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Post by: Jarred Batchelor-Hamilton, MDiv 2020, HDS Office of Admissions Graduate Assistant 

***Please note: As of June 2019, the HDS Office of Admissions has changed our policy about the GRE. The GRE is now optional for all applicants to our degree programs. Applicants may submit GRE scores if they feel it will be beneficial to their application. We are in the process of updating this post to reflect the new policy.

Every year, we receive a large quantity of questions about various aspects of the application. This year, we thought it would be helpful to publish a series of posts to answer some of the most commonly asked questions. Last week, we published a Q & A about letters of recommendation. This week, we decided to focus on test scores. Please check back soon to see the next post in our series, “How to Apply: Statement of Purpose.”  


Who needs to take the GRE? 

All applicants need to submit GRE scores for their application to be complete. Exceptions to this rule apply only for individuals who already hold an advanced degree or are in the process of completing an advanced degree. Please read below for more information on the GRE waiver process. You can also find this information on our website and within the application instructions.  

How important is my GRE score in the admissions application? 

We review each application holistically, with the knowledge that successful HDS students possess strengths that can manifest themselves in different areas. The various 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. This data point is one out of many that we review in your application and we utilize it differently depending on the other components of your application. 

Does the quantitative score matter as much as the verbal? 

As many of our applicants come from humanities backgrounds, this is one question we get often. The answer to this question depends on what you want to do with your time here at HDS. If you plan to work on research in a humanities related field, we encourage you to focus on the verbal section more than the quantitative. If you have interest in a dual degree and you know you might need some expertise in statistics or economics, we recommend paying more attention to the quantitative section. It is all about focusing on your strengths and letting them shine through the sections of the GRE in which you know you can do well in.  

What is the difference between requesting a GRE waiver and self-waiving the GRE requirement within the application? 

There is indeed a difference between when you can self-waive the GRE requirement and when you need to submit a GRE waiver form. If you are currently in a graduate program (MA, M.Ed., J.D.) and you will finish by the time you matriculate into HDS, you will need to request a GRE waiver. The GRE waiver form is found in the application under the Standardized Test section. If you already hold an advanced degree (you are not currently in the program) you do not need to apply for a GRE waiver and should instead opt to self-waive the GRE requirement on the application.  

Please keep in mind that GRE Waiver Requests should be completed as soon as possible for we cannot guarantee their approval, meaning that you may still need time to take the test and send your scores before the deadline. While it is important that you submit this as soon as possible, the final date to submit a GRE waiver is January 2nd 

Please note that the Admissions Committee reviews all GRE scores received, including those sent by people who have waived the GRE requirement.  

Can I apply for a GRE waiver if I have completed some graduate level work but do not intend to finish my degree?  

While GRE waiver requests are primarily intended for those students currently pursuing a graduate degree with the intent to finish their program before matriculating at HDS, waivers are granted on a case-by-case basis. This means that those applicants who fit this profile are more than welcome to submit a GRE waiver request. However, it is important that you submit this request as soon as possible to provide time for review and in the possibility that your request is denied, enough time for you to prepare and take the GRE. The final day to submit a GRE waiver request form is January 2nd, but we do not recommend waiting until this deadline in the case that it is rejected. 

Are there any possible disadvantages of waiving the GRE requirement?  

The short answer: it depends. The long answer is nuanced and highly dependent on an individual applicant. As stated above, we usually say that a poor GRE score won’t negatively impact an otherwise strong application, but a strong one can help. For example, a high GRE score can help compensate for a lower than average GPA. Another example of a time when a GRE score might make your application more competitive is if you are coming from a science background. In these cases, a solid verbal score can help compensate for a transcript lacking in humanities courses. Finally, if you have been out of school for a long time, a strong GRE can be helpful to show a more recent data point related to your academic abilities.  If you are truly uncertain, we usually recommend that you reach out to admissions@hds.harvad.edu for a more nuanced conversation.   

What if I receive low scores on my GRE, should I still apply?  

Absolutely! The GRE is only one factor in the admissions process. A low GRE score will not automatically disqualify you from getting accepted into HDS just as a high GRE score will not automatically grant acceptance. Not everyone is the best test taker and the admissions team understands this. You should nonetheless study as hard as you are able for the GRE and get a ton of rest before the exam. Some more tips can be found here: https://www.princetonreview.com/grad-school-advice/how-to-prepare-for-gre 


Is the TOEFL or the IELTS required for me? 

All international applicants whose native language is not English must take the TOEFL or IELTS, unless you attended an undergraduate institution where English was the sole language of instruction (an example would be a school in the U.S. or the American University of Paris).  

If I have an advanced/graduate degree from the U.S. or an institution where English was the sole language of instruction, do I still need to take the TOEFL or IELTS?  

While you will be able to waive the GRE requirement (since you hold a graduate degree), you must submit TOELF or IELTS scores unless your native language is English or you received your baccalaureate degree from an institution in which English is the sole language of instruction.  

What documentation do I need to provide for proof that my baccalaureate degree was awarded at an institution taught solely in English? 

If you know your institution was taught solely in English, you can verify by looking at your transcript. International schools taught in English often provide indication on your transcript if English was the sole language of instruction. If you are unsure, please do not hesitate to contact our office as early as possible so we can work with you to verify this information.  

Do I need to take both the TOEFL and the IELTS? 

Nope! You do not need to take both exams. Take whichever one is more convenient for you. We accept scores from both tests. 

Does HDS have minimum score requirements for the TOEFL/IELTS? If so, what are they? 

Yes. Below are the minimum requirement scores for the TOELF and IELTS.  

Applicants for the following programs: MDiv, MTS, and Special Students program must receive one of the following minimum scores: 

  • TOEFL (computer-based exam): 100 or higher  
  • TOEFL (paper-based exam): 600 or higher  
  • IELTS: 7.5 

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

  • TOEFL (computer-based exam): 105 or higher  
  • TOEFL (paper-based exam): 620 or higher  
  • IELTS: 8 

We hope this information has proven helpful for you! Test scores can be a tricky aspect of the application, especially if you are weighing whether-or-not to waive the GRE. If you have any further questions or concerns not addressed here, please reach out to us at admissions@hds.harvard.edu.  Again, keep any eye out for our upcoming post on the statement of purpose, and good luck with your applications!