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Getting into HDS or YDS for Hebrew Bible/Old Testament

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At this stage in my academic journey, I really need to get into HDS or YDS for an MTS or MAR in Hebrew Bible / Old Testament in order to achieve my goal of getting a PhD from one of the schools I am looking at.  At least this is what I have been advised by the directors of the PhD programs who stated that many of their successful applicants come from these two schools.

This reason for this post is because I am concerned with presenting myself strongly enough in my application to secure an acceptance.  As a result, I am seeking people’s input who are knowledgeable of what the admissions committees at HDS and YDS are looking for in a successful applicant to the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament concentration.

I have researched what the schools’ admissions committees look for in general.  The essentials include things like excellent grades, convincing essays, a portfolio of exceptional experiences and accomplishments that have shaped a vision to impact the world in some way, community service leadership and/or social justice involvement that has creatively and meaningfully addressed real-world issues.

The information I need, however, is regarding gaining acceptance to the MTS or MAR program specifically.  Are the HB / OT professors the ones who directly make the acceptance decisions for their concentration?  I assume these would be people like Jon Levenson and Andrew Teeter at HDS, and John Collins and Joel Baden at YDS.  If so, what do I need to show in my application that will shine through and distinguish me as someone who they will take?

Here is a summary of my education and experience:

B.A. Economics, GPA 3.64 (average state school in the Northeast)

-graduated top of major; senior research paper; helped lead an organization that did frequent service projects in the community as well as hosted worship services and events for local college students

M.A. Biblical Studies, GPA 3.97 (above-average private college in Northeast)*

-Theta Alpha Kappa Honors Society; published thesis; awarded a graduate assistantship both years; held a significant leadership role in my church throughout program

*while the school is a pretty good school (it hovers near the top 100 mark each year), it did not have a well-known Bible program or faculty, and the degree was not enough to get me into PhD programs by itself; I attended due to location and cost / funding

 

Languages

2 years Biblical Hebrew; ½ year Modern Hebrew; ½ year Greek; ½ year German; 1 year Spanish

 

Experience

-co-founded a post-secondary school of biblical studies and ministry training; served as the director of students during its first year

-served as the head of the Usher Team at my church, and previously was a leader on it, for the past four years (a large, multi-campus church)

-one of the key leaders in planning and directing two national Christian events; managed a team of over a 100 people for both

-taught a course on mentorship at a high school for two years

-was on the planning team for several fundraising events for local and global causes including a community yard sale with proceeds to help combat human trafficking, a Christmas concert with proceeds to provide surgeries for children with cleft lips, and a 5k with proceeds to assist the homeless

 

Thank you for your helpful input.   

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I disagree with you that these are the only two schools in the entire world that you need to get into. (I say that as someone who only applied to two schools for my master's degree--one of them being HDS.) I certainly can understand that you want to get into one of these two schools, just as I narrowed my pick to two schools as well.

However, you are (obviously) a strong candidate for both programs. (You knew that, right?)

 

Good luck.

Edited by Averroes MD

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Averroes, thanks for your reply.  While I guess it is fair to describe my desire to get into one of the two schools as "want," the path to getting where I aspire to get is certainly made the most possible through them, which is why I put them more in the "need" category.  This is not only due to the recognized rigor/quality of the training, but also due to the personal connections that the professors have with the directors of the PhD programs I am looking at.

For the record, I did not get into YDS when I applied there towards the end of my M.A.  So to answer your question, no.  I thought I was a strong candidate, but that made me questions things...

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Posting your credentials for other people to judge your qualification is not very helpful. I say this as someone who just went through the hell of applications. You're a strong candidate, but so are thousands of other applicants. The determinative factors in your admission go beyond how smart you are... but I'm sure you know this already. Best of luck.

