Admissions Frequently Asked Questions
VDS is a university-embedded divinity school (and a member of the Association of Academic Divinity Schools), which means students can take courses at other professional and graduate schools, do a dual degree (be a Double ‘Dore!), and have access to all the university resources (identity centers, big lectures and events, The Wondry, the libraries, the 26k square foot recreational facility with a climbing wall, college sports – a championship women’s bowling team!, intramural sports, the student health center... you get the idea). That does mean VDS has to abide by the larger VU ethos and policies, and it provides a wealth of access and stability for students, especially when something like a pandemic happens.
VDS is not officially affiliated with one denomination, and we pride ourselves on being an ecumenical community. We have students from over 30 different denominations and faith traditions, as well as students who are unaffiliated or in transition between traditions. Community liaisons and student organizations support students with specific denominational interests, and we offer denomination-specific courses to satisfy a range of ordination requirements. Our weekly worship is student-generated and varies by week.
In 2021, the VDS student body numbers around 185. 38% of the incoming class of Fall 2020 were MDiv students, 18% were MTS students, 6% were ThM students, and 38% were Doctor of Ministry students. 30 different religious affiliations were represented in the Fall 2020 incoming class, and they came from 15 different states and three countries. Students range in age from 21 to their 60s, with the average age in the late 20s.
Two-thirds of the student body is white, one-quarter is Black or African America, with the rest Asian American, Hispanic/Latinx, African, and First Nations.
Students are diverse in terms of gender identity and sexual orientation. We do not maintain these statistics due to privacy concerns, but about 30% of applicants to VDS self-disclose an LGBT+ identity.
Students work closely with their faculty advisor to choose courses and reflect on vocational pathways. Beyond the formal advising process, many of our faculty members are generous with their time via email or office hours. Students are also connected with denominational liaisons and other students in their faith tradition to help navigate ordination and other denominational questions.
Furthermore, incoming students take a course titled “Foundations in Theological Education” in their first semester. Throughout this course, students work with a small cohort of peers to reflect on their religious background, their current context, and their developing sense of vocation.
Master of Theology (ThM): January 15th (11:59pm Central)
Master of Divinity (MDiv) and Master of Theological Studies (MTS): January 15th is the priority deadline for consideration for full-tuition scholarships; April 1st is the regular deadline, but applications may be accepted and considered on a rolling basis until June 1.
Doctor of Ministry (DMin): April 1st is the priority deadline; May 1st is the deadline for MHICS DoD applicants and the general deadline for all other applications.
I am interested in applying, but I’m wondering if it is possible to defer admission.
Yes, if you are admitted and accept the offer of admission, you may opt to defer it to the following year. Incoming students may only begin in the fall semester.
Who is eligible to apply? Do I need to have a religion degree or experience in ministry before applying?
Applicants to the MTS and MDiv degree programs must hold a baccalaureate degree from an accredited college or university. We strongly recommend an average GPA of 2.9 or higher. If you do not hold an undergraduate degree or have a degree from an unaccredited institution, but otherwise show experience and promise for graduate theological education, you may still be eligible. Please contact the Office of Admissions.
We have no expectation that you previously studied religion or served in a ministerial capacity, and many of our students come from long careers in other fields.
Applicants to the ThM degree must hold a Master of Divinity or equivalent first theological degree, with an average GPA of 3.0 or higher. The professor they want to work with must agree to take them on as a student. More information is here.
Applicants to the DMin degree must hold a Master of Divinity or equivalent first theological degree, with an average GPA of 2.6 or higher. Students are assumed to have endorsing religious bodies, and applicants functioning as clinical chaplains are assumed to have at least two units of CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education). CPE is not required; students should be engaged in a structured counseling context to provide adequate opportunities for reflection during the practicum. More information is here.
