Admissions Frequently Asked Questions

General Questions

Do you offer online courses or degrees?

Except as noted below, online courses are not offered at HDS. Those who are interested in online learning through Harvard might consider Harvard Extension School, which offers courses on religion taught by HDS professors. Please note, however, that coursework completed at the Extension School will not lead to a degree at HDS.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all classes for the summer 2020, fall 2020, spring 2021, and summer 2021 terms were conducted online. We returned to in-person learning in fall 2021.

What can you do with an MDiv or MTS degree?

HDS 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 in both the Master of Divinity (MDiv) and Master of Theological Studies (MTS) programs is meant to prepare graduates for important work across many different fields. More detail: MDiv FAQs.

 

Do you offer any joint/concurrent degree programs?

MTS and MDiv students may pursue concurrent degree programs with the Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard Law School, and Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, among others.

For those who do not wish to pursue a concurrent degree, HDS students may take up to half of their courses across Harvard University and the Boston Theological Interreligious Consortium.

More information can be found in the HDS Handbook for Students.

 

Will the 2021-22 academic year be on-campus or remote?

HDS and Harvard University continue to closely monitor the course of the COVID-19 pandemic and the progress of the vaccination effort. Faculty, staff, and students will return to campus for the fall term, to the extent allowed by the evolving public health situation and with as much in-person learning as possible.

We also encourage you to visit Harvard University’s COVID-19 School and Program site for further details. 

 

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. While some of our students come with a faith tradition, 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.

Divinity school vs seminary: what’s the difference?

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.

Application Process

What is the reapplication process?

Applicants may reapply for admission to HDS. Applicants that have applied to HDS within the past three years may elect to reuse some materials from their previous application. Please find more information on this process, including a reapplication request form, in the application instructions within the HDS online application for admission. If you submit a reapplication request form, please do not submit your application for admission until you have received a response from HDS Admissions.

If you have any questions, or would like guidance on the procedure, please contact us at admissions@hds.harvard.edu.

What is the admissions timeline?

Harvard Divinity School has a single annual application cycle for fall enrollment. Each year, our application is available in mid-September, and the application deadline is in early January. All decisions will be released via our online system in mid-March. Admitted students will receive their financial aid information within 24 hours of their admissions decision, if they applied for need-based aid.

Does HDS require interviews during the admissions process?

An interview is required for admission to our four graduate degree programs (MDiv, MTS, MRPL, and ThM). Select candidates will be invited to a 15-minute, virtual interview with a member of the HDS Admissions staff. Invitations and more information about the interview process will be provided to applicants starting in late January/early February. Please note that an interview invitation does not guarantee admission to our degree programs. All official decisions will be released in mid-March.

Is there a waitlist for all programs?

At times, there can be a short waitlist for the MDiv and MTS degree programs.  While applicants will receive notice if they are on the waitlist when decisions are released in mid-March, please note that HDS cannot provide information on waitlist length or an applicant’s position. 

How can I show I’m a competitive applicant for HDS’ degree programs?

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.

When should I start preparing for the application process?

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), 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.

Once the application itself is available, you can find it along with a complete list of application requirements on the Apply page.  

Financial Aid

What is the difference between merit-based aid and need-based aid?

Merit-based aid is institutional grant aid that is offered to students based on the overall strength of their admissions application. Need-based grant aid is institutional grant aid that is based on an applicant’s financial aid application. The vast majority of grant aid given at Harvard Divinity School for MDiv and MTS students is need-based grant aid. Grant aid is gift aid that does not need to be repaid. 

What do I need to do to be considered for merit-based grant aid?

All applicants to the MDiv and MTS programs are automatically considered for merit-based 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.  

There is nothing that applicants need to do to be considered for merit-based aid. The admissions committee makes decisions on merit...

Read more about What do I need to do to be considered for merit-based grant aid?

Do HDS students work while going to school?

Many HDS students have part-time jobs while going to school. Students generally work 10 to 15 hours per week, many of them right on Harvard University’s campus. Many of our students work in libraries, in administrative offices, and in research positions or as part of their field education work. While some of these jobs are restricted for students who qualify for Federal Work Study, other positions are open to all students, including international students.

Application Requirements

What should I provide for a writing sample?

Your writing sample should demonstrate your strengths in writing, research, and critical analysis—skills that will be directly applicable to academic work at HDS. You can choose to submit: 

  • An excerpt of an academic paper in any subject area within the humanities or social sciences. 

  • An adapted piece of professional writing. 

  • An original work that is based upon a topic that you are interested in studying here at HDS. 

