Applying to Grad School Part 2 – Transcripts and GRE
The first part of your application is your transcripts and GRE. Since these are numerical measures, it seems only natural that the pool of applicants will begin to stratify based on GPA and GRE. I know what you want to know so badly – “How high must my GPA and GRE be?” Well, there is no real answer to that since it depends on who you are competing with. Anyway, your GPA and GRE scores are probably pretty much out of your control at this point.
This is partly why it is important to find out about how programs divide their pool of applicants. For instance, I would guess that Hebrew Bible is the most popular area of interest. If you are strictly interested in studying Semitics, but you are applying to a program where you will be grouped with Hebrew Bible applicants, then you will probably have much more competition than at a school where Semitics stands on its own. Of course, if a program can only take 1 or 2 people in a particular area anyway, then I guess it doesn’t quite matter as much whether there are 10 applicants or 20.
What is most important to remember is that GPA and GRE are only part of your total application. You certainly want the highest scores you can get, but there are many other factors. This means a) high scores alone are not going to get you accepted, and b) you can certainly make up for less than perfect (but not mediocre) scores with a complete application that demonstrates excellent preparedness for advanced study in your field.
There are plenty of people out there who know how to succeed at “doing school”. I can sympathize because I am one of these people. I bet I could walk into most any multiple choice test cold and pass it based on general knowledge and sheer test-taking ability. Scholarship is not about “doing school”. It is about comprehensive knowledge coupled with creative insight and (hopefully) the ability to clearly communicate your ideas. Grades and GREs basically measure how well you “do school”. Now, this is not trivial because you do need to be good at class work. However, being diligent, hard working, and prepared for class are only half of the picture. You also need to show that you are a creative, insightful, clear-thinker who can actually contribute new ideas.
You also want to make sure that you have taken classes that are relevant to your field. This is mostly an issue if you are currently at a seminary. It is nice to have good grades, but Pastoral Counseling and Homiletics do not have much relevance for historical-critical study of Hebrew Bible (you didn’t waste your time though, I think homiletical training is excellent preparation for the best/worst part of being a scholar – reading 20-30 min papers at conferences).
If you have few classes in Hebrew or Hebrew Bible (or whatever your area of interest), you may want to consider taking a year of classes at a college or university. There are many advantages to this: 1) You will add a professor(s) who can write you a good letter of recommendation 2) You can refine your areas of interest and write a better sample paper 3) You can use the time to improve your French and German. The downside, of course, is that it will cost you time and money. However, a) some of your classes may transfer, and b) if you can begin to narrow in on a dissertation topic, you may actually save yourself time in the long run.
Another thing you can do to broaden your experience is to spend a summer in Israel volunteering at an archaeological dig. It is not glamorous work, but it is an invaluable experience. By the way, HUC runs a dig at Tel Dan and funds graduate students for a six-week program during the summer. Had I not just had my second child, I would probably have taken advantage of it this summer.