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FearNTrembling

MDiv after MTS

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Looking to eventually do doctoral work in Theology/Religion. Here's my situation: 

I will be completing my MTS at the end of this year from a fairly conservative seminary. I have a 4.0, I've presented three papers at seminars/conferences within my university, and I have three professors who have offered to write letters of recommendation. My particular interests are philosophy of religion (analytic & continental), historical theology (post-Enlightenment) and religious pluralism. I am toying with applying to a second master's program (MA/MDiv) at a top-tier school to improve my application for doctoral programs. I have received a great education in my current program, but I'm also aware of the intensity of the application process. Plus, I'm in a place in my life where I could realistically pursue a second master's. 

-Would having a MTS (positively/negatively) impact my chances for admission in a MDiv program at HDS, Yale, Princeton, Duke, etc.? 

-Would any of those MDiv programs likely include any of my MTS coursework as advanced-standing credits? 

-Would a second master's really make a difference as far as applications are concerned?

 

 

 

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Due to the nature of the MTS and MDiv degrees, there would be overlap in coursework. Speaking from my experience as an admissions counselor for a conservative seminary, typically the rule for transfer credit for an a conferred degree is that either up to half of the conferred degree could be transferred in or the conferred degree may take the degree applied for down to a critical mass (typically 75 credits for an MDiv, either 30 or 48 for an MA depending on the school). 

A second master's will not hurt you in your applications. I applied with an MA and ThM and while some schools seemed oblivious to my ThM, the coursework it offered allowed me to exceed application requirements (always a plus). 

However, in the age of interdisciplinary studies your best bet may to apply to a top school in a field outside of religious studies for an MA (think Philosophy, History, Sociology, Anthropology, etc.). If you already have enough coursework to meet the application requirements for your top PhD choices, then an MA in another relevant field may make you stand out over those with only degrees in theology/religious studies. 

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9 hours ago, FearNTrembling said:

Looking to eventually do doctoral work in Theology/Religion. Here's my situation: 

I will be completing my MTS at the end of this year from a fairly conservative seminary. I have a 4.0, I've presented three papers at seminars/conferences within my university, and I have three professors who have offered to write letters of recommendation. My particular interests are philosophy of religion (analytic & continental), historical theology (post-Enlightenment) and religious pluralism. I am toying with applying to a second master's program (MA/MDiv) at a top-tier school to improve my application for doctoral programs. I have received a great education in my current program, but I'm also aware of the intensity of the application process. Plus, I'm in a place in my life where I could realistically pursue a second master's. 

-Would having a MTS (positively/negatively) impact my chances for admission in a MDiv program at HDS, Yale, Princeton, Duke, etc.? 

-Would any of those MDiv programs likely include any of my MTS coursework as advanced-standing credits? 

-Would a second master's really make a difference as far as applications are concerned?

 

 

 

My 2cents after both myself and my office-mate were shut out of religion programs this season, with an MA from a state school: the second MA may not be necessary or what helps you, but the degree from a top tier school will. Between the two of us we received interviews and waitlists, and acceptances outside of religion, but I imagine that when pitted against shiny degrees from Ivy schools and big-name LOR's, our dossiers just couldn't hold up, despite 10+ conference presentations and publications. I should add, this is already my 2nd MA. Where you go matters.

Of course there are likely more things at play as well: where we applied, our particular interests, etc. But I do think an Ivy MA would have made the difference. 

Edited by menge

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On 4/4/2017 at 1:23 AM, FearNTrembling said:

Looking to eventually do doctoral work in Theology/Religion. Here's my situation: 

I will be completing my MTS at the end of this year from a fairly conservative seminary. I have a 4.0, I've presented three papers at seminars/conferences within my university, and I have three professors who have offered to write letters of recommendation. My particular interests are philosophy of religion (analytic & continental), historical theology (post-Enlightenment) and religious pluralism. I am toying with applying to a second master's program (MA/MDiv) at a top-tier school to improve my application for doctoral programs. I have received a great education in my current program, but I'm also aware of the intensity of the application process. Plus, I'm in a place in my life where I could realistically pursue a second master's. 

