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Hello everyone, we hope you are taking good care of yourselves as you prepare your application materials. As prior applicants, current students, and Graduate Assistants in the Office of Admissions, we know how stressful a time this can be. We’ve gathered quite a bit of behind the scenes information throughout our experiences in each of these roles, so we thought we’d write a blog to help you out. We’ve divided this post into two sections, beginning with a Q+A between Graduate Assistants Emily Rogal and Mikaela Allen and ending with a section featuring Application Myths, also produced by Emily Rogal and Mikaela Allen. Enjoy, and let us set your minds at ease!


Q: What sorts of things should I talk about in my SOP?

Mikaela: Good question! As you know, the Statement of Purpose is one of the most important aspects of your application. You should not slack when it comes to your SOP. But relax, you got this! You should present your authentic self, making sure to emphasize how HDS can help you achieve your goals. Questions to consider include: How has my background brought me to this moment, and how has it prepared me for HDS? What does HDS offer that I can’t find in another program? How does HDS fit into my long term goals? What faculty might I want to work with? Why? What courses might I want to take? How do my goals and studies connect to my interests and passions? What do I hope to accomplish with my degree?

Don’t forget to triple-check your spelling!

Q: What is the minimum GRE score and GPA?

Emily: Okay, first, take a deep breath! Having your entire personhood be contained in two numbers is totally scary, but what helped me during this time is knowing that the Admissions Office of HDS takes a holistic approach to reading the application. There is no minimum for either of these numbers.

When I was applying, I really freaked out about the GRE. I went to a small liberal arts school where I hadn’t touched a piece of math for my entire four years. Taking the GRE was extremely stressful! The best advice I have is to spend some time studying (if you can, test books are usually helpful), and dedicate the time to it that you can.

In terms of your GPA, it can feel scary to submit your academic records with no room for explanation. That’s why there’s actually room for an explanation! If you have any grades, or a period of time during your academic career where your grades don’t accurately reflect your capabilities, it might be beneficial to write what was happening in the “Academic History” section of your application. At the very bottom, there is space for you to write a note to the Admissions Committee anything about your academic records that requires further explanation.

Q: What did you do when you felt overwhelmed or inadequate?

Mikaela: During my application process, I made sure to stop for the day whenever I felt overworked so my Statement of Purpose and essay would reflect my clearest mind. Burnout and feelings of uncertainty are normal. Whenever you feel application burnout, go talk to your friends, grab coffee with a professor or colleague, or play with your dog. These types of activities will bring out your best self and remind you why you are applying whenever you become overwhelmed. Like all crafts, SOP writing needs space, more so than your average paper. Remember to listen to music, read your favorite authors, and go out with friends. Your application is for the benefit of your future, but don’t forget to take care of yourself in the present.

Q: How did you feel after you submitted your application?

Emily: Eventually, you’ll reach a point in your application where you’ve studied for the GRE for too many hours, spell checked your statement of purpose too many times, and double checked that your letters of recommendation have been submitted for the eight thousandth time. When you reach this moment, it’s time to submit your application!

Submitting the application can be both a sigh of relief and a huge source of anxiety. After you’ve submitted your application, first, take some time to congratulate yourself for a job well done. Making application to a graduate institute is a ton of work, and you’ve done it! Emerge from whatever library or bedroom or cave you’ve been living in for the past few months and do something to celebrate with friends, ride your bike around a park, pet your dog, and eat a lot of ice cream. Now is the hard part…waiting!


I don’t need to apply to financial aid, I probably won’t get in, anyway, right?

Emily: No, absolutely wrong! In mid-January, after submitting your application for admission, you will receive a link to apply for need based financial aid. Many folks choose to not apply for aid because they either think they will not get in, assume they won’t qualify for need based aid or feel as though they are likely to receive merit based aid. The majority of HDS’ financial aid is devoted to need based aid so all students are strongly encouraged to apply for need based aid. Additionally, if you choose to not apply for need based financial aid and are not offered a merit award, when you receive your acceptance letter, you will not receive a financial aid package. By the time of acceptance, all of the money will have been given out. Please apply for financial aid, and if you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to our Office of Financial Aid at financial_aid@hds.harvard.edu.

Emailing or mailing the Admissions Office a copy of my book or dissertation can substitute the GRE, the Statement of Purpose, and letters of recommendation, can’t it?

Mikaela: Nope! Nothing outside the required application materials is considered as part of your application. If you do not complete the requirements, your application will not be considered complete, even if you sent us your book.

Note: If you have already received a graduate degree, you may choose to self-waive the GRE by checking a waiver box within the application. If you are still working towards the completion of your graduate degree, you should request a GRE waiver, which includes an individual review of your previous graduate work. You can also find this information in the application instructions.

I should only start talking to my partner/friends/children/dog about moving once I get accepted.

Emily: The Office of Admissions won’t give you an extension to make your decision because you just started thinking about going to HDS! Once you submit your application, definitely start thinking about what it would look like to relocate your life to Boston if you’re from out of town. For housing, looking at resources like Boston Housing groups on Facebook, the Harvard Off-Campus Housing website, and the Boston Craigslist housing can be helpful. You may also want to look into living in a graduate dorm through the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Other options include the Cronkhite Graduate Center, and other housing options within the Graduate Commons Program. Additionally, beginning to have honest, open conversations with your family or partner will be beneficial in the long run. Now is also a good time to consider moving expenses.

I should email or mail my official transcripts to you after I submit the application.

Mikaela: False. We only require that you send your official transcripts after you are admitted and if you elect to attend HDS. At that time, you will only need to provide official transcripts for those institutions from which you have been conferred a degree. Until then, unofficial transcripts from each post-secondary institution you attended, showing all undergraduate and graduate work, will suffice.

Note: All unofficial transcripts must be clearly legible and show the full name of the applicant and academic institution, courses completed, grades received, duration of study, and degree or diploma received, if applicable. All foreign transcripts, including grades, grading scales, conferrals of degrees, and records of all courses, seminars, and examinations taken, must be in English or be accompanied by a complete official and literal translation signed by the translator. Under no circumstances may an applicant translate their own transcript. The translator must also certify that the original transcript came to them directly from the educational institution. Please remember to upload your transcripts with their accompanying translation.

My friend told me that calling the Admissions Office every single day is a sure-fire way to get in.

Emily: While our office is definitely happy to answer any outstanding questions you have in between submitting your application and hearing back, it’s definitely a myth that you need to contact us frequently to “stay on our radar.” Focus your energy on what you want to say to the Admissions Committee in your application, but be sure to contact us if we can help you with something specific! We are here to assist you as you navigate the application process.

I don’t have to upload my transcripts from community college.

Mikaela: False. You must upload ALL transcripts from each post-secondary institution you attended and received academic credit, including courses taken at a community college, even if you did not earn a degree from said college.

I can’t apply if I already have a graduate degree (or two).

Mikaela: Not true! Many of our students have already earned graduate degrees. HDS understands that people have many reasons for coming back to school, including career changes and professional development among others. However, because you already hold an advanced degree, we encourage you to use the Statement of Purpose to indicate how another advanced degree will benefit your professional and academic goals. Good luck!

Thank you for reading! We hope this post has been helpful to you. Feel free to contact us at ask_students@hds.harvard.edu if you have any questions or concerns. Please note that we Graduate Assistants will be out of the office from December 18th, 2017 at 5PM through January 5th, 2018 at 9AM EST. During that time, feel free to email your questions to admission@hds.harvard.edu. Also bear in mind that the Office of Admissions itself will be closed from 5PM EST on December 22nd, 2017 through 9AM EST, January 2nd, 2018.

Good luck with your applications!