Frequently Asked Questions

Student panel at 2013 TED

General Questions

What is the difference between Harvard Divinity School and a seminary?

Harvard Divinity School was established in 1816 as the country's first nonsectarian theological school. It is dedicated to educating future leaders in religious life and thought and shares the libraries and resources of the wider Harvard University. Denominational seminaries are typically affiliated with a particular denomination, and may or may not be affiliated with a larger university. We recommend that you contact the denominational seminaries that interest you for additional information about their programs, resources, and student life. We are happy to share detailed information about HDS.

What can I do with an MDiv or MTS degree?

Our graduates go on to a wide variety of professions and vocations, including ordained and lay ministry; chaplaincy; higher education teaching and research; public and private secondary education; community development, advocacy, and human services; management and consulting, especially nonprofit; public policy, law, conflict resolution, and mediation; arts, publishing, communications, and media.

Do you offer any dual degree programs?

We have two formal dual degree programs with the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) and Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

MTS and MDiv students may choose to apply separately to another graduate school at Harvard University simultaneously with an HDS application or within their first year. Once accepted into the second degree program, students may formally apply for dual degree status and then determine the number of courses that can be applied toward both degrees. Interested students should discuss their plans with the registrar.

Do you offer scholarships or financial aid?

Approximately 90% of students receive some form of financial aid. HDS offers both merit- and need-based grants for students enrolling in the MDiv or MTS programs. Both programs are open to international and domestic students. HDS has a small pool of merit aid that is awarded based on the overall strength of the application. Merit award decisions are made by the admissions committee at the point of admission and are final.

The majority of grant aid is awarded through our need-based grant program, which requires an application process. US Citizens and eligible non-citizens will be required to submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the HDS Application for Financial Aid. The FAFSA can be submitted after January 1 of the year you intend to apply for admissions. Instructions for how to complete the HDS Application for Financial Aid are generally available in mid-January and are emailed to prospective students once they have submitted their application for admission. The deadline for applying for need-based financial aid is generally in mid-February. We strongly encourage all applicants to apply for need-based institutional grants. If an applicant does not receive merit funding and did not apply for need-based institutional aid by the deadline, there is a very strong possibility that we would not be able to review late applications. Admitted applicants will receive either merit-based institutional grants or need-based institutional grants. They will not be awarded from both pools of funding.

HDS also participates in the Federal Work Study and Federal Loan Programs which are open to US Citizens and eligible non-citizens. For specific information on those programs, as well as other programs and policies, please visit the Financial Aid section of this website.

Application Process

Is there a language requirement for admission?

There is no formal language requirement for admission. However, it is recommended that each applicant have at least an elementary knowledge of a language that is (normally and preferably) relevant to his or her area of focus, because intermediate-level reading proficiency in a language is required prior to graduation.

I'm an international student. Do I have to take the TOEFL and the GRE?

The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is required for all applicants whose native language is not English. You are not required to submit TOEFL scores if you completed your baccalaureate degree at an institution where the sole language of instruction is English.

Please note the GRE is required for all applicants to our degree programs. However, GRE waivers are granted to MDiv, MTS, and ThM applicants who hold advanced degrees. Please contact the Office of Admissions at admissions@hds.harvard.edu if you have a previous advanced degree and would like to learn more about the process of requesting a GRE waiver.

What is the minimum TOEFL score?

As a condition of admission, international applicants whose native language is not English must show evidence of proficiency in the English language. If your first language is not English, you must take the TOEFL unless English was the sole language of instruction for your undergraduate institution where you received your baccalaureate degree.

Applicants for the following programs: MDiv, MTS, Special Student, and Ho Family Foundation Scholars must receive a score of 100 or higher on the internet-based exam (600 or higher on the paper-based test).

Applicants for the ThM program must receive a score of 105 or higher on the internet-based exam (620 or higher on the paper-based test).

I've heard that Harvard has very strict admissions requirements. Can I apply even if I don’t have a 4.0 GPA and perfect GRE scores?

