Admissions Staff: What We Wish Applicants Knew



Editor’s note: As the application deadline draws closer, please enjoy these short excerpts from staff members at the Office of Admissions talking about what they wish applicants knew.

Kate Hoeting, Graduate Assistant, MTS ‘21

When I was applying to HDS, I barely knew about the marvelous HDS Admissions Blog! I promise that I’m not just plugging the blog because I’m the blog’s editor—it really will help your journey through the application process. On the blog, we publish everything from student reflections on life at HDS to nuts and bolts articles about the application requirements. Go ahead and click around! 

Julia Reimann, Graduate Assistant, MDiv ‘22 

I wish more applicants knew about the Ask Students email. Run by the graduate assistants, this email is a great way to connect with a current HDS student and learn more about the opportunities to engage specifically in programs relating to each student’s individual interests. Simply send us a note including your name and interests and we will do our best to connect you to a current student with similar interests. Current students can be a great resource when it comes to learning more about HDS and what life at HDS is like. 

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How to Apply: Writing Sample


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Post by: Kate Hoeting, MTS ‘21, Graduate Assistant in the HDS 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:  

Since the writing sample is a new component of the application this year, I’m adding this article to the series to walk you through guidelines and best practices. We know that the writing sample can be an intimidating part of the application process, but remember that the requirements are open-ended on purpose, and always feel free to reach out to us with any questions you may have. 

What does the admissions committee look for in a writing sample? 

The writing sample serves to demonstrate your academic writing ability. You may choose to submit:  

  • An excerpt of an academic paper in any subject area within the humanities or social sciences 
  • An adapted piece of professional writing 
  • An original work that is based upon a topic that you are interested in studying here at HDS 

The writing sample should be 1,000-1,500 words long and give the admissions committee a sense of your strengths in writing, research, and/or critical analysis. 

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How to Apply: Test Scores


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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. 

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How to Apply Series


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

Hi everyone! If you’re planning to apply for the 2020-2021 school year, we hope this blog has been helpful in getting you ready for the January 8, 2020 deadline. Last year, our Graduate Assistants created a wonderful blog post series called “How to Apply” that will walk you through each aspect of the application process. This year, we went back and updated the old articles to reflect this year’s requirements. Here are the articles in our “How to Apply” series: 

Remember that during this busy period for those of you applying in this cycle, the Admissions Office is happy to help! Email us at or

The Himalayas Brought the Answer



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 

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. 
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Reflecting on Theological Education Day


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

I can’t believe that Theological Education Day (TED), our annual open house for prospective students, has come and gone! I had so much fun getting to meet you all that it was sad to see you all go. If you couldn’t make it to TED this year, let me offer you a brief overview. 

Graduate Assistant Julia Reimann welcomes visitors on the morning of TED  
Photo Courtesy of KATE HOETING 
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Freedom School


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Post by: Najha Zigbi-Johnson, MTS ‘20, African and African American Studies Concentrator, Freedom School Founder and Leader 

Editor’s Note: For the first time, students at HDS have gathered to create the collaborative, student-led seminar “Freedom School,” which encourages students to bring Black studies into social justice issues in the community. In this blog post, HDS student and Freedom School founder Najha Zigbi-Johnson discusses the goals and pedagogy of Freedom School. 

Freedom School community members 
Photo Courtesy of NAJHA ZIGBI-JOHNSON, MTS ‘20 

Last spring, I had the opportunity to learn alongside a group of incredibly talented and action-oriented students in the seminar, Faith in the Fire: Religious Public Intellectuals, led by Professor Cornel West. Each week, students prepared engaging presentations, and guided our class through animated conversation. I found myself wrestling with the notion of public intellectualism and also the moral responsibility of progressive thinkers to engage in work fundamentally rooted in political activism and cultural change. It was the brilliance of my peers who continue to be engaged in justice-oriented work, the legacy of radical public intellectuals like Pauli Murray and Professor West, and the urgent necessity to involve myself fully in movement building that fueled the creation of Freedom School. In partnership with the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, I was able to bring this course to fruition in my desire to engage contemporary Black studies with projects committed to systems-change and equity work.

Why was HDS the right fit for you?


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Editor’s Note: Here in the Office of Admissions, one of the most common questions we hear is, “How can I write a strong statement of purpose?” One thing strong statements of purpose tend to do is show how HDS is the right place for them to do the work they hope to pursue. Strong statements of purpose also tend to tell us about the applicant’s general background information, how this background has prepared them for graduate study at HDS, and their vocational or career objectives. We also want to emphasize that because our applicants have such diverse goals and interests, and because our programs are so flexible, there is no singular type of applicant who would be the “right fit” for HDS. Rather, we’re looking for applicants to show us how HDS is the right fit for you! 

You can learn more about the details of the statement of purpose here. To help you brainstorm for your statment of purpose, we’ve gathered a collection of current HDS students who’ve told us about why they chose HDS.  

Mary Perez (MDiv ‘22): I’ve found a space that honors and supports the integration of my intellectual and spiritual life. In the HDS community, I am free to be myself⁠—in the complexity of my identity, in my questions about my faith tradition, and in my wonderings about how to live my vocation.

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Settling in at HDS



Post by: Julia Reimann, MDiv ‘22, HDS Office of Admissions Graduate Assistant

Editor’s Note: No matter where you might be in the admissions process, a glimpse into a new student’s experience at Orientation can help give you a sense of the kinds of programs and facilities that are available at HDS. 

Hi everyone! My name is Julia Reimann and I am one of the new Graduate Assistants in the Office of Admissions here at Harvard Divinity School. As a first-year Master of Divinity student, the last few weeks have been filled with orientation activities, campus renovation, and checking out classes for shopping week. During shopping week, students can visit any classes they might be interested in taking. The course registration deadline happens after we’ve all had a chance to explore. 

For those of you who don’t know, HDS’ Andover Hall (soon to be Swartz Hall) is under renovation, which has slightly altered the campus map. Jumping into school after a few years away sometimes feels overwhelming, but it has been comforting to realize that our entire campus and community is in a similar time of transition and new beginnings.  

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Introducing Our 2019-2020 Graduate Assistants


Editor’s Note: It’s been a busy first few weeks of the term here at HDS as we lead tours around campus, pack boxes for our traveling HDS representatives, and keep track of the many classes available for prospective students to visit, but we’d like to take some time to introduce you all to the Office of Admissions’ new Graduate Assistants.

Tessa Steinert Evoy (MTS 2020)

Tessa Steinert Evoy (MTS 2020) Hello, great to digitally meet you all. My name is Tessa and I am a second year Graduate Assistant and Masters of Theological Studies candidate. I grew up in the Boston area and London, England before graduating from Boston University in 2015 with BA in History, focusing on the intersections of literary movements and contemporary American history. Before coming to HDS, I taught eighth-grade American History and ninth-grade English as well as worked in secondary school admissions. At HDS I am a second-year MTS candidate focusing on Religion, Ethics, and Politics, and more specifically the ways religion is taught in schools. Along with being a Graduate Assistant, I work as a research assistant for the Religious Literacy Project building curriculum for an upcoming documentary. When I am not in the Admissions Office or class, you can find me at Community Tea on Tuesdays or Rock Café any other time eating some of the delicious food on campus. I look forward to getting to know you all this fall!

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