Skip to main content


Frequently Asked Questions by Prospective Students

What degrees are available?
The Graduate Department of Religion at Vanderbilt University offers the Master of Arts (M.A.) and the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degrees.

Students with a master’s degree from an accredited seminary or graduate school may be admitted directly to the Ph.D. program. Ordinarily, students with only the baccalaureate degree are admitted first to the M.A. program. Successful completion of the latter provides a foundation for doctoral studies but does not guarantee admission to the Ph.D. program. Applicants with the B.A. degree are advised to consider not only the M.A. program in the Graduate School, but also the two-year Master of Theological Studies (M.T.S.) program in the Vanderbilt Divinity School as preparation for Ph.D. work.

Am I able to attend MA and PhD courses in the Graduate Department of Religion online? No. All MA and PhD students are expected to be in residence. There is not an online option for this program.

May I get a catalog?
All the information we formerly sent as printed material, we now post on our website and the Graduate School’s website.

Will you send me an application?
Our application is online here

My access to the internet is limited.  How do I get information and apply?
James Hudnut-Beumler, Chair
Graduate Department of Religion
Vanderbilt University
411 21st Ave. South
Nashville, TN 37240
Phone: 615.343.3978

Why won’t the online application program let me begin an application?
The online application system is only open between August 1 and closes on December 1st for new applications for the following academic year.  Prospective students may revise existing applications at any time until the application is officially submitted.

Do you accept students in the fall and spring?
Matriculation for degree-seeking students is only in the fall. 

What are the required components of the application?
A complete application will include:

  • Letters of recommendation
  • Transcripts
  • A writing sample - The writing sample must be an academic study, preferably a thesis from the applicants' masters    program, which demonstrates the applicants' expertise in a subject area. The sample must be in Word or PDF format and should be no more than 30-35 pages in length. 
  • An official TOEFL score (when required)
  • A Statement of Purpose

The Graduate Department of Religion application deadline is December 1st.  More information on each of these items is listed below. 

How many letters of recommendation are required and how are they submitted?
A complete application will have at least three and at most five letters of recommendation.  You will have the option of entering the contact information with or without email addresses for your references.  If you provide an email address, the recommender will be sent an email with a link to your application so that the letter can be submitted electronically.  If you do not provide the email address, you will download and print a cover sheet which should be given to the recommender to mail in with his/her letter before the December 1st deadline.

Do you require official transcripts?

Transcripts can be sent either via the postal service or via secure electronic delivery. In order to be considered official, transcripts and other documents must come directly from the institution attended. Some institutions provide secure electronic delivery of transcripts. These submissions may be made to

Transcripts sent via the postal service should be addressed as follows:

PMB 407833
2301 Vanderbilt Place
Nashville, TN 37240-7833

Official copies of transcripts will be required upon matriculation.

Which Graduate Record Examination (GRE) do I take?
Effective 8/7/19, the Graduate Department of Religion will no longer require the GRE for admission; however a writing sample is now required.   The writing sample must be an academic study, preferably a thesis from the applicant’s masters program, which demonstrates the applicants’ expertise in a subject area.  The sample must be in Word or PDF format and should be no more than 30-35 pages long.

Who is required to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language?
Applicants whose native language is not English must present the results of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), International English Language Testing Service (IELTS), or Duolingo with the application. This requirement may be waived if you have earned a degree from an English-speaking institution. 

What is the minimum acceptable score on the Duolingo, TOEFL PBT, iBT, or IELTS?
The minimum acceptable score on the TOEFL PBT (paper­-based test) is 570, and for the TOEFL iBT (internet-based test), 88.  For Duolingo, the minimum acceptable score is 120.  Many programs, however, require a considerably higher level of proficiency.

For IELTS, the minimum acceptable score will vary by program. In many cases, a score of at least 7.0 is desirable.

What is the Statement of Purpose? 
The Statement of Purpose is a very important part of the application.  In it you should indicate what you propose to accomplish in undertaking graduate work in the field of religion. Explain your interest in a particular Vanderbilt University Graduate Department of Religion area of study and specify your objectives in that area.

Is there a page or word limit for the Statement of Purpose?

