, , , ,

Post by: Kate Hoeting, MTS ‘21, Graduate Assistant in the Office of Admissions 

This article is part of our “How to Apply” series, which answers common questions about the application process and includes these articles: 

In this article, we walk through the requirements and best practices for the TOEFL/IELTS and the GRE. Please note that the GRE is optional for all applicants! 


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 (e.g. a school in the U.S. or the American University of Paris). Even if your major or all the classes you took were taught solely in English, this policy is based upon the entire institution’s medium of instruction. 

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?   

You must submit TOEFL 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. If you have a graduate degree that was taught solely in English, you still need to submit your TOEFL/IELTS score. We know this might be frustrating, especially if your advanced degree is in the humanities. Please keep in mind that because we have applicants from a variety of backgrounds, we need to set this standard to ensure that admitted students will be able to succeed at HDS. 

What if I’m fluent in English (though not a native speaker), and my writing will show that? 

Because our applicants come from numerous backgrounds and disciplines, we still require TOEFL/IELTS scores. HDS is academically rigorous, and it can be difficult to manage the high volume of reading and writing even for those who are native English speakers. For this reason, we want to make sure that all admitted HDS students have the English skills required to succeed in this enriching but challenging environment. 

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

International schools sometimes indicate that English was the sole language of instruction on their transcripts. Otherwise, you can provide us with a letter from your registrar’s office attesting to the institution’s medium of instruction. If you are unsure of what your transcript indicates or of how to obtain documentation, 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?  

The MDiv, MTS, Special Students, and ThM programs all have minimum score requirements. Below are the minimum scores for the TOEFL 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): 68 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): 75 or higher  
  • IELTS: 8 

Are TOEFL/IELTS scores required to apply to the Ho Scholars Program? 

The Ho Scholars Program is a one-year non-degree program for those seeking to do coursework and field ed at HDS focused on Buddhist ministries. HSP is intended for individuals from Asian countries who plan to continue their work in ministry in their home countries after the one-year program at HDS. TOEFL/IELTS scores are required for all applicants to the Ho Scholars Program, and cannot be waived, but there is no minimum score. 


Is the GRE really optional? 

Yes, the GRE is optional for all applicants! Remember that we review each application holistically, so we encourage you to think about your individual application and decide if taking the GRE is right for you. If you feel like one piece of your application, like your GPA, does not reflect the strength of your work, the GRE may be a helpful addition to your application. Likewise, if you have been out of school for some time, the GRE can be a good way to show that you’re ready for graduate-level work. This decision should be made on a case-by-case basis, and if you’re unsure, you can reach out to us at admissions@hds.harvard.edu. We’re happy to help! 

If I decide to take the GRE, 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.   

Editor’s Note: 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 submit the GRE. If you have any further questions or concerns not addressed here, please reach out to us at admissions@hds.harvard.edu. Good luck with your applications!