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I believe John Collins usually sits on the board of admissions at YDS, though last year it was Joel Baden.  I'm not sure exactly what the criteria is for getting into YDS, or what the exact connection is between faculty and applications, but I assume there is a great deal of emphasis on your statement of purpose and  writing sample.  I was accepted to YDS for a concentrated MAR with a BA from a small, private, liberal arts college with a degree in biblical studies.  When I applied I had 2 years Spanish/1 year Koine/2 years Biblical Hebrew and a graduated with honors.  I also took a year off between BA and MA.  YDS does not take GRE scores for the Master's level, so I spent most of my time conveying why I wanted to be there, why I cared about studying in this field, and which professor's work I was most interested in.  I also chose a writing sample from my Biblical Hebrew term paper.  I also listed every potentially relevant thing on my CV (which looking back was probably overkill), but that at least conveyed where my main interests were and what types of topics I was pursuing.

Also, what is your end goal, if you don't mind my asking?

 Hope that helps some!

Edited by hullabaloo

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I'm starting my MDiv at YDS this fall, which probably requires a different approach. Even so, I wanted to point out one thing about YDS that I noticed at all the admissions events I attended, including the fall open house last November. They very strongly emphasized community in all of the presentations. As long as you're qualified to attend, they also really need to see that you will be a contributing member of the community. They want the YDS community to be something you're actively seeking (not just that you want to study with J. Baden). And they want to know how you anticipate that community contributing to your studies.

It seems like your credentials are certainly enough to prevent you from being disqualified. As other commenters have said, you sound perfectly qualified based on what you said. I would urge you to use your personal statement and letters of recommendation to make it very clear how studying at YDS fits into your long term goals -- not just academically but also in terms of your development as an actor in the wider world.

If you can, I highly recommend attending the fall open houses for both HDS and YDS. They put a ton of work into those events, and it's much more helpful than just a visit to the school to sit in on classes or visit a professor.

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On July 13, 2017 at 9:43 PM, hullabaloo said:

I believe John Collins usually sits on the board of admissions at YDS, though last year it was Joel Baden.  I'm not sure exactly what the criteria is for getting into YDS, or what the exact connection is between faculty and applications, but I assume there is a great deal of emphasis on your statement of purpose and  writing sample.  I was accepted to YDS for a concentrated MAR with a BA from a small, private, liberal arts college with a degree in biblical studies.  When I applied I had 2 years Spanish/1 year Koine/2 years Biblical Hebrew and a graduated with honors.  I also took a year off between BA and MA.  YDS does not take GRE scores for the Master's level, so I spent most of my time conveying why I wanted to be there, why I cared about studying in this field, and which professor's work I was most interested in.  I also chose a writing sample from my Biblical Hebrew term paper.  I also listed every potentially relevant thing on my CV (which looking back was probably overkill), but that at least conveyed where my main interests were and what types of topics I was pursuing.

Also, what is your end goal, if you don't mind my asking?

 Hope that helps some!

I appreciate you sharing what you emphasized in your application.  I also would like to include everything relevant on my CV.  For my writing sample, I plan on using an excerpt from my Masters thesis.

My end goal is to publish and teach.  It is a very personal goal of mine to get a PhD level education in the Hebrew Bible. So even if it does not shape into a traditional professor career, I'll be okay, because pursuing study of the Bible in itself is what matters most to me.

On July 14, 2017 at 2:20 PM, MstarTheology said:

I'm starting my MDiv at YDS this fall, which probably requires a different approach. Even so, I wanted to point out one thing about YDS that I noticed at all the admissions events I attended, including the fall open house last November. They very strongly emphasized community in all of the presentations. As long as you're qualified to attend, they also really need to see that you will be a contributing member of the community. They want the YDS community to be something you're actively seeking (not just that you want to study with J. Baden). And they want to know how you anticipate that community contributing to your studies.

It seems like your credentials are certainly enough to prevent you from being disqualified. As other commenters have said, you sound perfectly qualified based on what you said. I would urge you to use your personal statement and letters of recommendation to make it very clear how studying at YDS fits into your long term goals -- not just academically but also in terms of your development as an actor in the wider world.