The goal of the application essay questions is for prospective students to tell their stories authentically and succinctly. Whether you come from a theological background or not, we want to know about the experiences and questions that have shaped your interest in theological education. We encourage prospective students to begin the essays as soon as possible, spend time thoughtfully editing their work, and share their essays with recommenders, advisors, or other willing editors. You will not be penalized for going slightly over or under the requested page limit, but do remember that your readers have many applications to consider.
How do I apply?
All VDS applications are completed online through our website. There is no fee to complete an application. If you are interested in a dual degree program, you will apply to each of the programs individually.
Outside of professors, who should I choose as a recommender?
Applicants frequently ask work supervisors, pastors, or other religious leaders to write a letter of recommendation. The recommender does not have to work in a religious profession, but you should be looking for someone who can speak to your vocational passion and/or professional skills relevant for graduate-level education (writing, time management, critical thinking, etc.).
I don’t know any of my professors anymore because they all retired/I went to college many years ago. Who could serve as an academic reference?
If you graduated from a prior degree program over seven years ago, or if you are unable to contact a professor you studied with, consider selecting as a recommender someone who can speak to your ability to learn and your capacity for research.
No GRE is required for the MDiv, MTS, ThM, or the D.Min. degrees.
Proficiency in written and oral English is required for enrollment in an academic program. An applicant whose native language is not English must present the results of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) with the application. The minimum acceptable score for the Internet-based TOEFL is 95. The computer-based total acceptable score is 250, and for the paper-based test, 600.
Information on how to register and where to take the test is available at ets.org/toefl. The minimum acceptable score for the IELTS is 7.0. Information on how to register and where the test is offered may be found at ielts.org.
Applicants who have been awarded a degree from an institution whose language of instruction is English may request a waiver of the requirement by emailing the Assistant Dean of Admissions.
Do you admit transfer students?
Yes. Prospective transfer students should complete the regular degree application, as well as submit a letter stating the reasons for transferring and provide a letter of good standing from the president or dean of the theological school from which transfer is being made. The number of hours transferred may not exceed 12 for MTS or 24 for M.Div.
Do you allow advanced standing?
Yes, admitted students are given the opportunity to submit prior coursework for consideration for advanced standing. Typically, advanced standing does not reduce total credit hour requirements but allows students to place out of introductory-level courses.
Do I send my transcript to the Divinity School?
NO, do NOT send it to the Divinity School. Send transcripts to VU’s Center for Data Management. Some institutions provide secure electronic delivery of transcripts. These submissions may be made to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Transcripts sent via the postal service should be addressed as follows:
2301 Vanderbilt Place
Nashville, TN 37240-7833
United States of America
Must I submit a writing sample with my application?
M.Div, MTS, and D.Min applicants are not required to submit a writing sample.
ThM applicants are expected to submit a 5-7 page writing sample, preferably on a topic related to their area of interest. You may submit an excerpt from a larger work like a master’s thesis.
What career paths are available with a theological education?
Both the M.Div and MTS programs may be used as a foundation for doctoral studies, for diaconal or ordained ministries in certain denominations, for chaplaincy in hospital or educational institutions, for religious leadership in the non-profit sector, or as a vehicle for the enhancement of one’s own religious faith and understanding. The ThM program, intended for those who already have an M.Div, MTS, or equivalent theological degree, deepens the theological foundations for a student’s current vocational and ministerial practice or prepares a student for doctoral studies.
2019-2020 VDS graduates from all degree programs pursued the following paths after graduation:
Vanderbilt Divinity School offers 3-year Master of Divinity (M.Div) and 2-year Master of Theological Studies (MTS) degree programs. For students who already possess one of those degrees, VDS offers a 1-year secondary Master of Theology (Th.M) degree and a 3-year Doctor of Ministry (D.Min) in Integrative Chaplaincy.
M.Div students are required to pursue one of the ten available concentrations and MTS students have the option to elect one of eight possible concentrations. Concentrations consist of four courses and often include a praxis requirement and/or a capstone project. It is possible to pursue more than one concentration if desired.
