The e-mail arrived in your inbox (or pinged on your phone). It likely said something dreadfully vague and adrenaline-inducing, such as “Thank you for your application, admissions decisions are now available online, click this shiny link and prepare to wait for the longest page-load in the history of page-loads.”
Not in so many words, of course.
But then the page did load, and the message was clear. And even on the fifth time through, it still says Congratulations. When your best friend reads a screencap of it, it says the very same thing. When you copy and paste it into a Facebook post and everyone else reads the same words that mean “I got into Harvard,” you’ll probably come to terms with the fact that Harvard did, in fact, say yes.
And on that note: congratulations!
But see, here’s the part that no one likes to talk about. We all prefer to highlight that nerve-wracking moment of discovery, the celebration and laughing and shouting that followed the arrival of that fateful acceptance letter. We like remembering the satisfying mouse-click when we accepted the offer and took our first steps toward embarking upon a new chapter in our lives.
The fact is, though, that you’re all pretty brilliant. You all have something incredible to bring to the table. You are all competitive scholars, activists, and seekers in your fields.
So the fact is: you probably have more than just Harvard’s offer on the table.
It’s far too rare that we discuss the genuine challenge that can arise from a plethora of good things happening all at once. The truth is, however, that when faced with a situation where there doesn’t seem to be any (or where there are very few) “bad” options, sometimes the decision itself becomes that much more difficult to arrive at. Good stress is still stress, after all, and the process of settling on the very best among a plethora of good choices can feel overwhelming, at times.
So you’ve got yourself a handful of really lovely things, and you’re trying to parse out which shines the brightest. What makes HDS the crème de la crème?
The absolute first thing to remember is that the best program among many is the one that fits you—the one that makes you feel not just positive, but excited about investing in your future there. This isn’t just the place where you’ll spend a few years of graduate school. This is the place where you’ll lay the foundation for your career, where you’ll form friendships, make your home, and build your life for the duration of the program. Give yourself the freedom to discern where you’ll best find your niche, where you’ll not only succeed, but grow, and thrive. If the idea of HDS puts excitement in your voice and makes you feel more peace than apprehension about making your decision; if it feels sound in some amorphous, inarticulable, but undeniably visceral way, that’s the first, and perhaps the best sign that it’s a solid choice.
From there, though, you’re probably seeing a lot of numbers, a lot of statistics, a lot of hype about the Harvard name and the incredible scholars that HDS houses, the breadth of programming we offer, etcetera etcetera. And any one of those things is a great reason to come here. But when I was making my decision, I remember focusing on that amorphous sense of rightness, the subtle things that made this place special. I chose here because I was convinced those things lived in abundance at HDS.
Turns out, I was right.
So, I’d like to provide you with a few extra reasons to think about making HDS your home, aside from the percentages and the big names and the Harvard mythos.
I encourage you to come here for the wealth of resources–not merely in our libraries and the libraries of our peer institutions, but in the people: your professors, your librarians, the staff and administrators, and perhaps most significantly, your colleagues–your peers. A friend of mine recently told me that when she looks at the caliber of her friends, she knows that whatever the future holds, she’s “already made it.” Those are the kinds of people you’ll meet here. So come for the times where you embark on a presentation with a group of strangers and end up finding the friend you click with so well that she invites you to visit in Rome over the summer; the friends who bring you homemade chicken soup from the other side of the city when you’re sick; the classmates who read your draft at 11:45 PM when it’s due at 11:59:59. Come for the advisor who offers to have you over for tea on his day off to discuss your questions, because he knows he’ll be free then, and he cares enough to give up his own time to have a genuine and unhurried conversation with you. Come for the administrator who reads the tension in your shoulders, coaxes a bit of your worry out, and proceeds to make you coffee and serve you sweets as she sits and talks for more minutes than her schedule can likely spare. These are the invaluable resources of Harvard Divinity School.
(But let me assure you: if you can think of no better reason to come to HDS than Harvard’s library system? That alone would also be enough.)
Come for the papers you’ll write, the ones you’ll think That was an excellent paper about without any grounding for said opinion except your own sense of quality. Come for the sense of accomplishment that comes when those papers are praised by some of the top scholars in the field; when they’re accepted to conferences; when they’re critiqued rigorously and with passion by people who are knowledgeable and engaged, when you finally encounter that invigorating collegiate dialogue you’ve been dreaming of finding.
Come for the free tea and coffee. Because graduate students cannot possibly ingest enough caffeine. Ever.
Come for the quiet places, the sanctuaries. Come for the meditation cushions in our chapels that people actually use. Come for the nook in the library near the window, by the plants. Come for the way the sun streams through stained glass and lights up ancient wood. Come for the way people smile at you when they see you, even if they don’t know you. Come for the way we share time and space with one another not only with intentionality, but with joy.
But most of all: come to HDS because you feel it feeds something in you, excites something in you, and challenges you to grow with others, to learn from others, and to develop as a scholar, but also as a person. Come to HDS because you believe you will be better for having been here, for having learned here, for having thrived here.
Above all else: come to HDS for yourself. We’re looking forward to having you.