Thursday, December 31, 2009

Slow Progress

Okay. Slow progress. I'll get there. I am freaked out. But I am on my way.

I have draft papers for Harvard done. They are very rough around the edges, but I have some folks reviewing them so I can go back to it soon with fresh eyes. I am still hoping to push through to a final draft for application submission by January 5th. Lofty, but there is a chance I'll make it. That will give me a few days to pull together my FASFA and financial aid application so everything arrives on time on January 10th.

Within days of that, my Yale application will be due. After a lot of internal debate, I may have finally settled on a writing sample topic. I am thinking I will write on Maria Montessori as theologian, philosopher, and writer. I am not sure this fits exactly what they are looking for, but truly in those three capacities her work has influenced me deeply. I doubt I could write as well on anyone else. So I just need to whip out rough drafts of the Yale papers within a few days.

Since the other two schools are a rolling admission, even though I need to get those applications done quickly after the first two (in order to get acceptance notices and financial aid offers around the same time for comparison purposes), I can breathe something of a sigh of relief once Harvard and Yale apps are in.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

GRE Scores Back...Good News, Bad News, Good News, Bad News

The bad far outweighs the good, as far as Harvard is going to be concerned, but here it is.

Good News
I thought I hadn't yet gotten my scores back yet, which was making me worried I would have to spend a bunch of time tracking them down. Tonight I found out my kids got the scores a while back, and opened them, which is why my wife thought I had already seen them. They've been in a stack of papers to be filed, so the good news is I have my scores now.

Bad News
I was highly disappointed with my writing score, which was 4.5 (63rd percentile) on the 0-6 scale with 0.5 incrimental grading. I needed a minimum of 5, so on all counts I've fallen short of the minimum I would need for fair consideration by Harvard.

Good News
I did not imagine my 690 verbal score. I did indeed receive a 690, which is indeed 96th percentile. Not bad.

Bad News
I also didn't imagine my quantitative score, a 430, and to top it all off, according to this year's grades, my percentile is waaaaay worse than I thought (17th!!). Lord have mercy.

The clock is also ticking, and I am starting to panic because *none* of my writing is done. None!! I have just a few more days to pull a lot of crap together, and my writing really needs to be fantastic due to my lower-than-necessary writing score on the GRE. I am so near pulling the plug, but after all my work, all my investment, there is no way I can just give up and go home now.

It just sucks.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Updated To-Do List

Updated Application Process To Do List

Notice I've dropped the arrangement by week for now, since I am basically just scrambling to fit everything in when I can, and hoping to God that it all gets done somehow. I did however, break things down in terms of what I need to do for Yale and Harvard and what I need to do for the other two schools.

Here is my earlier post on the writing required for each application.

YDS and HDS:
∆ Write thank you note to YDS staff for interview/informational session
∆ Call school that hadn't received my faxed transcript request; resend request if necessary
∆ Write HDS statement of purpose; have folks review; edit; have folks review; upload
∆ Write YDS personal statement; have folks review; edit; have folks review; upload
∆ Write HDS essay; have folks review; edit; have folks review; upload
∆ Write YDS academic writing sample; have folks review; edit; have folks review; upload
∆ Finish and upoad CV (have someone review first?)
∆ Order and read some books by faculty at both schools, if can find some money to do so
∆ Send reminders to recommenders
∆ Are transcripts in?
∆ Double check on GRE scores, if not yet received, and get GRE reference number
∆ Complete the application form sets
∆ Make any additional school contacts needed
∆ Submit applications by January 5th at the latest
∆ Complete and submit FASFA and school-specific financial aid applications for both schools by January 11th using the previous year's taxes (find tax forms?!)

∆ Send in transcripts that I had sent directly to me
∆ Write ANTS personal reflection; have folks review; edit; have folks review; upload
∆ Write MLTS personal essay; have folks review; edit; have folks review; upload
∆ Write ANTS competancy paper; have folks review; edit; have folks review; upload
∆ Edit and send in supplemental writing
∆ Edit and upoad CV (have someone review first?)
∆ Send reminders to recommenders (one more recommender for MLTS?)
∆ Are transcripts in?
∆ Complete the application form sets
∆ Make any additional school contacts needed
∆ Submit applications by January 16th at the latest
∆ Complete and submit FASFA and school-specific financial aid applications for both schools by January 16th using the previous year's taxes (find tax forms?!)

The Scramble

Sorry to be missing in action. I've been writing.