-Would having a MTS (positively/negatively) impact my chances for admission in a MDiv program at HDS, Yale, Princeton, Duke, etc.? 

-Would any of those MDiv programs likely include any of my MTS coursework as advanced-standing credits? 

-Would a second master's really make a difference as far as applications are concerned?

 

 

 

So having spoken to an HDS admissions representative when i had inquired about doing an MTS at Harvard after having finished an MDiv at Gordon-Conwell, I received the feedback that it is doable but not advisable. This rep mentioned that admissions folks recognize that MDiv and MTS programs tend to overlap a lot and so it would be redundant to pursue one. She also mentioned that for some admission folks, it would actually raise questions about your decision and it is something you will need to account for in both your Masters application and in your PhD application as well.

As for a 2nd Master's degree, it may help if you pursue it outside of the religion department/divinity school. In your field, maybe getting a terminal MA in history or philosophy may demonstrate your awareness of the multidisciplinary demands of doctoral work, at least more so than if you pursued an MDiv. Admissions folks know that certain degrees are more suitable for certain types of careers and an MDiv, from my experience, doesn't really prepare you for doctoral work which is why ThMs are the solution to this problem.

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My two cents: you might want to consider an MA in Philosophy, since your research interests are broadly Philosophical. I can't see why an MA in Philosophy wouldn't hurt you, but I can see why an MDiv after an MTS might. 

I'm on the opposite side of the fence than you; I have similar interests (though I'm analytic, and do pre-Kant Philosophical Theology), and I'm trying to get into Religion/Theology PhD programs with an MA in Philosophy. 

Edited by axiomness

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We should distinguish the usefulness of comments from administrators and those of professors (the latter making the decisions for doctoral admissions--not the admins). The comments above are understandable: for it's rather easy to contact e.g. HDS and talk to an admin about what they recommend (and it's rather difficult to discuss these issues with professors). But the opinions of admins on one's academic trajectory are honestly not worth much. It is simply a fact that many doctoral students at the top schools (at least in this country) have two, sometimes three M* before starting their PhD (I am such a one/fool). The notion that there is little point in doing an MDiv after after an MTS has some support, but only from the admin perspective: an MDiv and MTS are awarded on the basis of filling certain requirements and since both degrees have overlapping requirements, the notion of "taking the same class" over again seems an utter waste of time (and esp. money). But from an academic point of view, this is simply wrong. You will not, I trust, be retaking e.g. "Introduction to X"; the point of the second degree is to explore further those interests already cultivated at the first school. 

On the other hand, many MDivs, at least at the 'top US schools', will require you to (re)take the "Introduction to X". Each school is different, however; so only apply if said program allows you to take advanced classes. There are other considerations you should have in mind such as the ability to take classes in other departments (e.g. philosophy). Again, each school has a different policy. The academic freedom available at MDiv/MTS programs in Boston (many courses available through the BTI) comes to mind. Duke Divinity is unlikely the right program for you (you would be much better served in the MA in Religious Studies, which allows you to take any classes you want, even outside of Religious Studies and is generally better funded). Speaking of funding, this is the only real reason why I would chose an MDiv over, say (as others recommend) an MA in Philosophy or Religious Studies. The latter almost always allow the freedom to explore interests in greater depth--depth that is simply not possible in many (all??) MDiv programs. The 'problem' with the MDiv is it's serving two masters: the 'church' and the academy. This makes sense given the professional goals of most divinity students. If your interests overlap between 'church' and academy (which it sounds like they might), then, sure, an MDiv might make sense. But outside of funding, I see no reason to pursue an MDiv over another terminal degree. In sum my advice is apply widely (MDiv, MTS [yes some PhD students have two], MA in Philosophy, RS, History, etc.) and see what funding is offered. The last step should weigh the academic freedom afforded at each program. 