If you can, I highly recommend attending the fall open houses for both HDS and YDS. They put a ton of work into those events, and it's much more helpful than just a visit to the school to sit in on classes or visit a professor.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.  I assume by being a contributing member of the community you mean things like joining or starting on-campus organizations or causes, attending and participating in lecture series, and (hopefully) working as a research or teaching assistant to a professor (although I know most of these opportunities come in a doctoral program).  

I can see how clarifying one's long term goals with the degree are so important.  I appreciate the school's emphasis in that regard.  I hope to convey how the program will enable me to benefit the local and global community in a meaningful  and creative way.  

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Can I ask what school you plan on attending for your doctorate?

I would also highly recommend looking into University of Chicago's M.A. in the Divinity school or the M.A. in Middle Eastern studies; both will provide excellent preparation for PhD applications at top-tier schools.

I'm not sure how the funding for the Div school M.A. works, but I know that the degree in Middle Eastern studies typically gives out half-tuition scholarships for the first year with full-tuition scholarships the second year depending on first year GPA (3.5). If you have any questions about UChicago let me know!

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HBgrad, one of my top choices would be Brown.  There are others too, but Brown is an example of a program that I am looking to get prepared for.

I did look into the MA programs at Chicago.  The director told me that in the Middle Eastern Studies program there is actually no funding for the first year.  He advised me to consider the Divinity School if my interest is Hebrew Bible.  I would rather study through the MES program if I had to choose.

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On 7/18/2017 at 7:27 PM, search the scriptures said:

I appreciate you sharing what you emphasized in your application.  I also would like to include everything relevant on my CV.  For my writing sample, I plan on using an excerpt from my Masters thesis.

My end goal is to publish and teach.  It is a very personal goal of mine to get a PhD level education in the Hebrew Bible. So even if it does not shape into a traditional professor career, I'll be okay, because pursuing study of the Bible in itself is what matters most to me.

I feel similarly about goals in this field, but I'm currently struggling with trying to find the right program fit that will make achieving those goals a good experience rather than a soul-sucking one.  What do you like about Brown's program?  I visited Brown for a mini conference, and I was surprised that I didn't really feel comfortable with the culture there.

MstarTheology's input is interesting to me, because I was unable to visit any preview days for any of the grad schools I applied to, so  I didn't get the sense for community quite like that.  But I imagine that most professors wouldn't mind meeting or email communicating with you, and that might be a good way to get familiar with YDS.

I also think it's good you're in this for the intrinsic value.  It's far too easy (especially at places like Yale) to get swept up in the intensity of the career path (listening to a talk about tenure-track professorships in Hebrew Bible was a very stressful day for me) and demands of academia in the field.  So don't stress too much, you'll find the right place for you, and sometimes the right place helps you in ways you don't expect, that might not show up on paper. It's not just a numbers game.  When you're in it for intrinsic value, you have to be at a place where the culture fosters what you feel and supports the ways you want to pursue it, which is why I'm having such a hard time narrowing down my choices for apps this fall. 

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hullabaloo, I agree wholeheartedly that finding the best fit is essential in choosing a PhD program (and by "fit" I mean one that will maximize your strengths, help you identify and attain your specific goals, develop you as an overall person, and provide an environment where you enjoy the professors and classmates you are working with).  Five years is a long time to not be happy or comfortable.

I guess what sparks my interest in Brown is that it's an Ivy League school and is close to where I am from in the Northeast.  The training that it would offer as a PhD student of religion, the opportunities that it would open up professionally and the practicality of studying close to home all seem to make it a very solid choice.  I would like to hear about your experience at the mini-conference and what you thought about the culture (I can reach out via message).

I do plan to attend the Fall Open House days at HDS and YDS like Mstar recommended.   

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On 7/20/2017 at 6:11 PM, search the scriptures said:

HBgrad, one of my top choices would be Brown.  There are others too, but Brown is an example of a program that I am looking to get prepared for.