I have worked a little on the Harvard writing sample essay, a little on my Yale personal statement and a lot on my personal statement for Harvard. I've had fits and starts, and all of the starts have been false starts. It's simply not been going well.

If I wasn't so damn stuburn I'd give up.

Here it is, well past the one month countdown. The clock is ticking. And I really have completed no tangible peice of writing that is worth consideration for submission.

The good news is that this afternoon I hammered out a paragraph of two for Harvard that may not be a false start.

Why on earth did I think it would be possible to muddle through all this in the holiday season?! I am way in over my head.

I have, however, decided that I am going to concentrate on my Yale and Harvard applications until early January. While I need to get my other two applications in as soon as possible after the Yale and Harvard applications, in order to have offers to compare (if I get accepted anywhere at all), the other two schools have rolling admissions so they can wait a little bit. Focusing on just the two schools for a few weeks should help me get this done.

I'll post an updated to-do list momentarily.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Mid-Week Timeline Check-In

Week of November 30th

∆ Update CV and submit to all websites: This is mostly complete. I am waiting to hear back from a colleague about something that will help me get it done. Of course, it is too long for at least one of the schools, so when I submit I'll need to give myself time to cut it down a bit and reformat (have already begun working on this in my head).

∆ Attend a class or event: I would have liked to attend a class this week in CT (especially as terms are ending and time is running out), but it didn't work out this week, at least not so far. However, I did go to one of the schools today for a workshop with the admissions department on completing the application.

∆ Take care of the last two transcript requests (F/M): Not done yet. The website for transcript requests for these two schools is the same website, and it is giving me a really hard time. Very irritating. But I have to get it done by the end of this week at the latest because I suspect these schools will also have slow processing of the requests.

∆ Write a rough draft of my Statement(s) of Purpose: Hmmm...well, I did work on it a bit at the application workshop I went to today, and I have been working on it in my head non-stop. But that doesn't really count, now, does it? I think part of what is delaying me is that I know I really have to write FOUR statements, though they will contain some of the same core elements, and that seems overwhelming so I am having a hard time figuring out where to start. I think if I got the HD one done, I'd have an easier time with the others, so maybe I should start there. But the others seem so much more surmountable, so maybe I should start there. Ack. Well, clearly I need to devote more time to this over the next few days. I got a good suggestion in the workshop today to start by putting on a timer for myself and writing for 10-30 minute periods without going back to do ANY editing until the first draft is done.

Keeping Track of Writing Needed

Yikes! I am starting to lose track of the different writing samples and essays needed at the different schools to which I am applying. This very long post (apologies in advance) is my attempt to organize that information for myself. Of course, statements of purpose, personal reflections, personal essays, and personal statements usually mean approximately the same thing, but I've noticed that each school has a very different feel, and each is specifically looking for a match between student and school, so...

School AN
  • Personal Reflection: The instructions say the personal reflection should "provide a personal statement about your journey of faith." It should be no longer than 1000 words and should "(1) Give a brief sketch of your faith journey describing your experience of church and the ministry to which you feel called. Please include your thoughts on the significance and role of the Church today. (2) Through the lens of your faith journey, please respond to a current, major political, social or religious issue and how it has affected the way that you experience your faith. (3) Given your reflection on the previous two points, how do you envision the program enhancing, participating in and/or informing your continued journey of faith?" This school is the most flexible on the format for the personal reflection, and they emphasize that prospective students should consider it a friendly introduction of themselves to the faculty rather than a huge obstacle to mount. They are more interested in faith than an academic or vocational snapshot of prospective students. They also want to see students indicate their match with a "competancy based program," both in the personal reflection and second piece of required writing.
  • Competancy Reflection: This is one of the more unique bits of writing I have to do, but it is fortunately more reflective than academic, as described to me by the admissions department. The written instructions say to "Please reflect on our M.Div. curriculum, which focuses on four competency areas that are essential for ministry: interpreting, communicating, leading and embodying (descriptions are provided below). We nurture these competencies within the classroom and throughout our community and hope that our graduates lead from strength as they serve in diverse roles in our ever-changing world. In the form of a 500 word essay, please consider one of these core competency areas. Describe your understanding of it and its significance in either your own community or a community that you have worked, lived or worshiped in that was not your own. For example, your reflection might begin "communicating is important in my church as we explore interfaith dialog with our neighbors...." Master of Divinity Program Core Competencies are: (1) Interpreting-- theological thinking and spiritual formation, both for students and for the communities students will eventually teach and nurture; (2)Communicating-- draws upon the Bible as an early form of Christian communication, and considers the ways in which ministers communicate today through preaching, liturgy, and interfaith dialogue; (3) Leading-- students' abilities to understand religious organizations from historical and theoretical perspectives, helping such organizations to craft theologically-grounded visions and drawing upon a repertoire of skills and practices to encourage others to act; (4) Embodying-- a wide array of behaviors and habits of the heart that represent social justice, intercultural understanding, Christian ethics, and pastoral care." For this essay I am leaning toward writing on topic #4 and reflecting on personal qualities necessary for pastoral care, which I have been intentionally developing throughout my years in professional, non-ordained ministry.