Of course! Our successful applicants demonstrate their ability to do graduate theological study in a variety of ways, including their writing, letters of recommendation, grades, and professional and life experience. We review each application holistically, giving you the opportunity to use the various components of the application to make a case for your academic success at HDS.

Can I take the GRE multiple times? If you receive multiple scores from me, how will you determine which ones to consider for my application?

When possible, we suggest that you prepare and take the GRE once. If you choose to take the GRE a second or third time after ETS has sent us an official GRE score report, it is possible that the Admissions Committee will complete its review of your application before the additional scores arrive. If we receive multiple sets of scores from you before the application deadline, the Admissions Committee will consider all scores received. Remember, GRE scores are only valid for five years.

When should I start preparing for the application process?

As early as possible! Once you have decided that HDS is one of the graduate schools where you would like to apply, you can begin immediately by: updating your résumé or curriculum vitae (CV), studying for the GRE, writing an initial draft of your statement of purpose, discussing your application plans with your recommendation providers, reviewing our application deadlines and policies, and researching outside scholarships and funding sources. Careful planning with respect to deadlines will allow you to put forth a thoughtful, cohesive application. You can find our online application and a complete list of application requirements on the How to Apply page. Once you create an online account, you can review the detailed application instructions, begin the process of applying for admission, and complete the rest of the application requirements.

Does HDS require interviews during the admissions process?

We do not offer or require interviews for your application. However, we recommend that you visit HDS to get to know our academic and community life. For those who are not able to travel to Cambridge, we offer phone information and virtual information sessions. During the fall, we also travel all over the United States to meet with prospective students. Check our travel calendar to see if we will be coming to your area.

What does the Admissions Committee look for in a statement of purpose?

The statement of purpose (1,000 words) is an integral part of the application and is evaluated with great care by the Admissions Committee. It should include your general background (education, work experience, volunteer work, and/or relevant personal experience) and how this background has prepared you for graduate theological study specifically at Harvard Divinity School (HDS). It should also include your vocational or career objectives and why you believe there is a good fit between your objectives and HDS academic program to which you are applying.

How will I know if you have received my application materials?

Once your application has been submitted, you will be able log back onto the online application to see the status of your application, supporting documents, and recommendations. Due to the high volume of applications we receive each year, please know that it may take several days for us to process your materials and update your online application.

Applicants can confirm receipt of materials in real time by logging onto their applicant status page. This is our preferred method to confirm the receipt of application materials during the admissions process. Due to the high volume of calls and emails our office receives during this time of the year, it can take up to 5–7 business days for us to respond to any requests for material confirmation.

Please note that a complete checklist does not equate a complete application as all admissions materials are subject to a verification process. Applications are not considered fully complete until they have been verified by our office. Please note at any time within the admissions process, our office may request additional materials to be submitted to complete your application.

Can I switch to a different degree program once I am admitted?

Applicants are strongly urged to apply to the program that best suits their academic needs and vocational goals. The Office of Admissions is available to provide detailed information to prospective applicants so that they can chose the most appropriate program. On the rare occasion that an admitted MDiv or MTS student finds it necessary to request a change of program, they may contact the Office of Admissions (before enrolling in their first semester) or the Office of the Registrar (after enrolling in their first semester) to receive instructions about this process.

What is your deferment policy?

Deferments are rarely granted, and we expect applicants to apply for the academic year in which they intend to enroll. However, occasionally an admitted student encounters a family emergency or change of circumstances, and we grant deferments on a case-by-case basis.

HDS Voices

Laura S. Nasrallah
I think that certain sectors of the academy are surprised that religion hasn't died out. Everyone's noticing that religious discourse is actually alive and well, and violently affecting politics. There's a new urgency to learning about and discussing religion. We need to be able to respect the fact that people who have deeply held convictions and practices might speak in terms that don't match ours.
—Laura S. Nasrallah, Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity