Five Lessons I Learned My First Semester at HDS

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Editor’s Note: Last fall our first year HDS students made the decision to join our community amid uncertainty brought on by a global pandemic. In this post, MDiv student, Cassie Montenegro, shares some of the lessons she learned in her first semester at HDS.  

Post by Cassie Montenegro MDiv’23 

Photo Courtesy of Cassie Montenegro

Like some of you, I found myself applying to divinity school after taking a less than linear route. I’m a trained attorney, experienced teacher, and former TEDx organizer. I am also a queer cis-gendered Cuban American woman who was raised on café con leche, the Rosary, and Tibetan chanting. And I am a first year MDiv with a penchant for Religion and Literature and a love of sacred space. However, it took me about six and a half years to muster the courage to apply to Harvard Divinity School. As I find myself a few weeks into my second semester, I would do well to remind myself of the lessons learned last semester about the Harvard community, about student life on Zoom, and about myself. 

  1. There is no “right time” or “wrong time” to go to Divinity school. Although joining the HDS community would quickly prove one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, when the time came to leave a profession I loved, to begin a new vocation amidst a global pandemic, the decision was not an easy one. Should I try to defer? Take a reduced course-load? However, the more I networked with and spoke to other current and admitted students, especially those within my Unitarian Universalist faith tradition, I knew I had found my people, my place. 
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Harvard Wide Opportunities

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Editor’s Note: At Harvard Divinity School, our students can utilize resources across Harvard University. In this post, we’ll highlight some of the facilities, opportunities, and experiences that our students can access beyond HDS.  

Photo Courtesy of Kristie Welsh

Libraries 
As a Harvard student you have access to Harvard’s impressive and one of kind library system which includes over 73 libraries and over 20 million volumes. You will also have access to Harvard’s incredible archives, including collections on women’s history at the Schlesinger Library and the collection of rare books and manuscripts in the Houghton Library. Whether you study religion at the intersection of law, politics, education, medicine, or more, Harvard probably has a library with books tailored to your area of study.  

Take Courses Across the University 
At HDS you’ll find that our students, even students in the same program, have very different class schedules because of the vast course options available. As an HDS student you can take classes at other Harvard graduate schools as well as at schools who are part of the Boston Theological Interreligious Consortium which includes 8 other schools.  It’s so easy to cross-register in courses at other Harvard schools that you don’t even need special approval from your advisor—you just simply enroll! You can check out some of the course offerings here.  

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Exploring Death, Music, and Spirituality in Field Education: An experiment in collaboration and virtual creativity

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Editor’s Note: HDS students have the opportunity to participate in field education, a structured learning experience that combines theory with practice. Students in the MDiv program are required to complete 2 units of field education, however it is optional for MTS students. Due to the pandemic, field education placements were shifted to virtual platforms, as were classes, in the Fall 2020 and Spring 2021. In this post, Julia Reimann MDiv’22, shares her experience thus far completing her field education requirement virtually.  

Post by Julia Reimann MDiv’22 

Photo Courtesy of Julia Reimann

As the start of fall semester 2020 approached, my second year Master of Divinity student self was not looking forward to an entire virtual semester. In particular, I was dreading the prospect of completing my first unit of field education digitally. In the first few months of learning at HDS (when we were able to be in-person), I heard many stories from classmates in field education placements about how they were glad to be actively engaged in and practicing the ideas learned and developed in the classroom; abstract learnings were made tangible in their sites. Months later, as an aspiring chaplain, I feared what would be lost in this new virtual version of graduate school & field education made necessary by the insidiousness of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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I Submitted My Application, Now What?

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Photo Courtesy of Kristie Welsh

First, take comfort in knowing that the application process is now out of your hands and that you have done what you needed to do to craft a strong application. In addition to celebrating the fact that you’ve submitted your graduate school application, here are some other things you can do while you wait for decisions to come out:  

Apply for Financial Aid: If you haven’t already, be sure to apply for financial aid. Look out for an email from the financial aid office with instructions on how to apply. Although you do not need to apply to for financial aid to be considered for merit-based aid, you do need to apply for financial aid to be considered for need-based aid. About 90 percent of students receive some form of institutional grant assistance, and the vast majority of that is need-based aid, so we strongly encourage all HDS applicants to apply for financial aid even if they feel that they may not qualify for need-based aid. 

