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In this post, I kick off my blog series, “God and Man at Yale Divinity School.”

Yale Divinity

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I recently started working toward a Master of Divinity at Yale Divinity School. The road here has been a long one. I’ve dreamed of attending Yale Divinity School since college. I even started an application in 2006. As I describe below, however, I abandoned those plans and did not resume them again for another twelve years.

My graduation from Ouachita Baptist University and my start at Yale Divinity School bookend three years of law school and nine years of practice, including six years in the military.

As I prepared finally to resume my theological studies, I found the information scant. Publishers have poured much ink for business, law, and medical schools. But, I could find very little on preparing for and applying to programs of theological studies. (I did, however, recently find a book a student in the MAR program wrote that I have not yet had the chance to read.)

So, as I did when I faced a similar situation with the Army, I have decided to keep records of my journey through my time at Yale Divinity School. I hope sharing my experience will help those who may desire to come after me.[1]

My Background Before Yale Divinity

I think it valuable to share my background as a setup for my future writings in this series. Everyone comes to this field from a different place. It’s worthwhile to explain the context from which I am writing, as that context will inform my experience.

From the time I was a small child, I desired to be a Southern Baptist minister. I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition, and I always assumed that I would become a preacher in that church. I enrolled at Ouachita Baptist University in 2003 to pursue that dream.

Ouachita Baptist University

I loved my time at Ouachita, and I have written about it elsewhere on my site. I majored in Christian Studies with a double emphasis in biblical studies and Christian theology and a double minor in Greek and Hebrew. I loved the academic aspect of the Christian faith. I took as many classes and participated in as many research projects as I could. I consequently graduated with one-hundred sixty-two hours.

Writing my thesis, A Scriptural and Philosophical Evaluation of the Open Model of God as an Ontological Necessity and Its Compatibility with Evangelical Theology, solidified my love for academic theological studies. It was a multi-year research project that led me to believe that biblical scholarship is what I wanted to do with my life. (With some revisions, I made my thesis available on Amazon under the title The Evangelical and the Open Theist: Can Open Theism Find Its Place within the Evangelical Community? Ouachita has made the original version available online as well.)

Changing Denominations

My time at Ouachita, however, led me to drift away from the Southern Baptist tradition. I developed some cynicism about the church—something I now regret—and began looking around for another place to call home.

I stumbled upon St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Little Rock, Arkansas. It was a part of the then-nascent Anglican Mission in the Americas, a group of conservative Anglican Churches operating under the authority of the Archdiocese of Rwanda. (This was before the establishment of the Anglican Church in North America.)

I fell in love with the liturgy and beauty of the services, and I was confirmed and joined the church in 2006. During this time, I still harbored a desire to attend Yale Divinity School. (The attached Berkeley Divinity School now made it more attractive to me.)

This whole process, however, left me feeling significantly unprepared for any kind of ministry. I left the denomination in which I had spent my entire life and into which I had planned to enter the ministry. I felt immature and unprepared to pursue any path leading to church leadership.

By this time, I had already begun applications to several M.Div. programs, including Yale Divinity School. I abandoned these plans and started looking for an alternative path. I hoped, however, to resume my theological studies when things settled down.

Law School

So, coming to the end of my college career without any idea about what I wanted to do, I did what many college kids in that position do: I went to law school. And I did so without any real desire to become a lawyer.

In the fall of 2007, I began classes at the University of Arkansas School of Law. I did well in law school, and I enjoyed it well enough. But I never had the same excitement about the subject matter as I did about theological studies. In fact, I often found myself on the Yale Divinity School website during class.

After graduating in 2010, I started working at Walmart corporate headquarters.

I did that for three years, left to start my own law firm, worked in private practice, and then became a civilian prosecutor. In 2015, I knew it was time to make a change and try to get back to where I was before.

Yale Divinity

Photo by Mike Norton is licensed under CC 2.0.

Joining the Military

I practiced law as a civilian from 2010 until 2015. From 2013 to 2015, I also served part-time as a JAG officer in the Army National Guard. I have written extensively about this experience, both on this website and in books.

In 2015, however, I decided that it was time to resume my theological studies. At the same time, I had had a lifelong dream of serving as an Air Force officer. My father was a career Air Force officer, and I always thought that those who can serve their country should. I wanted to do my time on active duty out of a sense of duty and honor.

I, therefore, sensed an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. If I joined the Air Force, I could fulfill my desire to serve my country while simultaneously becoming eligible for the GI Bill.

I knew attending Yale Divinity School would be an expensive proposition, particularly with a family. The GI Bill could get me there, providing tuition, a book allowance, and a housing stipend. It seemed like a perfect plan, so I set things in motion.

Before I knew it, I was in Panama City, Florida, at my first Air Force assignment.

Deciding to Apply to Yale Divinity School

In 2018, with about eighteen months left on my military commitment, I began to look at applying to M.Div. programs again. I wanted to give myself plenty of time to consider my goals and the schools that would be the best fit for me. I had always wanted to attend Yale Divinity, but I also wanted to consider all my options and find the best fit.