I did look into the MA programs at Chicago.  The director told me that in the Middle Eastern Studies program there is actually no funding for the first year.  He advised me to consider the Divinity School if my interest is Hebrew Bible.  I would rather study through the MES program if I had to choose.

Really?!

I would DEFINITELY double check what was said about the CMES at UChicago, as both of these would be a significant departure from the way the program has worked in the past...

As I said, they have regularly offered half-tuition scholarships for the first year; and the program provides excellent prep for HB PhD work! You will be required to do two years of an ANE language (which is wonderful for getting two years of Akkadian under your belt, which looks great on apps), getting basic ANE history down, and giving you the freedom to specialize in HB with electives... (or, adding more language work...) I know that at least two HB PhD students at Uchicago that have come out of CMES in the past two years.

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On the topic of HDS: does anyone know what average GRE scores look like? I'm wondering how a low Quant score (25%) might influence my application, the rest of which, is pretty exceptional.

 

Thanks.

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On 7/30/2017 at 6:31 AM, LotusFlower said:

On the topic of HDS: does anyone know what average GRE scores look like? I'm wondering how a low Quant score (25%) might influence my application, the rest of which, is pretty exceptional.

 

Thanks.

Can't speak to HDS, but if they're anything like Yale and the other similar scores, GRE is important...

Obviously your quant score is among the least important things on an application, but it could still raise some eyebrows. What were your other scores? If you got 170V/6W, a low quant score might make you look a tad quirky....

What you should also look out for is that I know of at least 1 score that has both a Verbal score minimum as well as a composite score minimum; with a score at 25% it could be low enough to hit a school's completely arbitrary composite score threshold.

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On 7/30/2017 at 6:31 AM, LotusFlower said:

On the topic of HDS: does anyone know what average GRE scores look like? I'm wondering how a low Quant score (25%) might influence my application, the rest of which, is pretty exceptional.

 

Thanks.

I remember when I was focusing on GRE stuff I came across these two pages, which I found to be GENERALLY helpful.

https://magoosh.com/gre/2016/gre-scores-for-top-universities/

https://www.topuniversities.com/blog/what-gre-scores-do-you-need

The first has average scores for Harvard specifically, while the second has average scores broken down by field.

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For HDS, the concern would be who they will have teaching OT/HB. I would guess that Prof. Levenson may be near retirement in the next few years, if not sooner. I don't know whether Prof. Teeter got tenure or not in this past year; it might be worth emailing him about your interest in the department. The archaeology of Israel chair (formerly occupied by Larry Stager) has still yet to be filled as far as I know. I don't think they can just get rid of the department entirely, but just know that it is somewhat in flux right now. If someone has more recent news, I'm happy to be corrected--I haven't been in contact with any Harvard people in about a year.

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8 hours ago, HBgrad2017 said:

Can't speak to HDS, but if they're anything like Yale and the other similar scores, GRE is important...

Obviously your quant score is among the least important things on an application, but it could still raise some eyebrows. What were your other scores? If you got 170V/6W, a low quant score might make you look a tad quirky....

What you should also look out for is that I know of at least 1 score that has both a Verbal score minimum as well as a composite score minimum; with a score at 25% it could be low enough to hit a school's completely arbitrary composite score threshold.

Yale Div does not require GRE scores. Are you sure you information is up to date?

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On July 29, 2017 at 4:41 PM, HBgrad2017 said:

Really?!

I would DEFINITELY double check what was said about the CMES at UChicago, as both of these would be a significant departure from the way the program has worked in the past...

As I said, they have regularly offered half-tuition scholarships for the first year; and the program provides excellent prep for HB PhD work! You will be required to do two years of an ANE language (which is wonderful for getting two years of Akkadian under your belt, which looks great on apps), getting basic ANE history down, and giving you the freedom to specialize in HB with electives... (or, adding more language work...) I know that at least two HB PhD students at Uchicago that have come out of CMES in the past two years.

