How do I get into a Ph.D. program?


John L Drury




I would like to someday teach ministry at a college.  I am right now working on a Masters, and wanted your advice on how to get into a doctoral program.



Good for you.  We need more people who are passionate about ministry to pursue further studies and shape the next generation of leaders.  College teaching is of course the most obvious and direct way to engage in this legacy-building activity.

The first thing to do is obviously continue your Master's studies as this will be the ground for further work.  But more importantly you need to start asking yourself some questions. Why do I want to do this?  What is my life-long ministry goal?  Are there other ways to reach this goal than college teaching?  What areas of study do I have a passion about? What books do I enjoy reading for hours at a time? What kinds of writing would I like to engage in?  There are many other questions, but these can get you started.  Find a close mentor who can coach you through these kinds of questions.Set up a coffee or lunch with that person, bringing 5 to 10 questions of your own and request him or her to ask probing questions too.

This self-exploration is the most important task for you right now. But for future reference, I can mention a few descriptive details about doctoral studies and higher ed teaching.  First of all, there are a lot of doctoral programs across the nation, some which are barely worth the paper your transcript is written.  In the particular area of youth ministry, there are a quite a few programs at more recently developed evangelical seminaries and colleges.  These programs are often easier to get into, more progressive in their pedagogical technique, and more open to distance learning.Unfortunately, these programs are also usually quite expensive, and have not had the time to achieve the clout that helps you get a job down the road.  A couple more established institutions have Ph.D. programs in youth ministry (Princeton for instance), but they are of course tougher to get into and more traditional in their curriculum.  On the other hand, they usually pay you to study, rather than the othervway around, and so you can really focus on your studies.

Secondly, teaching jobs are few and far between, so although you do not want to lose focus on teaching while studying, the fact of the matter is you may never get a teaching job even if you do get a doctorate.  So you have to do the degree out of a love for learning and not merely as a union card to teach.

Finally, I feel obliged just mention some obstacles that everyone faces in applying for Ph.D. programs.  Most programs require GRE test scores (which is an advanced SAT-type test).  Most like to see a strong undergraduate and master's GPA.  Most will require few modern languages as part of the process, although they like to see applicants who have already begun working on these.  They want a few recommendations from academically qualified people who know you. They will require a writing sample that exhibits your ability to think, research and write.  In other words, there is a lot of crap you have to do to apply.  You are likely capable of preparing all these things, but they require a lot of time and energy.And thatís just to apply.Then you still might not get in b/c acceptances are a crap-shoot based on political jockeying between faculty and not exclusively on the merit of the applicant.  So contacting professors that you want to work with is also a wise move.But despite the complexities, it is not out of reach.

Of course, many people who wish to pursue further studies avoid all this go for a D.Min. instead of the Ph.D.  This is a great practical learning degree, but I will warn you that it is not taken as seriously by potential hiring institutions.  It helps if you want to study and teach youth ministry, which is an area where D.Min.s can slide through.  But be warned that a D.Min. will only help you get a job if you have a lot of experience backing you up -- which you surely will some day.  So consider this option, but be sure once again to do it
out of a love for learning rather than a guarantee to get a teaching job.

As you may have guessed, my dad has written a Two-Part Tuesday Column on this very topic.  Here is the link for Part-One:
At the bottom of the page is a link to Part Two.

Keep pursuing these thoughts and shut out those voices of discouragement that make you afraid to ask genuine questions about your gifts and goals.  You may discover that this is not in your future, but that needs to be a legitimate decision and not a discouraging dismissal.  I believe that if God is leading you in this direction, he will equip you for it.