cheers

Edited by sacklunch

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A hearty echo of @sacklunch. Folks mentioning having multiple M*s are right, to an extent, about the "normalcy" of such things. But the order here does matter. There's a difference between having, saying, a couple of MAR/MTSs and or having an MDiv followed by an MAR/MTS. But the order MTS followed by MDiv is somewhat confusing as a choice, unless it is because of ordination requirements (with which schools differ on their comfort). The common shorthand here on gradcafe of just saying "master's degree," with no distinction between the actual pedagogical differences of MDivs vs. MAR/MTS vs. STM/ThM is deceptive. Because, as @sacklunch pointed out in less explicit terms, the MDiv is a generalist degree while the MAR/MTS (except in cases like Duke or Yale's comprehensive MAR) is specialized. The movement from generalist to specialized (MDiv --> MAR/MTS or STM/ThM) or specialized followed by more specialized (MAR/MTS --> MAR/MTS or STM/ThM) makes sense on a trajectory towards the PhD, which is highly specialized. The movement from specialized to generalist (MAR/MTS --> MDiv) does not make as much sense, and will raise questions. If you are applying to a more top-tier school to balance out what you perceive to be a less rigorous conservative seminary*, then you should apply to the MAR/MTS. 

 

* Note that this is a common assumption that isn't well-founded. There are a number of PhD students at Yale, Duke, Princeton, Chicago, and other top-tier schools whose M* come from "conservative" institutions. Having a degree from a conservative institution does not disqualify you from admissions from a top-tier program. 

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22 hours ago, sacklunch said:

We should distinguish the usefulness of comments from administrators and those of professors (the latter making the decisions for doctoral admissions--not the admins). The comments above are understandable: for it's rather easy to contact e.g. HDS and talk to an admin about what they recommend (and it's rather difficult to discuss these issues with professors). But the opinions of admins on one's academic trajectory are honestly not worth much. It is simply a fact that many doctoral students at the top schools (at least in this country) have two, sometimes three M* before starting their PhD (I am such a one/fool). The notion that there is little point in doing an MDiv after after an MTS has some support, but only from the admin perspective: an MDiv and MTS are awarded on the basis of filling certain requirements and since both degrees have overlapping requirements, the notion of "taking the same class" over again seems an utter waste of time (and esp. money). But from an academic point of view, this is simply wrong. You will not, I trust, be retaking e.g. "Introduction to X"; the point of the second degree is to explore further those interests already cultivated at the first school. 

cheers

I agree that it's helpful to distinguish between admins and professors in general feedback. However, I forgot to mention that I received pretty much the same feedback from speaking with one of the HDS professors and my ThM advisor on the usefulness of doing a second divinity/seminary-type degree. From everyone's feedback, it seems that an MAR or MPhil might be your best option and I would second that option. As @theophany mentioned, an MDiv is a generalist degree and MTS is a specialist degree and this may be the best way to think about it. An MDiv might be more helpful too if you're pursuing something like a DMin (Doctor of Ministry). However, it sounds like you want to do a PhD and not a DMin. To echo @theophany's point:

"The movement from specialized to generalist (MAR/MTS --> MDiv) does not make as much sense, and will raise questions. If you are applying to a more top-tier school to balance out what you perceive to be a less rigorous conservative seminary*, then you should apply to the MAR/MTS. "

However, I also want to echo @sacklunch's point about funding and course flexibility. MDivs typically get more financial support either from a church/parish and/or are typically less expensive. And as already mentioned, most MDivs have a much more rigid curriculum where you'll HAVE to take church history, Old/New Testament surveys, christian/social ethics, some ministry requirements, etc... because people pursuing MDivs aren't all aspiring to go into academia. So assuming you only get three years for your MDiv, maybe half of your time is spent taking courses you might not even be interested in or help your PhD applications.

In terms of increasing your chances to get into a PhD program:
The direct feedback I've received from professors is that if you already have an MDiv/MTS, focus on refining your research topic. Also, identify programs/departments and contact professors that would be a good fit for your research interests before you apply to those programs. A common reason why my professors have turned down students who already have a Master's degree are 1. they aren't a good fit for the program and 2. their research topic isn't specific enough to be helpful for the professor to determine whether he/she would want to work with the student. 