More generally, the list of concentrations is a great opportunity to get to know the interests of current students and faculty. Courses within each concentration are open to all students, so one does not have to complete the concentration in, for example, Religion and Economic Justice to take courses in that area. There are a large selection of electives offered outside concentration areas as well.
Divinity students also have the opportunity to pursue certificate programs.
Yes, the Divinity School offers dual degrees with Vanderbilt’s Schools of Management, Law, Nursing, Medicine, and Education. Students interested in dual degree programs should apply to each school individually and may note their interest in pursuing a dual degree.
MDiv and MTS: may be completed part-time. Merit awards are capped at 50% of tuition for part-time students.
ThM: may be completed part-time through a community-based plan for local residents who plan to take one or two courses a semester.
D.Min: designed to be undertaken alongside full-time work as a chaplain.
Does VDS offer remote or virtual degree programs?
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, all courses will be offered in an online or hybrid format. However, in-person learning is a critical element of community engagement at VDS, and we currently intend to return to a predominantly or entirely in-person format when it is safe for our faculty, staff, and students.
The exception is the DMin program, which with the exception of in-person intensives the first three semesters of study, is remote or virtual.
I’m interested in Vanderbilt’s PhD program in Religion. Is that the same as Divinity School? Do you offer a DMin?
The Vanderbilt PhD program is through the Graduate Department of Religion. Click here for information for PhD applicants.
VDS does offer a brand-new DMin program. Click here for information about the D. Min program.
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
As you will read in the VDS Purposes and Commitments, VDS opposes racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and commits to providing an education cognizant of religious pluralism, toward a healthier, more just world. VDS has a special connection with the Black church, and has been a place where LGBTQ+ people come, learn, teach, and work in the fullness of who they are.
VDS has a commitment to take full account of the contributions of African Americans, Latinxs/Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans. Serving on the faculty are several Black/African American scholars, including four (and counting) womanist scholars; Latinx scholars, and Asian American scholars, along with white scholars whose work is inclusive of and committed to the contributions of racialized people. Staff is inclusive of multiple people of color who bring with them particular expertise in equity, diversity, and inclusion. The Kelly Miller Smith Institute of Black Church Studies is a long-standing and robust program.
On staff and faculty there are at more than 10 folks who are openly LGBTQ+ and whose work, research, and activism include a wide range of gender and sexuality topics. And there are even more faculty and staff who actively support and celebrate our LGBTQ+ community. For nearly 25 years the Carpenter Program in Religion, Gender, and Sexuality at VDS has actively supported and accompanied LGBTQ+ ministers in their journeys. The Carpenter Program itself was the first and oldest Divinity-based program to focus on Gender and Sexuality in the country.
The advantage of being part of Vanderbilt University is having ample resources for students, including the Black Cultural Center, the K.C. Potter Center housing the Center for LGBTQI Life, and access to diverse faculty and support services across campus.
Do Divinity Students work while in school? Are jobs available on campus?
Almost all VDS students have at least one part-time job and some continue to work full-time through their studies. In fact, students work an average of 19 hours per week throughout the academic year. On-campus work study jobs are available and pay an hourly rate dependent on the position (typically somewhere between $9-15). Students tend to find on-campus jobs through the Hire-a-Dore website (available after you receive a VU login), on the VDS community Facebook page, or by word of mouth.
Check out HireADore and VDS job postings for on and off campus job listings. You may be eligible for Federal Work Study, which requires you fill out a FAFSA and submit it to the Office of Financial Aid.
If you are interested in working with a specific office or department, we recommend contacting that program directly to inquire about positions in the spring or summer after you receive an admissions decision. Research assistant positions may be available, but are most often by invitation in your second year or later.
VDS hosts a community Facebook group, a weekly coffee hour, and an official job posting as resources for off-campus jobs as well.
