Although Harvard Divinity School was founded in 1816, its roots trace back another 180 years to the founding of Harvard University itself.
One of the main purposes for establishing the university was to ensure that the Massachusetts Bay Colony would continue to have educated ministers in the future.
This mission later led to the establishment of the first named professorship in the United States, the Hollis Professorship of Divinity, which was endowed in 1721 and persists to this day.
Harvard University went on to create its first graduate program for ministerial students in 1811, just a few years before the divinity school itself was founded.
More recently, Harvard Divinity School adopted a new mission statement and guiding principles in 2008 in order to demonstrate its goals and values for the 21st century.
This saw the school reaffirm its goal of educating students of religion and preparing them for leadership roles, whether within religious institutions or the broader community.
Furthermore, the school outlines a broad and reflective approach to studying religion, encouraging its scholars to develop an understanding of multiple religions while critically analyzing the perspectives they bring to their religious studies.
HDS’ vision and goals seek to foster a respect for diversity of all kinds in order to bridge gaps both social and religious in nature.
Students wishing to study religion, whether intending to enter ministry or to prepare themselves for broader leadership roles in the community, will find themselves well supported by Harvard Divinity School’s inclusive and socially respectful mission and guiding principles.
Harvard Divinity School Acceptance Rate
Although Harvard Divinity School does not report its acceptance rate nor list minimums for acceptance or admission, sources indicate that the school accepts approximately 50% of students who apply.
Educationscientists.com supports this, giving HDS an acceptance rate of 50%.
For greater context and comparison, Harvard Divinity School’s peer institution, Yale Divinity School, has an acceptance rate of 50%, according to petersons.com.
Peterson’s also reports that the University of Chicago Divinity School’s acceptance rate is 44%.
Educationscientist.com lists Vanderbilt University Divinity School as having an acceptance rate of 61%, while Peterson’s, again, shows Wake Forest’s religious studies program having an acceptance rate of 43%.
The school reviews applications from prospective students holistically to obtain a picture of the student’s qualifications and overall fit within the community the school seeks to foster.
HDS also reports that its admissions process is highly selective, and it admits students with varied cultural, professional, and academic backgrounds.
Although HDS does not provide specific numbers for its acceptance rate, prospective students should take heart, knowing that, once accepted, 90% of its Master of Theological Studies and Master of Divinity students receive some form of institutional financial aid.
HDS reports an incoming 2021-2022 class of 165 students and a total student body of 357 students of religion.
Choosing the right school to continue pursuing one’s education is often a stressful and difficult task.
Although Harvard Divinity does not report admissions or acceptance statistics, third-party sources and a comparison of other top divinity schools in the United States can help give prospective applicants a useful idea of their likelihood for acceptance into the institution.
Harvard Divinity School Ranking
Any student considering the pursuit of a master’s level education in religious studies will find the Harvard Divinity School’s rankings highly compelling as they think their choices of universities to attend.
Knowing that one is attending a school consistently ranked among the best often brings peace of mind to students as they consider the costs of further education.
QS World University Rankings listed Harvard Divinity School number 1 in the world for three consecutive years across 2017, 2018, and 2019.
2021 and 2022 saw the same organization rank HDS number 2, being beaten by the University of Oxford in 2022 and the University of Notre Dame in 2021.
Collegefactual.com reviewed 133 schools in the United States, and HDS was placed in its top ten as well, coming in 7th for 2022.
Given the religious background of its parent institution, it should come as no surprise that the divinity school of one of America’s most consistently highly ranked universities regularly beats those from other prestigious institutions like Yale University, the University of Cambridge, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Although a college or university’s rankings are not the only criterion to consider when making choices that will affect one’s future for years to come, it is difficult to ignore Harvard Divinity School’s outstanding place among some of the most notable institutions of higher education in the world.
Students who are able to make it through HDS’s highly selective admissions process will be able to breathe sighs of relief as they begin pursuing MTS or MDiv degrees at one of America’s oldest and most well-known Ivy League Schools.
Harvard Divinity School Requirements
Seeking admission into an elite graduate program such as those offered by Harvard University is often fraught with concerns about GPA requirements, GRE scores, and the appropriate course of undergraduate study.
As covered earlier, Harvard Divinity School does not set requirements for admission in terms of grade point averages or an applicant’s undergraduate degree.
However, it is possible to obtain an idea of what constitutes the ideal applicant’s background and accomplishments.
Though every applicant undergoes a holistic review process by the school’s admissions department, its website does have specific requirements for application.
HDS charges an application fee of $25 unless one qualifies for a waiver.
The school also wants a complete picture of a student’s academic and professional background and requires that applicants submit a resume or CV as well as complete transcripts covering all courses taken for credit.
Applicants are also required to submit a statement of purpose in addition to a separate writing sample.
Support from academic or professional contacts is required in the form of three recommendation letters submitted electronically.
International students may be required to also submit TOEFL or IELTS scores if they have not otherwise demonstrated proficiency in the English language in instructional settings.
Students have the option to submit GRE scores if they wish.
The school’s admissions FAQ page reports that most of its students have undergraduate degrees in social sciences or humanities.
While not explicitly stated, students with near 4.0 GPAs will also be highly competitive, considering the selective nature of admissions into the school.
Harvard Divinity School Notable Faculty & Alumni
With its long history and high level of prestige, it should come as no surprise that HDS has seen a large number of exemplary figures hold positions among its faculty and pass through its halls.
Many notable figures in Unitarianism, such as Henry Ware Sr., Henry Ware Jr., and James Luther Adams lectured at Harvard Divinity School.
Adams was Harvard Divinity School’s Professor of Christian Ethics and later a board member of the Society for the Arts, Religion and Contemporary Culture.
New Testament scholars such as Francois Bovon and Helmut Koester were both professors emeriti at HDS.
The school has also had a number of historians of religion, like Reformation historian Robert William Scribner and C. Conrad Wright, a historian on American Congregationalism and Unitarianism, serve as faculty members.
Noted alumni of the school include Horatio Alger, a young adult writer in the 19th century, and the famed American author and transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Alger wrote novels focused on young boys who were able to find a way into the middle class, and Emerson wrote a number of essays describing his view of transcendentalism and was the mentor to another prominent American literary figure, Henry David Thoreau.
Should You Attend Harvard Divinity School?
While the allure of an Ivy League education may draw some, others will be drawn to apply to and attend Harvard Divinity School because of its grounding in American religious traditions and history.
Still, more will be drawn to attend the school as a result of its recent revision of its mission and guiding principles, which seek to bring plurality and inclusiveness to the study of religion.
Whatever the attraction for a particular student may be, the fame and prestige of this institution will not go unnoticed by future employers or partners in the community.
Alumni and faculty alike have shaped the path of both the United States and the world, and future members of these groups are sure to do the same.
With such high requirements for application and its selective review and admissions process, one can be sure that the current 357 students at Harvard Divinity School are among the most talented and promising students anywhere in the country.
The prospect of studying among such an impressive cohort alone will make the challenging application and admissions process worthwhile for many aspiring students of religion.
Consistently ranked among the top divinity schools across the globe, HDS has been a critical stepping stone for many of the most significant scholars and historians of religion as they seek to promote deeper spiritual understanding worldwide.
The ultimate decision on whether or not one should attend Harvard Divinity School rests with each potential applicant as they determine what they have to offer to the school and what the school has to offer them.