My DivEx Experience

By Atéha Bailly MDiv ’23

DivEx 2019 Cohort; photo courtesy of Justin Knight

At HDS Admissions, we are excited to launch the application for this year’s Diversity Explorations program! In this blogpost, I will share some of the takeaways from my DivEx experience in the hopes that it will encourage curious students to learn more about and apply to be a part of this wonderful community. 

When I came to HDS for DivEx back in 2019, I arrived with a few days’ worth of clothes, a touch of nervousness about the new experience, and a heap of questions swirling in my mind—what types of people are drawn to divinity school? What kind of students does HDS admit? What does HDS look for in an application? I had heard high praise of HDS from alumni, yet all the uncertainty around these questions had me on the fence about whether it was the place for me. I was thankful for the the opportunity to gain firsthand perspective that DivEx offered. 

I began getting answers to my questions immediately. When I arrived for check-in at the admissions office, I was greeted by a lively room full of students coming from across the country; I was struck by how excited everyone was to get to know each other. As I started talking to people, I learned about all the different communities they came from and how they hoped to give back to those communities with the help of an HDS education.  

These conversations, which continued through the duration of my time at DivEx, opened my eyes to the ways that the study of religion and ministry can intersect with other fields and pursuits to address social issues. From dance to law to chaplaincy to doctoral studies—I started to realize that there is not just one type of divinity school student. I came to appreciate the array of students more deeply, with diverse skills and backgrounds, that HDS attracts. The prospect of being classmates with the fascinating people I was meeting had me thinking about my chances of getting in.  

Speaking with current HDS students and staff played a substantial role in addressing some anxiety I had around my competitiveness as an applicant. At first, I assumed that Harvard Divinity students knew exactly what they wanted to do in the world and were methodically carrying out their plan to achieve it. I worried because my plans were still in formation, and I had not yet identified a vocational calling that HDS could help me achieve. However, the HDS students and staff reassured me that everyone’s plans were in a similar state of flux. They candidly spoke about the ongoing process of discerning their academic and professional aspirations. They also reminded me that the fact that I had successfully completed the DivEx application meant that I did have ideas and aspirations for the future, even if they were subject to change. The openness and honesty of the HDS community members I met helped me to envision myself as an HDS student. 

What really tied the experience together for me was the admissions team’s presentation on the application and admissions process on the final day of the program. My DivEx friends helped me see that I wanted to be at HDS, the current HDS students helped me see it was possible, and this final activity showed me the process through which I could make it happen. In the session, the admissions team explained each component of the application, what they look for in them, and how applications are evaluated at HDS. My biggest takeaway was a better understanding of my task in writing my application. The admissions team presented the application as a story of how I became interested in HDS, what has prepared me for it, and what I hoped to do in my time here and afterward; each aspect of the application offered a different avenue to addressing those questions. By the end of the presentation, something had clicked about what I had to do, and I left with a page of notes in preparation to apply. 

My experience at DivEx was an invaluable aspect of my drive to apply to HDS. I not only got a clearer understanding of HDS as a school, but I learned about what I wanted in my graduate school experience, I gained confidence in myself as an applicant, and I discovered some of the ins-and-outs of graduate admission—not to mention all the friends I made along the way. I would highly recommend looking into DivEx to prospective students that are wondering about HDS as a place for them. 

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