Field education is a vital part of the VDS education. All M.Div students are required to take field education in their second year of study, but opportunities are available for all VDS students. Each placement is unique and tailored to a student’s vocational interests. Field education students reflect on their experience every week in a small cohort of their peers.
Parking & Transportation
Just as students live in a variety of different places, students travel in a variety of different ways! The VDS campus is accessible by foot, bike, bus, ride share, and car. All Vanderbilt students can ride metro buses free of charge with their student ID card. There is on-campus parking in the Wesley Place Garage near 21st south for a yearly fee. There are also hourly paid lots, metered parking, and street parking within walking distance of campus.
Yes, international students are eligible for admission to either degree program as well as merit awards.
Undocumented students are also eligible for admission and merit awards.
During the pandemic, VDS will offer virtual visit opportunities only. VDS offers group visit days throughout the year, typically for prospective students in the fall and both prospective and admitted students in the spring. We are happy to arrange individual visit days at your convenience Monday-Thursday while classes are in session. Individual visit days include a class visit, a meeting with an Admissions team member, and a meeting with a current student. (Currently not available: While we do not typically fund student visits, we are able to coordinate stays at the Scarritt-Bennett Center, which are available at a lower nightly rate than hotels in the area.)
We offer online webinar sessions throughout the discernment season to provide information about the VDS experience to students in the comfort of their own home! For additional information for a distance, browse our website and follow us on Facebook and Instagram.
All applicants to the M.Div and MTS programs are automatically considered for merit scholarships, and currently 100% of VDS students are receiving a merit award. Applicants must complete all application materials by the priority deadline on January 15 to be considered for one of our named, full-tuition scholarships. ThM applicants are eligible for a 30% tuition scholarship (40% for international students), and highly competitive applicants will also be eligible to be considered for a supplemental stipend totaling $5,000 annually. D.Min. applicants are eligible for a 30% tuition scholarship. Exceptions are VA MHICS D.Min. applicants who are eligible for a different rate that will be communicated through the MHICS program.
Need-based aid at Vanderbilt is restricted to U.S. citizens and is administered via the Office of Student Financial Aid in the form of federal loans and work-study eligibility. All applicants for need-based aid are required to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
For more information on scholarships, need-based aid, and other opportunities for funding including fellowships and external awards, please visit the Tuition and Financial Aid page.
Is there on-campus housing for graduate students? Where do students live? How can I find housing?
Vanderbilt does not currently offer on-campus housing options for graduate students, but there are two VDS-affiliated housing options available, The Disciples Divinity House and The Divinity Friendship Houses, to a limited number of students by application.
Divinity students live all around Nashville! In the spring, committed students receive access to our Back2Grad portal which includes information about housing in the area as well as opportunities to talk to classmates who might be potential roommates.
Are there language requirements for admission or graduation?
There are no language requirements before or during your time at VDS; however, there are excellent opportunities to study several languages relevant to the study of religion, including Biblical Hebrew, Greek, Akkadian, Syriac, Arabic, and Latin.
Living in Nashville
Nashville is the capitol of the state of Tennessee, and its largest city. Over 2 million people live in the Nashville region. Nashville is known as “Music City,” but along with its live music scene and the highest concentration of music industry jobs in the United States, it is also a hub for healthcare, finance, manufacturing, and technology. The capitol city of Tennessee, it boasts a robust public sector, including governmental and non-profit organizations, many of which are led by Vanderbilt Divinity graduates. Nashville was the number two hottest job market in the country (WSJ Feb 2020).
You can take in a pro sports event (hockey, football, soccer, and minor league baseball), college sports, tour a brewery or three, dine in one of the hottest food scenes in the southeast, and explore the 200 public parks.
There are over 120 languages spoken in Metro Nashville schools. 1 in 8 Nashvillians are foreign-born. And Metro Nashville is home to 18 colleges & universities. Metro Nashville has over 100 parks and greenways, so even though you can drive to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you can get your fill of hiking close to home.