 

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Thanks! I really appreciate the input. It has been very helpful! 

I am considering Yale's MARc (philosophy), as well as a number of philosophy programs (MA/PhD). With my interests being what they are, I would be just as happy studying in either a department of philosophy or religious studies/theology (I have a BA in philosophy and biblical studies). I really would love to do a second master's degree if I can attain funding. The Mdiv programs attracted me because they generally offer that. Also, I am currently serving in a pastoral capacity, and the idea of getting chaplaincy training in addition to my academic training would be a bonus. We will see what happens.

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I'm currently in a PhD program working on continental philosophy (post-Kantian), historical theology, and social theory, and I had two master's degrees (English followed by MA in theology from a seminary) before beginning my program.

I think sacklunch is right that many people in top tier programs have two master's degrees. However, many of those people who have two or more seminary degrees are doing language intensive work (like sacklunch). They earn multiple seminary/div school degrees in order to milk as much language training as possible because that's what gets people admitted to top NT/HB/ANE tracks. But if you're more interested in philosophy/theology, one degree in theology is plenty--but one MA/MTS overall may not be enough. As theophany said, moving from a specialized degree to a generalist degree is going to raise eyebrows. But beyond that, you're just not going to find an MDiv helpful if you want to do rigorous philosophy/historical theology because you're going to be bogged down in requirements that are totally superfluous to your goals.

Since you have a BA in philosophy and biblical studies (double major or two BAs?), applying to philosophy PhD programs won't hurt (though if you went to a Christian school, that could hurt your chances for getting in unfortunately.) But if you're really interested in theology, having an MTS and an MA in philosophy from a respected philosophy program could be a good combination. I know for certain that my MA in English and training in critical theory from that degree helped my chances significantly in the program that I'm in now. 

The most helpful thing you'll get from a strong, specialized program, like an MA in philosophy, is narrowing down your research interests. E.g. you're interested in both analytic and continental philosophy--for a PhD, you're going to have to choose. In fact philosophy of religion, historical theology, and religious pluralism all constitute three distinct areas of study with different faculty, etc. They're certainly not mutually exclusive, but figuring out a project that combines them in a specific and interesting way is going to take some time and a specialized MA program can help you get the focus and clarity you need to figure out where those things align for a potential project that you could see yourself working on for 5-7 years.

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Can someone ELI5 and explain why someone in the RS field would get two Masters (not judging, it just seems like this has been a hot topic online lately within the field)?  None of my professors have received two masters, and the majority of graduate students at "top tier" programs only have one as well (as you can find on the schools website in graduate students section).  I'm sure there are some students who may have two masters, but it seems like a huge time inconvenience - not to mention it suggests to me, that we grad students may not be selecting the best coursework?  I know a lot of students who got MDIV went back because they felt it was too "preachy" and they wanted to work more on the "academic" side (MA/MTS).  I was always under the impression that papers, presentations, and conferences were huge qualifiers, as well as learning a language (which can be done over 2 summers and continuously through semesters).  Isn't the goal to get a PhD after Masters?

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@Lysdexia A few thoughts:

1) It really depends on what your subfield is since RS covers an incredibly broad range of fields. For people doing language heavy work (e.g. NT/HB, ANE, or ancient Mediterranean stuff) two summers of language coursework probably won't cut it. Many people in top programs in those fields have years and years of language work, which usually requires two masters degrees.

2) You can't judge the present by what current professors have, how easy it was for them to get into programs and get jobs, etc. It's just astronomically more competitive now than it was when many professors were applying to grad school and going on the job market. 

3) For some subfields in RS, interdisciplinarity is really exciting for PhD admission. E.g. if you're looking to do philosophy of religion/ethics/theology in an RS program, being able to draw on "cultural studies" broadly speaking (whose theoretical texts are often conversant with literature, history, anthro, philosophy, etc.) is highly attractive. That's becoming a much more common source of theoretical material in RS, so it's not necessary to have an MA in comp lit, for example, but it would certainly demonstrate you know what you're talking about if you're proposing a project that includes something about literature and/or literary theory.

