HDS Mythbusting

by Kat Woodard, MDiv ’25 

Editor’s Note: The 2022-2023 Admissions Graduate Assistants discuss misconceptions they held about HDS prior to attending and how their opinions have changed since becoming students.

Kat Woodard, MDiv ’25 

Myth: HDS students are only interested in talking about their academic pursuits. 

Prior to enrolling as an MDiv student, I felt nervous that HDS would be all academics, all the time. Although my studies are incredibly important to me, I’m also someone who deeply values building community in each place I inhabit. Since being here at HDS, I’ve found that I was correct in assuming HDS students are deeply passionate about their academic work, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how willing my peers have been to build relationships outside of the classroom. At the end of a long week of reading and writing, it’s so nice to gather with a few friends to decompress and talk about anything other than what we’re doing in school. My friends and I have been hosting a craft night towards the end of each school week as a way to usher in the slower pace of weekends here in Cambridge. Now, after a few months at HDS, I feel confident in saying that I’m not solely defined by what I do in the classroom; my peers continually make a genuine effort to get to know me holistically. 

Maggie Helmick, MTS ’23 

Myth: HDS is a hyper-competitive environment. 

Before attending HDS, I thought that HDS students were highly competitive with one another: Competing for the time and attention of professors, for recognition as the best students, and even for job placements post-grad. Now as a second-year student, I know that HDS is not a cutthroat, competitive environment by any means. Instead, students are incredibly supportive of other members of the community, offering each other help and guidance whenever needed. Faculty by no means pit students against one another. Instead, they work to make sure even the quietest voices are heard and that everyone has a seat at the table. When it comes to post-grad life, students want their peers to succeed because those peers are their friends, and faculty will do anything they can to help set you up for success in your future, like facilitating connections with individuals in your desired career field or writing you letters of recommendation. To me, HDS has been supportive, collaborative, and nurturing, beyond what I ever expected from it.  

Nicole Collins, MTS ’24 

Myth: HDS students come in with a wealth of religious studies experience and already have their Ph.D. dissertations planned out. 

I’m hyperbolizing, but I definitely felt like an outsider before I came to HDS, as I wasn’t a religion major. For this reason, I feared that I’d fall behind quickly during my time here, and that an introductory class like Theories & Methods would be miles above my pay grade. However, I’ve been pleased to find that there is not only a huge host of non–religion majors here, but also that the classes at HDS are so hyper-specific (but still obviously wonderful and stimulating) that the requisite training an undergraduate religion major might offer doesn’t really make a difference in academic performance here. In fact, I’ve noticed that being a philosophy major in undergrad has helped me a ton; I actually sort of know what the words “ontology” and “dialectic” mean. 

Samirah Jaigirdar, MTS ’24 

Myth: That it would be incredibly hard to find friends in a program that has a wide age range. 

This could not be further from the truth! HDS welcomes people at different stages of their life, and it’s been a privilege getting to know everyone. What surprised me the most was how friendly and kind everyone is. For example, in my second week as an HDS student, I walked into my Theories and Methods class (which every incoming HDS student must take) and looked for an empty seat. I asked a fellow student (whom I later learned was a successful lawyer in his mid-40s), if I could sit next to him, and he very gently declined, indicating someone else had already claimed the seat. But he felt so badly, that he has since saved me a seat next to him every week! HDS students have a way of making any newcomer feel incredibly welcome, which has been a breath of fresh air as I try to adjust to a graduate program. I am thankful for how easily I have become friends with people from different backgrounds, professions, and ages!

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