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How reputable is Gordon-Conwell?

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I am currently a student at Gordon-Conwell and I have learned a ton in my semester and a half there so far. My concern is I do not hear a lot about the school. They have great professors and a great set up, but why is not talked about more? Ive been considering transferring to Duke and would like to hear your thoughts. When applying to Jobs later on, I do not want to be hindered!

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A couple quick thoughts... 

Reputation is constructed differently by different communities. Are you thinking of reputation in evangelical contexts, or in the academic study of religion? As far as "jobs" are you thinking as a member of the clergy, or as a professor? If as a professor, do you want to be at an evangelical seminary or would you rather target state schools and liberal arts colleges? 

If your goal is to be a pastor or prof in the evangelical world, Gordon-Conwell is probably a fine fit. If your goal is to be a professor at State U, you may want to re-consider. That said, I'm pretty sure there are a few people on this forum who have successfully gotten into quality PhD programs from evangelicalish institutions. Their comments may be of more value than mine. 

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5 hours ago, religiousphilosophy said:

I would also like to hear some thoughts about this. In terms of trying to turn an MDiv into a pre-PhD degree, how would GConwell compare to, say, Yale Divinity School?

My thought is that Yale Divinity would be more prestigious as a pre-PhD degree. Don't let that deter you from Gordon Conwell, though. If you're an evangelical, it may be worthwhile to get your first theological degree at a school like Gordon Conwell before maybe getting a second master's somewhere else. Also, people have graduated from GConwell and gone on to teach at prestigious schools. Michal Beth Dinkler at Yale Divinity is one prof who went to Gordon Conwell before getting her ThD at Harvard.

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I think that @y00nsk is largely correct- most people in this forum will tell you that the mainline schools like Yale Divinity or Duke Divinity (or their peer schools) would probably do a better job of preparing you for further academic pursuits (although this too depends on where you want to study afterward- if you want to do a PhD at Harvard, then this is certainly true; if you want to go to Trinity Evangelical or Dallas Theological than you are fine right where you are, as @menge was getting at). Moving from an evangelical school to a mainline institution can certainly be done, but your candidacy depends on your background, your goals, and your credentials. 

I think that for both the OP and @religiousphilosophy, you would probably get better advice if you could tell us a little bit more about your ambitions: what are you hoping to do with your degree? Further study? Ministry? Something else? Are you hoping to study in a confessional community? What is important to you in your graduate studies? 

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10 hours ago, 918Philosophizer said:

I think that @y00nsk is largely correct- most people in this forum will tell you that the mainline schools like Yale Divinity or Duke Divinity (or their peer schools) would probably do a better job of preparing you for further academic pursuits (although this too depends on where you want to study afterward- if you want to do a PhD at Harvard, then this is certainly true; if you want to go to Trinity Evangelical or Dallas Theological than you are fine right where you are, as @menge was getting at). Moving from an evangelical school to a mainline institution can certainly be done, but your candidacy depends on your background, your goals, and your credentials. 

I think that for both the OP and @religiousphilosophy, you would probably get better advice if you could tell us a little bit more about your ambitions: what are you hoping to do with your degree? Further study? Ministry? Something else? Are you hoping to study in a confessional community? What is important to you in your graduate studies? 

I have actually left the evangelical tradition for personal reasons. I do plan to be ordained at a rather liberal denomination such as the PCUSA or the UMC. I plan to eventually study comparative religion of Christianity and Buddhism at the PhD level.

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My sense is that places like GC will better prepare you for some doctoral programs, mostly those expecting incoming students to have a strong background in biblical texts/languages. This should not be surprising given the theological commitments of GC as compared with say YDS. Several years ago I knew a doctoral student at Harvard who did 4-5 years of M* at GC. Said student worked in ancient history in some capacity and mentioned she was very well prepared at GC. If you have little interest in ancient history/biblical studies, however, I very much doubt GC would be better than not only YDS, HDS, and DDS, but also many other lower ranked divinity schools. While I do not know much about the field, I suspect one interested in comparative religion will need a fairly heavy background in theory (and quite possibly the requisite Asian languages). I suspect GC is not great for these areas. @MarXian might have some thoughts on this. 

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I have a colleague in my program working in historical theology who did an MDiv at GC. She's been very successful in the program (major external funding, publications, etc.)