4) A caveat to the above point: Interdisciplinary training is intriguing to RS adcoms because they'd like to think that there's something cutting edge about those students that will add interesting dimensions to their department. Sometimes that's definitely the case, but the job market does not reflect this interdisciplinarity. People who write tight, focused dissertations that make a very strong argument about a very particular thing get hired in response to job postings that are far more often than not written looking for a very particular kind of expertise. Some are so narrow as to be utterly ridiculous. Interdisciplinarity is a good thing, I think, to have in one's back pocket, once a job of some kind is secured because you have more knowledge to draw on for creating courses and making them interesting to undergrads. But for getting a job in the first place, it can be a hindrance. 

5) I have colleagues in my cohort who came in without any masters degree at all. They did just fine in the program and we'll all likely be finishing our dissertations around the same time next spring. Some people are just smarter than others and require less training. Some people know what their interests are from nearly the beginning of their BA and can develop those to maturity without the aid of an MA. I don't have any problem admitting that, for me, I felt I needed two MAs to really get a handle on my interests and fill knowledge gaps that I didn't fill when I was an undergrad. I was in a pop punk band trying to get famous for the majority of my undergrad with the plan of being a high school English teacher if "rock star" didn't work out. I didn't give a shit about school until my senior year when a couple English professors I had each took time to show me that there was something special about my writing ability. Then I started to care school. But I didn't know anything about grad school, PhD programs, etc. I didn't know I wanted to do a PhD until halfway through my first MA. And even then, I realized it probably wasn't going to be in English, my original discipline. Because I have about four times more graduate coursework than my cohort colleagues, I have much more material to draw on for generating courses. And I suppose in some ways my previous MAs have helped to indirectly shape the direction of my dissertation and the way I think about my source material. But at the end of the day, they are just as capable as I am to actually complete the dissertation and finish the program, because our dissertations are so narrowly focused that all of that extra course knowledge could never find its way in directly to my dissertation. Everything else my extra grad work adds are "intangibles" (my particular writing style, my creativity in conference proposals or course design, etc.)

All of that to say: two MAs is by no means necessary, particularly if one's interests are theology, philosophy of religion, ethics, American religious history, etc.--subfields that don't require substantial language training. 

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On 4/29/2017 at 0:43 PM, Lysdexia said:

Can someone ELI5 and explain why someone in the RS field would get two Masters (not judging, it just seems like this has been a hot topic online lately within the field)?  None of my professors have received two masters, and the majority of graduate students at "top tier" programs only have one as well (as you can find on the schools website in graduate students section).  I'm sure there are some students who may have two masters, but it seems like a huge time inconvenience - not to mention it suggests to me, that we grad students may not be selecting the best coursework?  I know a lot of students who got MDIV went back because they felt it was too "preachy" and they wanted to work more on the "academic" side (MA/MTS).  I was always under the impression that papers, presentations, and conferences were huge qualifiers, as well as learning a language (which can be done over 2 summers and continuously through semesters).  Isn't the goal to get a PhD after Masters?

Less needs to be said after Marx's helpful post. But I will add that it just depends on the grad students you are eyeing. It is far less common, for example, for those in modern subfields of religious studies (American religion, say) to have more than one M*. Most of the those with 2+ M* are in medieval and especially ancient subfields which require, inter alia, a lot of language training. Now look at the average interest of the gradcafe user: they seem to hold (in your words) 'preachy' interests and/or interest in biblical studies. I gather this is simply a reflection of broader American interests in religion (or theology as the case may be). Also: competition. Your professors do not have two M* because the pool of applicants was smaller (though there are of course more doctoral student slots across the country now). There was a time when the MDiv/MTS did not exist; those interested in ministry often got a bachelors in divinity. The unfortunate result of the divinity school M* is that it has forced those of us with no interest in theology to "compete" with many modern divinity students holding two M* (them often holding preaching interests with 'more academic' interests).  

Edited by sacklunch

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