My Goals

I grew up with the desire to enter the ministry. In college, my focus began to shift more to academics, but I always assumed I would enter the ministry as well. My professors were former ministers and still provided interim support at various churches.

My time in the military, however, focused my goals. The military environment I faced broke me in a way. The constant exposure to the worst of the worst—tales of sexual assault, images of child pornography, etc.—required in prosecuting offenses took a significant psychological toll. In addition, the rampant toxic leadership, incoherent and unpredictable mission requirements, and the constant exposure to injustice—both the guilty escaping and the innocent targeted—wore me down.

This environment helped expose significant character flaws and weaknesses of which I had been unaware. I knew that I was not anywhere near prepared for church leadership. While I would like to serve the church the best I can, ordained ministry is not currently in the cards.

So, I narrowed my focus to pursuing a career in academia. I hope to pursue a Ph.D. following the completion of an M.Div. I began looking at schools with that goal in mind.

Schools I considered

As I considered my goals—primarily gaining admission into a top-tier Ph.D. program—I narrowed my list of potential schools to five.

  1. Yale Divinity School
  2. Duke Divinity School
  3. Princeton Theological Seminary
  4. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University
  5. Chandler School of Theology at Emory University

I made this list from my own research and from speaking with people knowledegable in the field. Former professors were particularly helpful, and I had a good friend who attended Duke Divinity. (I could not, however, find anyone in my circle of friends or acquaintances that attended Yale Divinity.)

Because of my academic desires, I wanted to attend a Divinity School that was part of a major university. So, I eliminated Princeton.[2]

I was particularly interested in being able to take courses elsewhere in the university. This made Yale Divinity School particularly attractive. The school’s curriculum is flexible and would allow me to take classes in the School of Management and its storied law school.

I cut out Emory as well because of my lack of familiarity with the school. I wanted to reduce the number to three so that I could better focus my application. So, I decided to focus on Yale Divinity School, Duke Divinity School, and Truett Theological Seminary.

Schools to which I Applied

I ended up visiting these three school. I loved my visit to Truett. Baylor is located in a great area and the school itself had terrific professors. It also offered a comfortable environment for those, like me, from a more conservative background.

Its focus, however, seemed geared toward ministry in the Baptist Church, and I didn’t think it was a great fit for what I wanted to do. So, I decided not to apply there.

This left Yale Divinity School and Duke Divinity School. Both offered excellent programs at world-class universities. Both would set me up well for Ph.D. work. Both seemed like great fits for what I wanted, and I enjoyed my visit to each. These were the only two schools to which I applied.

The Application Process to Yale Divinity School

The application process to Yale Divinity School was extensive. The personal statement and the writing sample were by far the most time-consuming aspects of the application. I spent several months writing and perfecting each of these.

Personal Statement

First, the personal statement. My prompt was as follows.

Please upload a personal statement of no more than two pages, double-spaced, 12 pt font. The personal statement will help the Admissions Committee evaluate your application to Yale Divinity School.

Your personal statement should address the following:

    • Your academic and vocational goals.
    • How a Yale Divinity School education can assist you in meeting those goals.
    • What gifts and experiences you can contribute to your theological education at Yale.

Getting this just right took several weeks.[3] (I will share my personal statement in a future post for anyone interested in viewing it.)

Writing Sample

The second time-consuming part was the writing sample. I had to provide a writing sample of no more than five pages, double spaced. This, however, won’t be a time-consuming process for a large number of applicants.

If you graduated from school less than seven years ago, you can submit a sample of your previous academic work. So, simply find your best work, excerpt five pages, and submit it. No problem.

I, however, submitted my application in the fall of 2018, after having graduated from law school in 2010 and college in 2007. So, I did not have the option of submitting an old paper. I had to write one from scratch based on the prompts Yale provided me.

I believe there were three prompts, and I chose the following: “Discuss the influence of a significant philosopher, theologian, or writer on the history and development of religious thought.” (I’m not sure, but I believe the prompts change regularly.)

An Extra Step

So, I had to research and write a five-page paper. (While a bibliography was required, it did not count toward the five-page maximum.) I wrote on Greg Boyd and his influence on evangelical thought. I knew his work well from my college days, so I thought he would be the right choice. (He’s also a graduate of Yale Divinity School.) I’ll also share this paper in a future post for anyone interested in seeing it.

The point is that this significantly increased the amount of time I had to devote to my application. So, if you’re a recent college graduate applying to Yale Divinity School, the application process may be much easier for you.

There are a few other less time-intensive requirements, such as actually filling in the application and submitting a resume. The personal statement and writing the essay (if applicable) constitutes the bulk of the effort.

You must also secure three letters of recommendation. As always, getting these as early as possible is best. You never know when someone is going to fall through on you. Fortunately, I had excellent recommenders, and the process went quite smoothly.