School HD
  • Statement of Purpose: The instructions say that "The statement of purpose is an integral part of the application and is evaluated with great care by the Admissions Committee. The statement must be no more than 1,000 words in length. It should discuss the applicant's general background (education, work experience, volunteer work, and/or relevant personal experience) and how this background has prepared him or her for graduate theological study. Applicants should outline vocational or career objectives in the context of theological study. Applicants should provide specific reasons why they believe there is a good fit between their objectives and the academic program to which they are applying. The following program-specific information must also be incorporated into the statement of purpose: Master of divinity applicants must include a description of the type of ministry they intend to pursue as they address their objectives for graduate study. Candidates who propose nontraditional forms of ministry must discuss their understanding of ministry in the context of their professional aspirations." Overwhelming love of God is not enough. This school is heavily, heavily academic and interfaith focused. I am competing with some of the top students in the nation, and I will definitely need to address my lack of a language and humanities background while keeping the focus on my assets. A faculty member at this school told me the students who get in right away are the ones with whom the school is a very obvious, clear match.
  • Essay: "MDiv applicants are required to answer one of the two essay questions listed below. This essay should be approximately 500 words (approximately 2 pages, double-spaced). Please answer either: (1) What are the imperatives and potential pitfalls of graduate study in a multifaith environment? or (2) What do you see as the challenges of ministry, religious studies, or theological scholarship, and what do you see as the rewards?" Although not indicated in the instructions, this essay is in place of an academic writing sample required in previous years, so I will need to use the opportunity to demonstrate my academic writing capacity. I am heavily leaning toward the first of the two questions. The biggest challenge for me in writing this piece is going to be the word limit. It is much more difficult for me to write something short than something long.

School YD
  • Personal Statement: The written instructions say that the "personal statement should address your academic and vocational goals; how a Yale Divinity School education can assist you in meeting those goals; and what gifts and experiences you feel you can contribute to your theological education at Yale." The faculty at the open house suggested focusing on the school's mission of preparing leaders of the church and world through preparation of both heart and mind. It was also suggested not to focus too much on end-goals, which tend to change during one's theological education. They strongly suggest underscoring aspects of my life that would contribute to the school's diversity. I will also need to address my lack of a language and humanities background. Finally, they are the most so-called "confessional" of all the schools, though they do say that the statement does not need to be confessional.
  • Academic Writing Sample: The best would be a paper I actually wrote in an academic setting, but since I can't have one I am going with option B, for which the instructions say to "provide the admissions committee with an academic essay (no more than 5 pages) in response to one of the following prompts: (1) Discuss the influence a significant philosopher, theologian, or writer has had on your thinking or vocation; (2) Consider a contemporary issue in church or society (e.g., death penalty, climate change), and how you would address that issue using the resources of your own religious tradition; or (3)Perhaps a major work of art (visual, literary, film, etc.) has had a profound impact on your thinking or vocation. Discuss how and why. I am hoping, for reasons of time, I might be able to adapt the HD essay on interfaith settings to address topic #2 (??).

School ML
  • Personal Essay: This school requires more references, but requests only one essay. The instructions say to "write a personal essay of no less than six (6) pages or 2000 words in length and no more than eight (8) pages, typed, and double‐spaced that addresses the following: (1) Reflection on various influences that have been important in your religious, personal, and intellectual development. A. What are your deepest religious questions?
    B. What is your current sense of strengths and growing edges for ministry? (2) A statement of your academic and professional objectives in applying to the program,
    with specific reference to your proposed career objectives. A. Why are you applying to this school? B. What kinds of challenges or gifts are you anticipating in pursuing an MDiv?" This is the school that is furthest from me and with which I have had little to no contact, except by knowing students there. Though needing just one essay is helpful, I may not be as prepared to write about my match with the school, though due to denominational affiliation and my lifelong faith, I think I will be able to demonstrate the match when all is said and done.