I double-checked with Paul Walker and you are correct.  He said that CMES offers up to 2/3 in the first year through the Social Science division (I assume this is simply the department in the Graduate School that the CMES falls under). 

My only concern is GRE scores.  It looks like the GRE is required for the MA programs at Chicago, and that throws my plans off. I was planning to retake the GRE sometime in the spring after I submit all my M* applications, since I was going to pour all my time into the applications themselves this fall.  My GRE scores are currently very low (156V, 151Q, 4.5W), which I assume might prevent me from an acceptance and/or funding. 

On July 31, 2017 at 6:56 PM, Abdelazar said:

For HDS, the concern would be who they will have teaching OT/HB. I would guess that Prof. Levenson may be near retirement in the next few years, if not sooner. I don't know whether Prof. Teeter got tenure or not in this past year; it might be worth emailing him about your interest in the department. The archaeology of Israel chair (formerly occupied by Larry Stager) has still yet to be filled as far as I know. I don't think they can just get rid of the department entirely, but just know that it is somewhat in flux right now. If someone has more recent news, I'm happy to be corrected--I haven't been in contact with any Harvard people in about a year.

Do you know how many students HDS normally admits per year into their HB / OT program?  Reaching out to Prof Teeter about my interest may be a good idea, although I agree that it’s unlikely that the program would be discontinued.  HB professors in the NELC department like Shaye Cohen, Richard Saley and Jonathan Kline are listed as teaching courses in the Divinity School.    

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If it helps with the questions regarding GRE scores, I got into MA programs at Chicago, YDS, and Duke with a very low quant score (around 140) and received, what I considered, good funding. Granted, my area is philosophy of religion, and my verbal and writing scores were in top tenth percentiles. This was just my experience, and I had some reasoning in mind for not trying to improve the GRE scores.

I considered re-taking the GRE but, ultimately, decided against it. I only took it once (during final year of undergrad, the year before), and math has always been a big weak area for me. In the end, I reasoned it was a better use of time, as I was working full-time, to focus on the SOP and writing sample. Some people might not feel comfortable with this, and emphasizing those aspects over the GRE was probably a risk, though I felt confident that the time on the SOP and writing sample were worth it. Thus, I say this to point out this represents just my experience, and I don't know how such choices might affect the chances of others' applications.

Also, if funding is a concern at Chicago, you might want to look into applying for a FLAS fellowship as well, as it includes funding and a stipend. I'm not sure if they offer it for (modern) Hebrew, but I recall seeing it on the list.

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12 minutes ago, franz said:

If it helps with the questions regarding GRE scores, I got into MA programs at Chicago, YDS, and Duke with a very low quant score (around 140) and received, what I considered, good funding. Granted, my area is philosophy of religion, and my verbal and writing scores were in top tenth percentiles. This was just my experience, and I had some reasoning in mind for not trying to improve the GRE scores.

I considered re-taking the GRE but, ultimately, decided against it. I only took it once (during final year of undergrad, the year before), and math has always been a big weak area for me. In the end, I reasoned it was a better use of time, as I was working full-time, to focus on the SOP and writing sample. Some people might not feel comfortable with this, and emphasizing those aspects over the GRE was probably a risk, though I felt confident that the time on the SOP and writing sample were worth it. Thus, I say this to point out this represents just my experience, and I don't know how such choices might affect the chances of others' applications.

Also, if funding is a concern at Chicago, you might want to look into applying for a FLAS fellowship as well, as it includes funding and a stipend. I'm not sure if they offer it for (modern) Hebrew, but I recall seeing it on the list.

I assume for a top school like Chicago, low GRE scores could definitely hurt an application (I totally forgot that some programs even require them at the M* level).  Your good verbal and writing scores seemed to work in your favor.  Hopefully holding an MA already will help offset low scores, but I would not be surprised if it did not (HDS actually waives the GRE requirement for applicants who already hold an advanced degree).

Thanks for the info the fellowship.  I will certainly look into it.    

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