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 with the resources and support of the wider Harvard University. Seminaries are typically affiliated with a particular religious 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. The training HDS students receive is meant to prepare graduates for important work across fields.

I am not affiliated with a particular religious or spiritual tradition. Is there still a place for me at HDS?

Yes! Students come to HDS from a variety of spiritual and religious backgrounds, including non-religious backgrounds. We have a number of students that are not affiliated with a religious tradition. What all HDS students share in common is a willingness to explore the complexities of religious thought and life through academic curiosity and practical engagement.

Do you offer scholarships or financial aid?

HDS offers both merit- and need-based grants for students enrolling in the MDiv or MTS programs. Approximately 90% of students receive some form of financial aid, the vast majority of which is need-based grant aid. 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 admission. 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/IELTS and the GRE?

Applicants must submit official Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) scores when their native language is not English or when their baccalaureate is not from an institution where English is the sole language of instruction.

If you have any questions regarding this requirement, please contact the Office of Admissions at

The GRE is required for all applicants to our degree programs. However, GRE waivers are granted to MDiv, MTS, and ThM applicants who already hold advanced degrees. Please contact the Office of Admissions at if you have an advanced degree and would like to learn more about the process of waiving the GRE requirement.

What is the minimum TOEFL/IELTS score?

As a condition of admission, all international applicants whose native language is not English must take the TOEFL or IELTS. This requirement can be waived for those who attended an undergraduate institution where English was the sole language of instruction. Those who are unsure whether they qualify to waive the requirement are advised to contact the HDS Office of Admissions to verify.

Applicants for the following programs: MDiv, MTS, Ho Scholars program, and Special Students program must receive one of the following minimum scores:

  • TOEFL (computer-based exam): 100 or higher
  • TOEFL (paper-based exam): 600 or higher
  • IELTS: 7.5

Applicants for the ThM program must receive one of the following minimum scores:

  • TOEFL (computer-based exam): 105 or higher
  • TOEFL (paper-based exam): 620 or higher
  • IELTS: 8

I've heard that Harvard has very strict admissions requirements. If my grades and test scores aren’t perfect, is it worth it to apply?

Of course! Our successful applicants demonstrate their ability to do graduate theological study in a variety of ways, and the Admissions Committee honors that through our holistic admissions process. Alongside applicants’ past academic and test performance, the Committee will consider applicants’ writing skills, letters of recommendation, and professional and life experience. We review each application carefully, giving applicants of all backgrounds the opportunity to use the various components of the application to make a case for their academic success at HDS.

What is the minimum GPA requirement? What is the minimum GRE score?

We do not have a minimum GPA (grade point average) or minimum GRE score requirement. We review each application holistically, with the knowledge that successful HDS students possess strengths that can manifest themselves in different arenas. The various components of the application are intended to allow you to demonstrate, in a variety of ways, your academic preparation to engage in graduate-level theological study at Harvard Divinity School.

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 only 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. Please note that GRE scores are only valid for five years after your test date.

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 to which you would like to apply, you can begin preparing immediately, even before the online application is available each fall. Update your résumé or curriculum vitae (CV), study for the GRE, write an initial draft of your statement of purpose, discuss your application plans with your recommendation providers, review our application deadlines and policies, and consider 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. Please note that the online application is only available during the application season (September through January).

Does HDS require interviews during the admissions process?

We do not require or offer interviews for applicants. However, we recommend that applicants 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 your desired program at HDS will aid you in achieving those objectives.

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

Once your application has been submitted, you will be able log back into the online application to see the status of your application and to track our office’s receipt of your 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.

Per our institutional policy, the Office of Admissions cannot confirm receipt of your application materials via phone or email. Applicants can verify our office’s receipt of materials by logging into their applicant status page, which is updated daily.

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 all materials have been received and verified by our office. Please note that, at any time within the admissions process, our office may request additional materials to be submitted to complete your application.

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

Elise Alexander
Career Services at HDS strikes a wonderful balance between empowering students to help themselves through tip sheets and online resources, and providing hands-on guidance through consultations and their readiness to respond to emails. Thanks to them, I feel prepared to conduct the job search process after graduation. I’m confident that their help will prove useful long after I leave Cambridge.
—Elise Alexander, MTS '14
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