How do I request a campus visit?  
Email is the preferred means of communication between prospective students and the GDR faculty.  Still, if you would like to request an official campus visit to meet with faculty or attend a class, you must first begin the online application. When you have completed the Academic Information and the Statement of Purpose portions of the application, please contact the faculty in the area you are interested in.  If you are planning to be in Nashville and would like to come to campus to talk with the Administrative Manager about the program or application process, please contact the GDR Office.  This would not be considered an official visit and does not have to follow the above guidelines.

What financial aid is available from the Graduate Department of Religion at Vanderbilt University?
All M.A. students receive at least a 70% tuition scholarship on up to 30 credit hours.  Jewish Studies students receive an 85% tuition discount.  If an admitted M.A. student wants to take more than the required 30 hours, permission may be granted to extend the tuition discount for up to another 12 hours.

All Ph.D. students receive a University Tuition Scholarship, which are service-free awards that pay tuition costs up to 72 credit hours and include student health coverage.   Additionally, all Ph.D. students receive an annual stipend for four to five years. The Ph.D. student will be expected to be a full-time student in residence for the duration of the tuition scholarship and the stipend.

Are there teaching opportunities for a Ph.D. student in the GDR?
The terms of the stipend require that students serve, without additional compensation, as a Research Assistant and as a Teaching Associate. 

Is there graduate student housing at Vanderbilt?
May I be a student in the GDR and have full-time employment elsewhere?
You will be expected to be a full-time student for the duration of the tuition scholarship and the stipend. Any employment totaling fifteen hours per week or more must be approved by the Graduate Department of Religion.

What are the Graduate School program deadlines?
A candidate for the M.A. degree must complete all requirements for the degree within a six-year period calculated from the end of the student’s first semester of enrollment in the Graduate School.

A Ph.D. student must take the Qualifying Examinations within eight semesters during which he or she is registered, starting with the first semester of enrollment as a Ph.D. student. After the qualifying examinations are passed, students are entered into candidacy for the degree. A Ph.D. candidate must complete the dissertation within four years after having been admitted to candidacy for the degree.

What are the language requirements?
M.A. candidates must demonstrate reading competence in one modern language of research relevant to the proposed program of study. The M.A. language requirement may be satisfied by:

  • performing satisfactorily in the Departmentally administered Ph.D. language examination,
  • taking and passing with the grade of B+ or higher a Vanderbilt University course, including a final exam, designed specifically to teach graduate students to use the language in research, or
  • presenting transcript evidence of two years (12 semester hours) of college language credit with a grade average of B or better during the previous five years.

Ph.D. students in the GDR must demonstrate a reading knowledge of one modern language (normally French, German or Spanish) and a second language and any additional languages as designated and approved by the Area. Unless substituting a non-English native language, the language requirement must be satisfied at Vanderbilt by one of the following methods:

  • performing satisfactorily in a departmentally administered Ph.D. language examination, or
  • taking and passing with the grade of B+ or higher a Vanderbilt University course, including a final exam, designed specifically to teach graduate students to use the language in research.

I didn’t get in and want to try again.  Do I start a new application?
Yes, You will create a new application, starting from your existing application account.  Then log into your existing application portal, where you will see an option to create a new application.  This way, your test scores and current address information will carry over into the new application form.  The old application is part of the history of your application account, and will not be used again.  Each application requires its own set of support documents (letters, unofficial transcripts, etc.).

My current graduate program requires me to earn credits from an outside institution.  May I attend the Graduate Department of Religion at Vanderbilt University?
See description of Special Student Category below.  Instead of three letters of recommendation, a letter of good standing from the institution in which you are enrolled must be submitted.

Is it possible for part-time, non-degree seeking students to attend the Graduate Department of Religion?
The Special Student classification is for part-time, non-degree seeking students.  Such students must still submit an online application with the Graduate School. Approval of the course instructor(s), the department in which the course is offered, and the Graduate School is required.  Status as a non-degree student is expected to last no longer than one year. No more than 6 semester hours earned as a non-degree graduate student may be applied to graduate degrees at Vanderbilt.  There is no financial aid available from the department for Special Students.