I went to Fuller, which could be considered GC's west coast counterpart. Nearly every friend of mine applying to PhD programs in my year or the year after was accepted somewhere, though with varying results (CGU, Chicago Theological Seminary, Duquense, and Yale). They also all were doing different things (phil. of religion, systematic theology, New Testament, etc.) My friend who was accepted to Yale also had offers from Duke and Chicago--in my opinion, this is an outlier scenario for people coming from Fuller.

Out where I am now, I occasionally meet with undergrads interested in PhD study eventually (referred to me by people in our church) who are trying to decide between seminaries/divinity schools. I always try to steer them toward the Dukes of their choices and away from the Fullers if they really have their heart set on PhD work. Again, it's not that you can't get in coming from a Fuller/GC type place. It's just that the major div schools tend to better prepare students for PhD applications.

I don't know about GC, but Fuller has absolutely moved more toward ministry preparation and away from preparing future scholars. Mark Labberton, the new president, is primarily a pastor, whereas Richard Mouw (president for 20 years) is a philosopher. When I entered Fuller in 2009, there were five MAT options, three of which were very academically rigorous. The track I did required all the systematic theology courses, both biblical languages, philosophy, ethics, etc. Just one quarter after I arrived, they began to change the requirements, making languages optional, only requiring one of three systematic courses. The idea was to make the degree more flexible and allow for more electives. But the degree requirements now are so general as to be practically meaningless in my opinion--unless you're interested in being a teaching pastor or something. GC may be entirely different--I've heard they have a much stronger focus on biblical study than Fuller. But as sacklunch said, if you're interested in doing something else, then I think a major Div school is a much better option. 

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First, I just want to be yet another voice who is saying the same general thing as @menge already summed up nicely: "Reputation is constructed differently by different communities" and that it depends upon your goal (if/where you would like to teach or if you're just looking for a ministry position, etc.).

Also, if you're thinking about PhD later, then you want to make sure that where you do your M* has faculty that are well known in the field you want to go into for PhD studies and also that these faculty have good connections to the faculty at the institutions you're looking at for PhD work. So for me, like @marXian, I went to Fuller. I wanted to eventually do a PhD in NT and Joel Green and Marianne Meye Thompson are as good as they come in that field and they have strong networks with Duke faculty (Marianne is a Duke alum and another one of my recommenders is a relatively recent Duke alum too). They are not only the reason I am prepared for PhD work, but also they are likely a MAJOR reason I was accepted into Duke for a PhD in NT. So for you, if GC has the kind of faculty that will make your recommendation letters stand out and you'll get the training you need to prepare you well for PhD work (and you're in a nice financial position), then staying there is great. Don't worry too much about an "general" or "overall" reputation of the name "Gordon-Conwell" (unless you're looking for a ministry position in which case school name means a lot), worry more about the reputation of the faculty in the field you want to do a PhD in. BUTTT...I'm obviously partial to Duke so if you can swing the $$, transfer and we can be buds.

(Note to others that may be deterred by MarXian's comment re Fuller): I am compelled to somewhat defend Fuller just because without them, I wouldn't be where I am today. Fuller is what you make of it. If you want to do a rigorous academic degree you totally can (you have to be sure to take classes with the "Big Names" in your field and jump in on as many of their PhD seminars as you can for electives). They have strong faculty in NT, OT, and ST. If you want a more ministerial track, then that's available as well. They did change their curriculum requirements as MarXian noted, but they still offer all those classes. Again, you just have to plan your degree electives according to your end goals. Also, know that Fuller can get you into your Dukes, PTSs, and Yales if you play your cards (classes) right (and definitely your Baylors and TEDSs), but it is likely not going to help you get into Harvards.

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20 hours ago, Laodiceans said:

(Note to others that may be deterred by MarXian's comment re Fuller): I am compelled to somewhat defend Fuller just because without them, I wouldn't be where I am today. Fuller is what you make of it. If you want to do a rigorous academic degree you totally can (you have to be sure to take classes with the "Big Names" in your field and jump in on as many of their PhD seminars as you can for electives). They have strong faculty in NT, OT, and ST. If you want a more ministerial track, then that's available as well. They did change their curriculum requirements as MarXian noted, but they still offer all those classes. Again, you just have to plan your degree electives according to your end goals. Also, know that Fuller can get you into your Dukes, PTSs, and Yales if you play your cards (classes) right (and definitely your Baylors and TEDSs), but it is likely not going to help you get into Harvards.