You may reuse a previous work, especially if you feel that it best represents your academic writing abilities. Please provide an excerpt from a larger piece or edit a selection down instead of providing the entire piece and stay within the word limit. You may add a brief note providing the larger context for the piece you choose. Please note that footnotes, bibliographies, or works cited pages do not count toward the overall word limit. 

I have been out of school for some time, and it may be difficult to obtain an academic recommendation. How should I proceed?

Your letters of recommendation should address the ways in which your professional experience supports your goals for graduate theological study. Many of our students have been out of school and working for a number of years. In cases where applicants have extensive professional experience, they may choose to obtain a letter of recommendation from a mentor or supervisor. This letter should address the ways in which your professional experience supports your goals for graduate theological study. Your recommendation providers should also speak about your professional skills and abilities and how they relate to graduate study of religion (e.g. any research, writing, critical analysis, etc.).

What do you look for in a letter of recommendation?

Letters of recommendation are some of the best sources of information our office receives about you, as they allow us to hear how your mentors, supervisors, and professors view you and your abilities.  

Letters should address your intellectual abilities, personal qualities, and promise for graduate study in religion. At least two of these letters should be solicited from college, university, or seminary professors who have taught you and are well-acquainted with your academic qualifications. MDiv applicants must have one letter that speaks of your ministerial potential, broadly defined. 

Your letters of recommendation should directly address your candidacy for admission to HDS. We recommend that you provide your recommendation providers with a copy of your résumé, statement of purpose, and a link to the program site so that they can write a tailored letter on your behalf. We also encourage you to have at least one or more conversations with each recommendation provider in order to ensure they have the information they need to write a strong letter on your behalf.  

What is the Project Proposal for the MRPL Application?

You can access the project proposal form and instructions within the HDS online application for admission. 

Within the program, master of religion and public life (MRPL) students will complete a final project that engages the topic of religion within their profession. The final project will be shaped in consultation with the faculty instructor of the Religion and Public Life Seminar, MRPL candidate peers in the seminar, and the student's faculty advisor. The final project may take one of the following three forms:  

  • A portfolio addressing a particular theme in the intersection of religion and the student's profession. This option could, for example, take the form of a series of case studies, a series of articles, or a portfolio of artistic creations relevant to an articulated theme.; or  

  • Two smaller papers (each normally 20-30 pages in length); or  

  • One large paper (normally 40-60 pages in length) 

All options require approval from the faculty advisor and RPL director by mid-December of the year in which a student is enrolled. Final projects may incorporate work done in courses counting toward fulfillment of the MRPL degree requirements but must also include substantially new materials. Applicants will use the form within the application for admission to provide some preliminary thoughts on their intended MRPL project.  

How do I submit my transcript?

Applicants are required to upload unofficial transcripts from each postsecondary institution that they have attended in the academic history section of the application. All transcripts should show courses completed, grades received, duration of study, and degree or diploma received, if applicable.

Please keep in mind that you will need to provide official transcripts (and translations, if applicable) for verification, should you be admitted. HDS reserves the right to withdraw an offer of admission if there is a discrepancy between an applicant’s uploaded transcript and official transcript or translation.

For fall 2021 application cycle: We are unable to accept any hard copy materials via postal mail.

What is the minimum GPA requirement?

We do not have a minimum GPA (grade point average). The admissions committee reviews each application holistically and each component of the application is carefully reviewed with the knowledge that successful HDS students possess strengths in different areas. The 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.

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

The Statement of Purpose 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 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 status page and 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.

Please note: we are unable to accept any hard copy materials sent by postal mail.

Do you offer application fee waivers?

HDS provides application fee waivers to applicants who are:

  • HDS Diversity and Explorations alumnx

  • Posse Foundation alumnx

  • Experiencing financial constraints

All application fee waiver requests are subject to approval and should be submitted by January 3, 2022. You can access this form from the HDS online application for admission and will be inside the application instructions. If you request a fee waiver, please do not submit your application until you have submitted the waiver request and received a response from the Admissions Office. If you have any questions, or would like guidance on the procedure, please contact us at admissions@hds.harvard.edu.

TOEFL/IELTS and GRE Requirements

Am I required to submit a TOEFL or IELTS Score?

Applicants must submit official TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) scores or IELTS (International English Language Testing System) 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 admissions@hds.harvard.edu.

What is the minimum TOEFL/IELTS score?

As a condition of admission, all international applicants whose native language is not English, or who did not receive their baccalaureate degree from an institution where English is the sole language of instruction, must take the TOEFL or IELTS. If you have any questions about if your undergraduate degree and institution satisfy this requirement, please reach out to the Office of Admissions at admissions@hds.harvard.edu.

MDiv, MTS, MRPL, and Special Student applicants must receive a score of:

  • 100 or higher on the Internet-based TOEFL test
  • 7.5 or higher on the IELTS test

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

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