Acceptance

Yale released admission decisions for all applicants at the same time. On March 15th, Yale Divinity posted my fate on my application page. I found out I was accepted by logging into my account that day. A few hours after posting the results, the admissions office sent out an email.

This was different than Duke. Duke called me around the end of February to congratulate me on my acceptance, and that was how I found out. But, I did not know when I was going to hear from Duke, whereas I knew from the beginning Yale Divinity would let me know on March 15th. Each school has its own way of doing things, and I understand that a few may even have rolling admissions.

Yale Divinity Financial Aid

I received my offer of financial aid about the same time I received my offer of admission. I am not a good source of advice for this, however. I received minimal financial aid from Yale on account of being eligible for the GI Bill. (I received just enough to take advantage of the Yellow Ribbon Program, so only a few thousand dollars.)

I understand that Yale Divinity School is pretty generous with its need-based financial aid. So, an award as low as mine is unusual and reflects my unique circumstance.

After receiving my offer of admission, I accepted it through the online portal and paid the $200 deposit. (This deposit was later applied to my tuition bill in the fall.)

And that was it. I was in and on my way.

Admittedly, it was a hard choice between Duke Divinity and Yale Divinity. I would have been happy at either one. But, I had been dreaming about attending Yale Divinity School for many years. So, when I had to choose, I chose Yale Divinity. I am nonetheless grateful for how kind Duke was toward me, both in considering my application and helping me through the discernment process.

Moving to New Haven

I don’t know how much valuable advice I can provide here. Moving across the country is always a challenging experience, particularly when moving to an unfamiliar area. Before moving to New Haven, I had been here twice: once in September to visit Yale Divinity, then again in June to find a house. Each time I stayed only a couple of days.

My mother is from New Hampshire, so I had come to New England a handful of times in my life to visit her family. But, before visiting Yale Divinity, I hadn’t been to New England since 2001. When I did come, I didn’t visit Connecticut.

So, my familiarity with the place was limited.

Overall, however, it was a pretty typical move. The homes are different than those to which I am accustomed. They are smaller, more expensive, generally older, and they all seem to have basements. (Most homes in the south do not have basements. We don’t have to worry that much about the frost line down south.)

The most challenging part of moving to New Haven has been navigating the public schools for my kids. While you won’t have to worry about this if you don’t have school-aged children, I do, so I have.

New Haven Public Schools

The New Haven Public School system is bizarre. They have a hybrid system of school choice and traditional neighborhood zoning. The result is a system with little choice or predictability.

The way it works, as I understand it, is that you enter a lottery every year. You submit a list of the top four public schools you would like your children to attend. You get priority for your neighborhood school—the school you would attend in a traditional system—and for having multiple children. (They don’t want siblings to attend separate schools.) If you don’t get one of your top four choices, however, they seem just to put you wherever there is room.

So, we have an excellent school at the end of our street. It is less than a half-mile walk from our house. That was our top choice. But, my kids did not get that school. They did not get any of the schools for which we applied. Instead, they were assigned some random school, requiring a twenty-minute plus drive each way. (I understand it was the closest school with room.)

The Lottery

The lottery happens on July 1st for those entering the district, and in February for those already in the district. So, perhaps our inability to get one of the schools we desired can be attributed to our not arriving until July 30th.

We had a lease signed by July 1st, but the school district requires that you register in person. So, we were not allowed to register until we actually showed up in August. If we knew how difficult it would be to get into our neighborhood school, we would have made a flight up here on July 1st just to register.  

(But, our neighbor told us her relative in the neighborhood could not get her child into kindergarten at our neighborhood school. So, I’m not sure what the deal is.)

In New Haven, the reputation for the quality of the schools varies dramatically. A handful is considered to be good, while many others receive terrible rankings. We have also found the New Haven School District to be unresponsive when we try to get in touch with them, the educational equivalent of the DMV.

I’d probably recommend living in one of the surrounding communities if you have school-aged children. (Hamden or East Haven, for example.) This way, you can avoid the stress and confusion of the Byzantine system they have set up here. If you move into New Haven, you probably won’t know where your kids are going to school until you are already moved in. At least, that has been our experience.

Conclusion

I know this has been a long post, but I hope that it has proven useful. I plan to make this post just the first of many.


Footnotes:

[1] The name of this series of blog posts, “God and Man at Yale Divinity School,” is a play on William F. Buckley’s famous book God and Man at Yale. Unlike his book, however, I do not intend this as a critical assessment of Yale. I hope instead that it encourages others interested in theological education.

[2] Princeton Theological Seminary is distinct from Princeton University, though I understand they have significant cooperation arrangements. So, my eliminating the program on this basis may have demonstrated ignorance on my part.

[3] Throughout the application process, Yale sent out a series of tips. One of them said that if you got it as tight as you thought you could, the personal statement could be a little over two pages. I found, however, that Yale’s system would not allow me to submit my application with a personal statement longer than two pages. Admittedly, this could have been user error on my part.


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