Wednesday, December 2, 2009

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.

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