Don't get me wrong--I absolutely would not be where I am today without Nancey Murphy, Rob Johnston, Kärkkäinen, Goldingay, Tommy Givens, or Bill Dyrness. All were immensely helpful in preparing my applications, helping me find direction, actually writing me letters, etc. So I'm definitely grateful for my time at Fuller.

One thing you said is 100% correct and has been true of Fuller maybe always: It's what you make of it. It just seems like it's harder to make the degree that MAT students in the mid-late 2000s were able to do. I think if you're doing biblical studies, it's a different story. But for anyone interested in phil of religion or theology, I think there are better choices (unless you're doing analytic theology because of Crisp.) My guess is that other similar seminaries are the same. 

That being said, I think you're overselling Fuller a little bit. Why the distinction between Duke/PTS/Yale and Harvard? Why are Baylor and TEDS in the same category? Fuller can get you into all the programs you listed, sure. But I also think it's fair to say that a person coming from HDS, DDS, YDS, etc. probably has an even better chance because the opportunities for the things you describe are more readily available. At least GC students can take courses at Harvard.

Nothing is guaranteed or definite when it comes to PhD applications. Even internal applicants to Fuller's PhD program get rejected, and it's not nearly as competitive as the programs you listed. You hit a home run getting into Duke. I got into a really good school out of Fuller too. But not all are that lucky, even if they do everything they can to prepare. The application process is way more volatile than that.

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As another Fuller grad, I'm going to agree with marXian's assessment. There seems to me to be a concerted effort to emphasize ministry resulting in the removal or dilution of several academically oriented degrees. I'm also disturbed by the firing of Daniel Kirk over doctrinal matters which I think signals a move to the right for Fuller. I doubt the denial of academic freedom will do Fuller any favors in terms of reputation. When you add in the fact that Fuller tuition is obscene and many other schools provide better assistance, I cannot in good conscience recommend Fuller to anyone however grateful I am for the good the faculty there has done me. 

P.S. I also agree with marXian that your grouping of programs is weird. I suspect you put Yale with PTS and Duke because someone from Fuller got into Yale NT a few years ago, but that is pretty atypical. As for pairing Baylor with TEDS, egads sir/madam, you must not know much about one or the other. 

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1 hour ago, marXian said:
1 hour ago, marXian said:

 

That being said, I think you're overselling Fuller a little bit. Why the distinction between Duke/PTS/Yale and Harvard? Why are Baylor and TEDS in the same category? Fuller can get you into all the programs you listed, sure. But I also think it's fair to say that a person coming from HDS, DDS, YDS, etc. probably has an even better chance because the opportunities for the things you describe are more readily available. At least GC students can take courses at Harvard.

Ha. Ya. I don't know what my brain was doing there. I'm not sure why I lumped Baylor in with TEDS. But Baylor is still not quite up there yet with Duke, PTS, Yale etc. although it is gaining more and more of a great name (their stipend package helps!). Still don't know why I made it seem as if TEDS was on par with them.

I put Harvard in its own category as far as coming from Fuller is concerned. Given their commitments and values they probably aren't looking for someone from Fuller.

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33 minutes ago, Kuriakos said:

I'm also disturbed by the firing of Daniel Kirk over doctrinal matters which I think signals a move to the right for Fuller. I doubt the denial of academic freedom will do Fuller any favors in terms of reputation. When you add in the fact that Fuller tuition is obscene and many other schools provide better assistance, I cannot in good conscience recommend Fuller to anyone however grateful I am for the good the faculty there has done me.

careful with taking what you hear from Kirk's blog without that necessary grain of salt. There are plenty of faculty (some assistant profs even) who have the same position as Kirk and haven't been fired or denied tenure. There's more than meets the eye on that one. Not saying I agree that he wasn't granted tenure; only to say that if it was for those doctrinal reasons then a lot more faculty would have/be experiencing the same thing.

