's got really good theology" or "She's read a lot of Church Dogmatics" isn't going to get you very far.


That said, two suggestions: Modern languages, personal/professional connections.


Best of luck.

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