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How to Apply

Applicants for graduate study must have completed an undergraduate degree in an accredited college or university. GRE scores will not be considered in the admission process. Admission will depend not only on the achievement and promise of the applicant as attested through transcripts and letters of recommendation, but also on the clarity of the applicant's statement of interest and aims, and on the compatibility of the applicant's interests with the resources of the department.

The application deadline for the PhD program is December 15 for the following Fall.  While MA applications are accepted through May 1, priority review of MA applications starts on January 15.

I. Personal Statement

This statement should be no more than two or three pages long. Its main task is to outline your intellectual preparation and agenda, and why that agenda is best pursued in Religious Studies at the University of Virginia. When writing your personal statement, please mention, on the first line, the area of study within the Department to which you are applying.

II. Application Procedure

Create your account and submit your application through the Graduate School’s application management system. All graduate applications to the University of Virginia Graduate School of Arts and Sciences are handled by the Admissions Office of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and not by the Department of Religious Studies.

The Department of Religious Studies does not have any printed information about its Graduate Program other than what is found on this website. If you have questions, please contact the Graduate Coordinator.

III. Master's Promotion Program for UVA Undergraduates

The Department offers an expedited admission process for UVA undergraduates seeking the MA degree in Religious Studies. This process both eases the admissions process and allows students to take courses that will count toward the MA while still enrolled as undergraduates. In some cases, this allows for the completion of the BA and the MA in a total of five years.

Third-year students who wish to be considered for admission to this program should submit their application by May 14. Those students accepted into the program will take two graduate-level courses (5000 or above) in their final year of undergraduate study, which will be credited toward their MA degree. In the following year, they will continue at the University as MA students and fulfill the Religious Studies MA degree requirements, which include a foreign language requirement. (For a fuller description of these requirements, visit the MA Degree Requirements page.) Students must complete their BA at the end of their fourth year and must remain in residence at the University for their fifth year.

Eligibility: This program is open to students from any major who can show reasonable preparation and purpose for graduate work in Religious Studies, and who have a minimum GPA of 3.4 in coursework relevant to the MA.

Note: The credits for the two graduate courses taken in the undergraduate years cannot be counted toward the Religious Studies major or toward the 120 credits required by the College of Arts and Sciences for the BA degree.

Applications should be submitted by email to the Graduate Coordinator and should include the following:

  • A letter of interest that includes a 500-word statement of purpose outlining the intellectual interests to be pursued in the MA program. A strong statement will also include some discussion of how the applicant’s previous coursework in the Religious Studies Department has prepared her or him for graduate study.
  • A transcript (or transcripts) of undergraduate work (including grades for the third-year spring term)
  • A writing sample that demonstrates the applicant’s ability to mount and sustain an argument. Writing samples should be ten pages or longer.
  • Two letters of reference from professors in the Religious Studies Department. All letters of reference should be submitted directly to the Religious Studies Graduate Coordinator.

Those students approved to enter the program will still need to apply through the Graduate School application in the fall of their 4th year (online applications open September 1). These students should indicate on the application that they have been accepted to the Master's Promotion program, and will have a streamlined application as a result. Thanks to a special arrangement with the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, students do not need to take the GRE or pay an application fee in order to apply.

IV. Frequently Asked Questions

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Do your PhD students find jobs after graduation?

Yes. Despite an unusually tight job market, the majority of our doctoral students do extremely well on this front. Most go on to academic appointments in a variety of settings—post-doc appointments, lectureships, and tenure-track positions in liberal arts colleges, public universities, and private universities. Some elect to work in administrative jobs in higher education or decide upon employment in other fields. Most finishing MA. students go on to enter a PhD program in theology, religious studies, or a related field. In recent years, our PhD graduates have been hired at in tenured or tenure-track positions at Yale, Northwestern, Cambridge, William and Mary, Temple, VCU, University of Washington, Liberty, Naropa, University of Kansas, Davidson, Bates, Earlham, Gonzaga, Creighton, and many other universities, colleges, and divinity schools.

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How difficult is it to get accepted to your program?

We accept about eleven doctoral students a year out of an applicant pool of over 130. The typical admitted student has a GPA over 3.8 from a competitive university or college and very strong letters of recommendation.  Applicants admitted into the MA program are occasionally a bit weaker but often have scores comparable to those of the PhD applicants, though they may be slightly lower.

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If I have high grades, am I sure to be admitted?

No. We regularly turn down students with 4.0 grade point averages. This is true for both the MA and PhD programs.

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What makes the difference?

Two things are crucial: First, the "fit,” which is the compatibility between the student’s interests and the scholarly competence of the faculty. Second, a strong statement of purpose that shows engagement with the proposed area of study and the critical acumen needed to undertake significant original research. For MA applicants, the “fit” can be a bit looser, but the statement remains crucial, even if less narrowly research oriented.

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How important is my statement of purpose?

Very, it can make or break an application.

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What are some application mistakes that are easy to avoid?

PhD applicants should make sure that they propose a course of study that fits with the research specialization of the faculty. Applicants may want to check with faculty in their research area to see if there is a preferred language preparation. MA applicants should make sure to propose a course of study that falls within their areas of academic competence.

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How can I find out the research specialties of the faculty?

Consult the descriptions of their interests on the faculty page; or, better, read their books and articles and email them.

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What is the best reason to apply to your UVA’s PhD program as opposed to other schools?

You are familiar with the research of one or more of our faculty members and want to learn more. Students applying to a PhD program are really applying to undertake their studies with one or more of our faculty members, not simply to take classes in a program. On a broader scale, the same is true for MA applicants.

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If I get in what kind of funding might I receive?

At the doctoral level it is our policy to provide individual health insurance for the student, a tuition waiver, and a fellowship and/or teaching assistantship of about $20,000 for every student admitted, often with additional summer funding. The financial aid package typically lasts for five years.

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Does financial need count?

Only when you’re applying for the Federal Work Study Program. As said above, we normally fund all students accepted to the doctoral program.

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Do your MA students have preference for admission to your PhD program?

No. All applicants who have an MA are evaluated according to the same criteria and within the same pool of applicants.

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What is the best way to find out if your program is for me?

Go to our faculty page, identify a few faculty members whose interests parallel your own, and then email those professors.