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I have my connections within the community and they all have indicated to me privately that Daniel is being forthright. Furthermore, others have received tenure with less at Fuller. That alone says a great deal. In any case, I still have a lot of love for Fuller and what it gave me. You will absolutely get a good education there. Is it worth that much tuition and an LA cost of living? Not when something of equal quality could be obtained elsewhere for much less. 

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21 minutes ago, Kuriakos said:

I have my connections within the community and they all have indicated to me privately that Daniel is being forthright. Furthermore, others have received tenure with less at Fuller. That alone says a great deal. In any case, I still have a lot of love for Fuller and what it gave me. You will absolutely get a good education there. Is it worth that much tuition and an LA cost of living? Not when something of equal quality could be obtained elsewhere for much less. 

Ya. I wouldn't suggest moving across the country to go there. But if you're relatively local I think it is a solid option.

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I think if you're going to GC and wanting to do PhD work afterwards, an MDiv may not be the best option. Programs such as their MANT and MAOT are considered their academic degrees and, although shorter, require more difficult courses and a higher GPA to graduate. Also, most contain a thesis option whereas, I think, the MDiv program doesn't. 

To my knowledge, GC grads have good success getting into decent PhD programs (especially if you're looking into theology type programs overseas) as well as Masters degree programs at top tier schools. A massive amount of their professors graduated from GC and went on to receive their PhD from Ivy/top tier schools. 

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I attended Gordon-Conwell for an MDIV and Reformed Theological Seminary for an MA in Biblical Studies. I have many friends who have gone on to do PhD work at top schools. All my comments apply to the South Hamilton campus. So here are my 2 cents:

Gordon-Conwell is almost certainly the best evangelical school for those who want to go on to do PhD work in Biblical Studies (the other top school for this would be to do a M.A. in Biblical Exegesis at Wheaton). What do other schools think of Gordon-Conwell? I had lunch with a distinguished OT Professor at Yale a couple of years ago and the first thing he mentioned about Gordon-Conwell is that the school does a good job at teaching Biblical languages. On the other hand, he would have tended to see the professors (pejoratively) as fundamentalists. This means that it is probably much easier to go to Yale from Gordon-Conwell then from a Southern Baptist School - but they may be wary of you until they meet you. Here are few observations:

(1) Gordon-Conwell has many students who go on to earn PhDs at Yale, Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge, etc ... It really is one of the very best evangelical schools for those who want to pursue PhD level work. An added bonus: Because Gordon-Conwell is part of the Boston Theological Institute you can cross-register and take some classes at Harvard, Boston-College, etc ... while you are still a student at Gordon-Conwell. This is a great way for evangelicals to gain exposure to critical scholarship.

(2) The Administration at Gordon-Conwell will strongly suggest that students take the MDiv over M.A. degrees because they recognize that many students who think they are going to get PhDs - won't. If you are committed to pursuing an academic career you will be much better off earning two Masters degrees at Gordon-Conwell such as a MA in Biblical Languages and a MA in Old Testament than earning a MDiv and you can earn two MA degrees in the same amount of time as the MDiv - 3 years of full time study.

(3) This is obviously subjective, but I would say that Gordon-Conwell is very strong in Biblical Languages, OT, and NT. The Theology department is underwhelming and the history department faculty while solid are not exceptional. You would certainly find a much stronger history department at Yale. So a great deal depends upon what you want to study.

(4) Getting a fully funded PhD fellowship at a top school is really competitive. It isn't enough to be a good student (even a really good student). You will need to plan your Masters level work in a way that distinguishes you. So, for example if you wanted to pursue studies in the Old Testament, at Gordon-Conwell, you could take Intermediated and Advanced Hebrew Grammar, Ugaritic, Biblical Aramaic, Targumic Aramaic, and Akkadian. A student going to a typical evangelical seminary probably couldn't take more than Intermediate Hebrew. Those sorts of courses will make you stand out (assuming you are earning close to a 4.0 GPA).

(5) The faculty at Gordon-Conwell are very approachable and care a great deal about their students.

(6) Deal with financial reality. If you are wealthy, you can stop reading now but, for most students - the prospect of making it through three years of graduate school before heading off to spend 4 or 5 years working on a PhD is financially terrifying. If you can get in to the MTS program at Notre Dame and pay no tuition (or get a full ride at another top school) then you should strongly consider doing that over paying $45-50k in tuition at GCTS over three years.

Best wishes,

David

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