Keep Up with Admissions Office: Our Admissions Team will be hosting various panels and presentations in the coming months to help answer any questions you may still have. Keep an eye out for our emails and follow us on Instagram (@harvarddivinity). Also, feel free to look through previously recorded panels here and browse the student crafted content on our Admissions Blog. 

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Celebrating the HDS Community!

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Editor’s Note: Due to the pandemic, HDS made the difficult decision of continuing remote learning for fall and spring semester this year. In this post, HDS student, Malini Srikrishna, highlights the resilience and strength of the HDS community despite the challenge of distance.  

Post by Malini Srikrishna MTS’21 

Photo Courtesy of Malini Srikrishna

We finally made it! I want to affirm and explore the confusion all current HDS students felt last semester because we were forced to be together and experience love in ways that were unfamiliar. I write this to record the monumental ability that has been displayed so all those who come after us can read this and enter with the hope of unrestricted possibilities. During the past year of being students and teachers during a global pandemic, our community displayed a remarkable commitment to being open to new experiences that have only become better over awkwardness, laughter and time. As has often been advised for endeavors such as this — it has been a time to make the strange familiar and the familiar strange. 

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Misconceptions I Had When Applying to HDS

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Editor’s Note: We know that students who are considering HDS may have some preconceived notions about what being a student at HDS is like. In this post, one of our Graduate Assistants, Kate Hoeting, helps dispel some common misconceptions.  

Post by Kate Hoeting, MTS ‘21 

Photo Courtesy of Kate Hoeting

When I was applying to HDS two years ago, I did my research, but I still made a lot of assumptions about what attending HDS would be like. Looking back now, I can’t believe that I had these misconceptions—some of them seem funny because they’re so far off from the truth about HDS. So now, I’m letting you know what my misconceptions were so that you won’t make the same ones. 

  1. I thought all MDiv students were affiliated with a religion. When I was first figuring out which degree program to choose, I didn’t even consider the MDiv because I’m not affiliated with a certain religious tradition. In reality, I could have totally been a nonreligious MDiv! The MTS degree is not at all a degree for analyzing religion from a nonreligious point of view, and the MDiv is not a degree exclusively designed for affiliated folks. At HDS, the lines between these two degrees are blurred.  
  1. I thought that Harvard professors wouldn’t have time for their students. It turns out that assumption couldn’t have been farther from the truth. I have been absolutely floored by the care and dedication that some of my professors have offered up to their students during the pandemic. It’s such an honor to be taught by people who make me feel “star struck,” but also are down-to-earth and ready to offer feedback on whatever projects I’m working on. 
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Frequently Asked Questions

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Editor’s Note: For this blog post, we wanted to highlight some of the questions we receive most often in the Ask Students inbox. If you don’t see your question here, we encourage you to reach out to the Admissions Graduate Assistants. 

HDS Photo

I do not have experience in religious studies, is there a place for me at HDS?  

At HDS, we admit students from a diverse range of academic backgrounds. We receive many applications from individuals who have not completed coursework in religious studies and theology. In these cases, the Admissions Committee pays attention to previous coursework in the humanities and social sciences and to the applicant’s demonstrated interests and qualifications. If your work in the humanities and social sciences is limited, you might want to consider enrolling in a course in the field to demonstrate that you are prepared to do graduate-level work in religion. Make sure to use your statement of purpose as an opportunity to demonstrate how your past academic and professional experiences have uniquely prepared you for graduate study in the field of religion. 

My interests overlap with both the MDiv and MTS program, which one should I apply for?  

We receive numerous emails from students who find that both the MTS and the MDiv align with their academic interests. Both degrees will prepare you for a variety of career paths as well as PhD programs. There are some logistical differences between the two programs and the best way to get a snapshot of the two is to look at the comparison chart of the two programs here. We also have recorded panels on both the MDiv and MTS degree programs that you can check out here. We would recommend that you pay extra attention to the MDiv requirements. The MDiv requires a field education component that is optional for the MTS program. Does Field Education feel like an important part of what you want out of divinity school? We’d also recommend asking yourself if you would be interested in courses that involve reflecting on the meaning of ministry and your own personal relationship with religion/spirituality.  If so, then the MDiv might be a better option for you. 

