FAQ - Degree Program Eligibility

Do I need to have an undergraduate degree in religious studies to be eligible for admission to a master's program?

Beyond the completion of a bachelor's degree, there is no explicit need to have majored in religious studies in order to be eligible for a master's level program. Students come to the Divinity School, and to the study of religion, from a wide range of academic and professional backgrounds (including majors in Math, Business Administration, etc.), and indeed this diversity of perspectives is a valued aspect of our community and conversation. While it is helpful if students have done substantive work in the disciplines that compose the Humanities and the Social Sciences, the most important thing is that an applicant be able to articulate a cogent and informed statement of intent and interests in the study of religion, which could be the result of independent study or work tangential to one's primary field of activity. 

Do I need to have a well worked out plan for my future ministerial work in order to be able to apply for the MDiv program?

While some applicants to the MDiv program come to the Divinity School with more-or-less definite vocational plans, many do not, and it is not uncommon for a student's interests, vocational goals, and/or "calling" to shift during the course of study. One of the many virtues of the Ministry Program's cohort structure is that students are in conversation and intentional reflection with one another throughout the program, and this can be a venue and catalyst for the work of discernment. 


I'm not sure whether the grades from my prior postsecondary work and/or my GRE scores are strong enough for an application to the Divinity School. Should I bother applying?

As a rough guideline, competitive applicants to the Divinity School tend to have averages of B+ or better in postsecondary coursework and scores in the 80th percentile or better in the verbal and analytical writing sections of the GRE. (The quantitative scores plays a lesser role in the application review process, but in some cases [e.g. one wherein a student specifies a research agenda that includes significant quantitative sociological analysis] it might factor in to the admissions calculus.) The larger point, though, is that the Committee on Admissions and Aid reviews applications holistically and understands that, e.g., some students find their academic passions, or their stride, late in their bachelor's coursework or later in their careers. If you think about the application and its component parts as an argument for admission, GPAs and test scores will function as evidence in that argument—but not as the only evidence. 


What are the foreign language requirements for master's program eligibility? Do I need to have knowledge of French, German, Biblical Hebrew, or New Testament Greek?

Competency in these languages is not a prerequisite for application, but most students find it useful to have some prior knowledge of French or German (if applying to the MA) or of a foreign or ancient language relevant to one's faith tradition (if applying to the MDiv). Students in master's level programs demonstrate language competencies during their course of residence, and there are a range of options for gaining these competencies at the University and in the neighborhood. MA students demonstrate reading competency in either French or German by way of a timed translation examination; MDiv students pursue a two-course language sequence in, e.g., Greek, Hebrew, Qu'ranic Arabic, followed by a reading course that makes use of this language skill. 


What are the foreign language requirements for doctoral eligibility?

PhD students must demonstrate reading competency in both French and German while in residence, so it can be useful to have a background in one or both of these languages. Depending upon the area of application, moreover, applicants might need substantial skills in languages germane to their proposed programs of research. For example, competitive applications to the PhD program in Bible demonstrate significant skills and preparation in biblical languages, and especially in those that will figure in to one's proposed course of study; eligibility for the PhD program in Islamic Studies presupposes the equivalent of three years' instruction in Arabic. The general expectation is that applicants to the PhD program will be well on their way to mastery of the languages they will need for their primary research. 


Can I apply to the PhD program directly from my bachelor’s program?

The application to the Divinity School’s PhD program presupposes a master’s degree in a field of study related to your intended area of application. If you are just completing—or if your prior degree is—a bachelor’s degree, you should apply to a master’s-level degree program at the Divinity School. Most commonly, students wishing to pursue doctoral work apply to the Divinity School’s two-year MA, although the Committee on Admissions and Aid regards the three-year MDiv as potentially good preparation as well.


I have a master’s degree in _______________, can I apply directly to the PhD program?

This depends on how you fill in the blank. If the coursework from your master’s program (a) is integrally related to the program of study you propose for the PhD and (b) features substantial foundational coursework in the academic study of religion, the answer is generally, yes. If, hypothetically, you have a master’s degree in Sociology and plan to apply to the PhD in Anthropology and Sociology of Religion, the answer depends on the nature of your coursework and whether it includes some foundational training in religion/religious studies.


I’m still not sure whether my master’s degree is sufficient preparation for the PhD application; how can I decide the question?

The best practice is to reach out to members of the faculty in the area of study to which you plan to apply—giving details of your master’s degree—and ask whether your background is sufficient for the PhD application. In many cases, the faculty will refer you to the MA program—owing to the need for, e.g., more foundational coursework in the academic study of religion, more time to focus the doctoral plan of study, or enhanced language skills.


In choosing between the MA and the MDiv, am I effectively opting for or against a future application to the doctoral program?

No: while most students who plan to pursue the PhD enroll in the two-year MA program, MDiv students routinely, and successfully, petition for admission to the PhD program, and they tend to be competitive applicants to PhD programs offered by our peer institutions as well. Given that the MDiv curriculum is fairly specialized—and that many MDiv students take substantial coursework in preparation for ordination in a particular faith tradition—MDiv applicants/students should think carefully about their professional aims and begin conversations with the Ministry Program directors about the prospect of doctoral work at an early stage in their degree program.


I’m thinking toward future doctoral work; is the AMRS right for me?

In the vast majority of cases, no, the AMRS does not offer sufficient preparation for the doctoral application. The AMRS is designed for persons who want an ancillary credential in the academic study of religion to support their primary profession, or who simply want to pursue a degree in religion for the sake of so doing.


What if I have a prior master’s degree in a field of study tangential to my intended area of PhD application but lack foundational, master’s level coursework in the academic study of religion? Can I use the AMRS as a bridge to the PhD application?

This might be possible in exceptional circumstances, but, again, this is something you’d want to consider after conversations with the faculty in your intended area and the Dean of Students. In the majority of cases, students in this situation are referred to the MA program.