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Editor’s Note: Kate Hoeting recently finished her first year as a student in the MTS program and as a Graduate Assistant in the HDS Office of Admissions. After a year of guiding prospective students through the application, Kate is sharing her wisdom about how applicants might approach the process.

Post by Kate Hoeting, MTS ‘21 and Admissions Graduate Assistant

Kate Hoeting (MTS ‘21) at work in the HDS Admissions Office // 
photo courtesy of Kate Hoeting 

I love a good plan, and if you clicked on this article, it seems likely that you love a good plan too. When you’re facing something that seems as daunting as applying to graduate school, it can be helpful to break the process down into manageable steps. But first, a word of warning: everyone’s journey to divinity school is different, and this timeline shouldn’t be one size fits all. Do not panic if you’re reading this post in October and thinking, “I’m already too late!” Conversely, if you are already working on your Statement of Purpose, that is fantastic! Please customize the timeline to your particular situation. I personally did not follow this timeline when I applied to HDS—it’s just a set of guidelines for those of you who love a good plan.  

JulyDecide if you want to apply to graduate school 

Going to graduate school is a serious commitment of time and resources, so it will be helpful to take some time to sort out if and why you want to apply. This process of discernment can also be helpful in writing a strong Statement of Purpose later down the line. This is a good time to do some journaling, reflecting, and ritualizing. Be in your communities—even if it’s on Zoom—and connect with mentors who can help you decide whether to apply. It can also be helpful to check out our website and sign up for one of our HDS information session webinars. 

A student plants in the HDS Garden during a blessing of the space //  
photo courtesy of HDS Office of Communications 

August: Do your research 

The best way to help decide if applying is the right path for you is to learn more about what divinity school is like! At this stage in the process, you can try to cast a wide net for programs and schools that might interest you, and then narrowing down to those that make the best match. If you are a planner, you can make a spreadsheet to track things like financial aid opportunities, community life, and program requirements. You can look at our HDS faculty and check out our course catalog. Also, check out our comprehensive guide to “Exploring Divinity Schools During COVID-19.” If you need to take the TOEFL/IELTS or want to take the optional GRE, look into the available dates and schedule it earlier rather than later—that way you’ll have time to study while still making sure that you can get the scores in by the application deadline. 

SeptemberConnect with HDS community members 

There are plenty of ways to connect with HDS! You’re welcome to engage these resources throughout the summer as well as in the months leading up to your application, but they might be particularly helpful in August when you’re preparing to draft your Statement of Purpose. On our virtual event sign-up page, you can explore the virtual events available. We will have a wide variety of virtual events this fall. You can also email ask_students@hds.harvard.edu to get connected via email with a current student whose interests match yours. Keep an eye out for more opportunities on the calendar—we’re developing as many ways as possible to virtually connect with you this fall! 

OctoberPrepare application materials 

After the HDS application opens in mid-September, we recommend that you start the application so you will be able to access the detailed application instructions for each part of the application. Once you start the application, it’s time to start putting words on the page. Writing a Statement of Purpose can be a daunting task, so starting early can help to take some of the pressure off. If it’s just a first draft, it might feel easier to throw some words down and see if they work. Giving yourself plenty of time will also allow you to send your mentors early drafts and get feedback on your work. You can also think about what you’d like to submit as your Writing Sample by looking through old work or starting to draft a new piece from scratch. For detailed FAQs about each element of the application, check out our “How to Apply” series.  

Celebrating our annual multi-religious Seasons of Light service //  
photo courtesy of HDS OFFICE OF COMMUNICATIONS 

November: Recommenders 

Internet consensus on recommendation letters is that you should ask for them 3-4 weeks before the application deadline, but in this case you’ll want to consider asking earlier than that. Because our application is due early January, that 3-4 week window lines up with what is often a busy time with professors grading finals, religious leaders preparing for the holidays, or long breaks from work when potential recommenders might not be checking their email. It is also important to note that the HDS Office of Admissions is closed over winter break and unable to respond to questions or concerns during this time. This doesn’t mean that you should ask your recommenders to commit months in advance, but rather that you can bring up the possibility early so that they can help guide you through the process. We recommend asking at least 8 weeks in advance of the application deadline. It is crucial that you are also in conversation about the application timeline with your recommenders in order to have the recommendations submitted by the deadline. Once you’ve asked for a recommender, you can provide them with a draft of your application materials, specifically the Statement of Purpose and CV/Resume. Having conversations with recommenders about why you’re applying will strengthen their letters! Remember that even if they know you well, they can’t read your mind—but they can read a draft of your Statement of Purpose. 

December: Finishing touches 

Now’s the time to keep editing your application materials, asking for feedback, and, of course, doing the things that you’ve really been putting off. Or you can be a rebel like I was and write your entire application in December. Again, everyone’s got their own journey, and this timeline is just a suggestion! 

January: Hit that submit button! 

Happy New Year! As the January 7, 2021 deadline approaches, send your recommenders a nice reminder and ask if they have any lingering questions. Once you’ve entered them as recommenders in your application portal, ask if they received the link to submit the letter. Don’t forget if you have any questions or concerns, please email our office about any issues you encounter! Before you submit, you can check out our article on “Last Minute Application Tips from a Current Student.” Then take a deep breath, and press that submit button! Don’t forget to reward yourself for all your hard work, and if you’re not sick of reading our blog posts yet, take a look at another favorite article, “What to Do While You Wait to Hear Back.” 

Photo courtesy of HDS Office of Communications 

February: Financial aid application 

After you have submitted your application and the January 7th deadline has passed, you’ll receive an email from our Office of Financial Aid with the financial aid application. You’ll have a few weeks to fill that out, with the financial aid application due in mid-February. We encourage every single applicant to apply for financial aid! During this month, you can also spend some time having conversations with friends, family, and yourself about what it would be like to re-locate to Boston. If you are admitted, you want to be prepared to make a decision about whether to enroll.  

March 

We’ll be releasing admissions decisions in mid-March! Waiting to hear back when you know that email is coming soon can be tough—I would recommend that you take some time away from your electronics, and limit the amount of time each day that you spend refreshing your email over and over again. If you are admitted and if you have applied for need based financial aid, within 24 hours of receiving your acceptance, you will also receive your financial aid package via email.  

April 

By April 15th, it’ll be time to make your final decision! This can also be a good time to crunch some numbers given your financial situation and to plan out the logistics of moving to Boston. 

Fall 2021 

We hope to see you at HDS!