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Last Minute Application Questions and Answers

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Editor’s Note: We hope this blog post helps answer any last-minute questions you may still have. Be sure to also check out our How to Apply series and the recorded HDS Admissions virtual events from this semester. Please note that the Admission’s Office is closed until January 1st and will reopen on January 4th. We are confident that you will use the tools we’ve provided and your best judgement as you finish up your application. Best of luck! 

HDS Photo // Courtesy of Kristie Welsh

Can I submit my application before my recommenders submit their letters? 

Yes, you can submit your application before your recommenders have submitted their letters. However, please note that it is your responsibility to remind your recommenders of the deadline and continue to check the status of your materials to make sure they are submitted on time.  

How do I apply for financial aid?  

The application for financial aid will become available AFTER the application deadline. Those who have applied will receive the financial aid application via email. Check your spam folder if you don’t receive the financial aid application information by late January and contact Financial Aid with any questions or concerns. The financial aid application is short and easy to complete. If you are an American citizen or qualified resident, you must also submit the FAFSA. International applicants are not required to submit the FAFSA.  Please note that you only need to include your personal financial information, and not your family’s financial information, on both the FAFSA and the HDS financial aid application.  

Upon submitting your HDS application, you will be considered for merit-based aid. However, you must submit the HDS financial-aid application to be considered for need-based aid.  Approximately 90 percent of students receive some form of institutional grant assistance, and the vast majority of that is need-based aid, so we strongly encourage all HDS applicants to apply for financial aid. 

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Advice from Current Students as You Finish Up Your Application

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Editor’s Note: For this blog post, we asked current students to share some words of wisdom to help students as they finish up their HDS application. We know this can be a stressful time, but we hope this insight from current students makes the process a little easier. If you have any specific questions about the application, please reach out to the admissions team

Kenashia Thompson MDiv ’23 She/Her/Hers 

When you finish your application, celebrate! Relax! Kick your feet up! Treat yourself fam! Don’t stress! The decision will come soon enough. You’ve done your part in applying to HDS and this community would be blessed to have you and everything that you offer. Even if you don’t get accepted, realize that you are still ENOUGH and your talents and scholarship in this season are needed elsewhere. This is not the end. I’m rooting for you one trillion percent. 

Lóre Stevens MDiv ’22 She/Her/Hers 

As someone with a previous master’s degree: Know your deep, clear reason for coming to grad school. That reason will be what gets you through, so if it’s fuzzy or absent, this whole experience will be more difficult and less fulfilling. 

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Applying to Graduate School During a Pandemic

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Editor’s Note: My name is Jessica Cantos, and I am a current student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) in the Higher Education program. Due to the pandemic, my entire HGSE experience will be virtual because my program is only a year long. While zoom classes were not what I expected when I applied to graduate school a year ago, I have been overjoyed with the compassionate and support that professors and administrators have shown students during this challenging time. As I finish up my first semester remotely, I wanted to offer my perspective to students who are considering graduate school at a time where it feels impossible to plan ahead. I hope that the advice and insight offered in this post gives you the confidence and support you need to take this next step.  

Post by Jessica Cantos, Admissions Graduate Assistant

While we are currently planning for Fall 2021 to be back to an in-person, on-campus experience, we don’t know what will happen in the future with the pandemic and public health. If HDS needs to be remote for Fall 2021, we won’t have that decision until late spring or early summer, well after the Fall 2021 application deadline of January 7. Rest assured that if you do apply, are admitted, and accept our offer of admission, and then the decision is made to be remote in the fall, we will work with you to discuss your enrollment options. This blog post is meant to help you navigate the uncertainty of the pandemic and plans to apply to graduate school. 

Deciding to apply to graduate school during any “normal” year feels stressful and uncertain, but even more so during a global pandemic. If you’re feeling unsure whether it is the right time to pursue graduate education, you are not alone! Here are some things to consider as you decide:  

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