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Post by: Fernando Benetti, MTS ‘21 

Editor’s Note: In this post, Master’s of Theological Studies (MTS) student Fernando Benetti walks us through his complicated path to Harvard Divinity School (HDS). As Fernando’s story shows, our students come from diverse backgrounds and unique experiences—no prospective student’s journey through the application process will be identical to the next. As you read please keep in mind that Fernando’s journey shouldn’t be read as specific advice or requirements for all applicants. In addition, remember that if you’re applying to HDS after already completing another master’s degree like Fernando, your Statement of Purpose should clearly articulate why you need another master’s degree to reach your career or vocational goals. As always, if you have any questions about application best practices, you can email us at admissions.hds.harvard.edu. 

Hello everyone! I’m Fernando, and this is my first post on the blog. I’m excited to be with you all. I’m here to tell you how I decided to apply to Harvard University. I am originally from Southern Brazil and have completed my BA in Cultural History in 2014 in my hometown of Florianópolis. After finishing college, I started traveling the world and visited around thirty countries in Europe, Latin America, North Africa, and the  Middle East. In 2016, I settled in India and started an MA in Buddhist Studies, Philosophy, and Comparative Religion at Nalanda University, in Rajgir, Bihar. Rajgir is a small village in a rural area. The pervasive peace of the place allowed me to spend long periods studying and practicing meditation without the distractions of big cities. 

My classmates and professors at Nalanda University
Photo courtesy of FERNANDO BENETTI. 

By the beginning of the second year, my faculty advisor called me to her office and said, “Fernando, you are doing great in classes. You should try to go to Harvard for your PhD.” In the beginning, the possibility of moving to the USA was confusing and shocking. Giving myself the chance to even think that I would deserve to study at Harvard required a great deal of self-confidence, let alone going through the challenging process of application.  

How my life in India looked
Photo courtesy of FERNANDO BENETTI. 

That meeting with my professor was like a small seed planted in my heart, and I spent the remaining semester thinking about it. By the beginning of 2018, I met a Professor from the University of California, Santa Barbara at a Buddhist Conference in Sikkim, India and asked her advice about going to the USA for studies. Then, she added, “Harvard University is one of the few places which can offer you full scholarships for a master’s degree. You should avoid a gap in your academic path and should be sure you are studying two classical languages.” 

By mid-2018, I moved to Kathmandu, Nepal and enrolled for 1-year Master of Arts Preparatory Program at RangJung Yeshe Institute to study Sanskrit and Tibetan. Apart from studying, the Institute offered me a Teacher Assistant position on History of Buddhist Cultures. When I moved to Nepal, I was still not sure if I wanted to stay there for a few years or apply for Harvard right away. That was probably the most challenging moment of my life. It was evident that my close friends and relatives thought I was going mad to think I could get accepted at Harvard. When I was almost giving up my father said, “Fernando, you are ready. Go for it.” His support empowered so much that I decided, “Yes, I will try it, but just once. If I do not get accepted this year, I will find a monastery in the Himalayas and give attention to my meditation practice.”  

By March 15th, while Harvard was sending my acceptation letter, I was isolated at 13,700 feet in the Langtang Valley, Nepali Himalayas.
Photo courtesy of FERNANDO BENETTI. 

I gave a very light and casual air to my application. The decision letters for Harvard would arrive mid-March. On March 10th, I decided to go for a “life-changing” trek in the Himalaya with my friends. After that, I would either start preparing to move to the US or looking for my hermitage. I did not have internet connection for 7 days. When I came back on the 17th and opened my e-mail, there was Harvard’s acceptation letter together with the scholarship offer – and my life went upside down.  

Editor’s Note: If you’d like to learn about HDS’ resources for international students, you can find more information on our website.