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Looking at Andover hall from the library. Photo by Chris Alburger

Looking at Andover hall from the library. Photo by Chris Alburger

As I was learning about HDS through the website and preparing my application, I started imagining what it would be like to actually be there. If you’ve applied for the Fall, I bet you’ve wondered that, too. And, if you’re anything like me, you’re probably anxious to hear back from Admissions in mid-March and wondering what to do with yourself until then. The anxiety was nightmarish for me, but that didn’t stop me from dreaming. I mean, if you’re gonna worry about the worst possible outcome, you may as well imagine the best, too, right? So stay positive and start visioning.

Browsing the course catalogue as a hopeful prospective student two years ago, I took note of the classes I’d like to take like “Religion and the Public Intellectual” and “Faith in Action.” I pictured going to Noon Service every Wednesday and, as a Unitarian Universalist (UU), worshiping with the Harvard Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Students (HUUMS) on Friday afternoons. Looking at Field Education sites, I made a list of churches and social justice organizations, like the UU Urban Ministry or the UU Office for Congregational Advocacy and Witness, where I might like to do my two Field Education units. Interested in religious pluralism and interfaith work, I poked around the Pluralism Project’s website and imagined myself becoming a Research Associate there. Since I was in student government as an undergrad, I saw myself getting involved in the HDS Student Association. In my last semester of college, I learned about work-study opportunities in the Office of Admissions, but it was too late for me to do that there; so, on my list of things to do at HDS, I wrote: “Work in Admissions!”

I kept all these notes and ideas in a Word Document called “Hopes at HDS.” I didn’t know if I’d get in and I knew it’d be impossible to do everything I wanted if I did, but I figured there was no harm in dreaming: at least I’d have a sense of what I’d do if I got to HDS, and, if I didn’t get in, well, at least I got to enjoy the idea. Some themes emerged as I compiled my interests, and identifying the kinds of opportunities I wanted to pursue at this particular institution gave me a better sense of what I wanted to do with my life in general.

So get your hopes up. What do you want to do if your application is accepted? What courses do you want to take and which professors do you want to study with? Do you want to take classes at one of the other graduate schools at Harvard (like the Graduate School of Education or the Business School), take classes through the Boston Theological Institute (a consortium of 9 schools including Episcopal Divinity School and Hebrew College), or classes at MIT or the Tufts Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy? If you’re planning to do Field Ed, where would you do it? If you’re going to work while you’re in school, do you see yourself working on campus at HDS (in Student Services or at the library, for example) or somewhere else within the university (like friends of mine who serve as Proctors for the Freshman residence halls at the College and work at the Harvard Arboretum and the Kennedy School), or do you see yourself working off campus (like another friend who works at a restaurant because it gives her a break from the university)? Do you want to volunteer while you’re in school, say, with the homeless, for a local political campaign, or on the board of a non-profit? How do you want to participate in the life of the HDS community? What student organizations do you want to join? Do you see yourself helping with Noon Service or living at the Center for the Study of World Religions? Would you live in Cambridge, Somerville, or Boston? Writ large, what do you picture doing here? If this is your dream school, how will you live into the dream?

Enjoy it. If you don’t get in, you reapply, go to another school, or do something completely different, and continue following your inner sense of what’s most calling to you, in whatever way you can. If HDS is one of several schools you’ve applied to, do the same thing: start visioning what your life would be like at each school. Your life would be very different at each one. Envisioning the courses and opportunities at each school could help you decide where to go and help you make the most of your time when you start, wherever you end up going.

Explore your other options, besides school, as well. I applied to a dozen Ph.D. programs in English after graduating from college and didn’t get into any of them, but it wasn’t the end of the world: it actually led to a whole new world of opportunity. I did a lot of soul searching, went to massage school and had a successful private practice for a couple years, became increasingly involved in my church and talked to several ministers and seminarians about becoming a minister, and ultimately came to HDS to pursue my calling. So I’m glad I was rejected from all those schools; otherwise, I wouldn’t be where I am now. So if you’re worried about not getting in anywhere, thinking positively and constructively about what else you might like to do might help you envision a variety of fulfilling paths.

If your application to HDS is accepted and you choose to come here, all this visioning will come in handy. You’ll have a sense of what you want to do and how to make the most of your time here. I didn’t end up taking the classes I mentioned above because courses change from year to year, but I took related ones, such as “Religion, Politics, & Public Policy.” And a lot of the stuff I dreamed about came true: I was a Research Associate for the Pluralism Project my first year and now, in my second year, I’m President of the HDS Student Association and work in the office of Admissions. Halfway through the MDiv program, I still turn back to my “Hopes at HDS” document for guidance and to add new ideas to my evolving plan.

Start visioning the possibilities now, so, as Henry David Thoreau (a Unitarian by upbringing and Harvard alum) says, you can “live the life you’ve imagined.”

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