When you leave your home and comfort zone to come to a new country, you must navigate through a multitude of experiences. The shock that comes from the move is oftentimes overwhelming, making the integration into a new society and its networks, like a University, daunting and foreign.
When you first arrive in the US everything seems different. You have to settle into a new living space, find someplace to buy groceries, learn knew customs, and it seems like you’re always struggling to catch up with the conversations happening around you.
With all this change, once the school year begins you may soon ask yourself, “What have I gotten myself into?”
So, how do you not only survive in an American University, but thrive? Learn to be proactive and engage the resources around you.
What does it mean to be proactive at school?
It means taking responsibility for your actions and for your work. You have made it this far and have shown you are capable, so never underestimate the possibilities and your potential.
Here is a list of strategies that individually, and all together, can help you succeed as a student in the American University system.
Talk to your professors
Your professors are your partners in learning so you should always know exactly who they are and how they can help you. Be sure to introduce yourself to all of your professors early in the semester and learn when their office hours are. By becoming more comfortable with your professors when you first meet them you won’t be as anxious about asking them for help when you run into trouble.
Take advantage of your Teaching Assistants and study groups
TAs are assigned to professors for many reasons, but just like professors, they are usually available to help you. They often have office hours, just like professors, when you can go and visit them to ask questions and get help. Sometimes they lead study groups, or “small groups,” where you and your colleagues can ask for clarification when you’re confused (study groups may also be a good place to meet other students who might want to get together outside class to study together).
Learn who your TAs are, when then they are available, and how they can help you succeed. Every TA is different and different professors may assign them different duties, but it never hurts to introduce yourself and learn how they might be a resource.
Seek out opportunities to improve your English
Learning and perfecting a new language takes time. Be patient with yourself, but seek out places where you can practice, and where you can get help. Don’t be afraid to make friends and to speak English at all times and don’t hesitate to ask questions.
Watch TV and listen to the radio, especially programs on the NPR station because there is little music and you can keep abreast with local and world news, while practicing listening to English.
You should also think about what your strengths are in your new language and what you still need to improve. Once you’ve pinpointed areas that need improvement, choose activities that will help you concentrate on those things. By practicing what gives you trouble instead of the things you can already do well, you’ll learn master your new language even faster.
Trust the resources around you
There are many people who are available to help you if you will take initiative and ask. Don’t be afraid to seek help from the official offices and administrators. There are a lot of dates and times and pieces of important paperwork to keep track of and administrators would much rather you ask for help than forget an important deadline or complete your paperwork incorrectly.
Here’s a list of other offices that help you succeed as a student:
The Writing Works Center s the Writing Resource here at STH, and you can sign up for an appointment with a tutor from the website.
The Education Resource Center (ERC) is an academic support center here on campus and the center serves as an academic referral, training, and information resource for the University community.
The International Student and Scholar’s Office (ISSO) which provides essential services and support to students. Staff at the ISSO provide professional expertise on immigration and employment issues.
For more information on resources available to you, visit the International Student Life website.
Take advantage of these resources so that you don’t struggle alone.
It is very easy to fall into a familiar group where you feel comfortable speaking your language, and where you are around people from your own country. Finding these people is a good thing. People from home can help you relax, refresh you and introduce you to new friends.
But be sure not to create an “exclusive club” of your group. Including domestic students and students from other countries is a great way to create a wonderful multicultural village.
This type of social group is very helpful for international students in that it helps with adjustment issues and it is beneficial to you because it will enrich your experience. You will graduate fully equipped to function effectively in cross-cultural settings.
Be open to sharing
Remember that coming to the United States not only has to do with coursework and grades: you came here to learn a new culture, and to seek a social life and community so that you may have wonderful stories to tell to your friends, family, children and grandchildren.
Story telling is a communal activity and it’s a great way to get to know people. Share the stories you already have and others will be more willing to share their own stories. Our world is interconnected, and although we are each just a small piece in the global village, we all have important things to share.
Never Give Up!
Coming to America is exciting and I guarantee that there will be difficult times, but you are not alone and neither are you the first one to have these experiences.
Always look to those who have gone before you, either alumni, or students in their second and third years; they too have a story to tell, and I think they will tell you a similar story about their first year and how challenging it was… but they got through it!
Your friends are a great resource and they can help to uplift you when you become overwhelmed.
It all comes down to you
This is list does not contain absolutely everything that will make you a successful student. Your success as a student depends on your ability to figure out what you need and how to get it.
So think about what success means to you. Think about your goals and your expectations. What will you need to do to reach those goals?Tell me below in the comments!
Philippa, better known as Pippa, is a native of Zimbabwe. She moved to the USA eleven years ago and has called Boston “home” for three years. She is the Coordinator of Communications and International Student Life at the Boston University School of Theology.
October is Theological Libraries Month?
Why is there a whole month dedicated to the library of all places? All you do there is read books, make some photocopies, and catch a few zzz’s. The library can’t offer you anything that you can’t find on the web or from your professor, right?
You’ve forgotten about your librarians and talking to a librarian can mean the difference between a good paper and a great paper.
Here are just a few ways they can help you succeed in your research or academic work.
1. Define and/or refine your research topic
Asking the right question, or questions, is a good first step in developing a research topic. You may want to write a paper on the relationship between Islam and Christianity, but unless you’re planning to write a multi-volume set, a topic of this size is just too big.
So the librarian might ask you to refine your thinking with questions like, “How long is this paper intended to be?” “What in particular do you want to compare between the two religions?” “Have you gathered any background information already?”
This process is vitally important, especially if you’re just beginning to think about the assignment, because establishing limits allows you to focus on the most important parts of your argument and will streamline your writing.
Your readers, whether they are your professors, your friends, or a professional journal, will thank you for it.
A narrow scope also makes research easier. If you have a strong focus you can more easily decide which bits of research will help your argument and which bits will just seem like fluff.
2. Locate resources using library tools
Once you’ve narrowed your topic to something manageable, you will now be able to identify which resources are relevant to your paper.
Unfortunately, though, you may not be done. There may still be additional resources that you have not uncovered.
It is no surprise that many students rely on Google or Wikipedia to get started with their research. They’re easy to use and access. Librarians use these tools, too!
However, BU subscribes to hundreds of databases that provide access to scholarly resources from peer-reviewed journals edited by eminent scholars (a peer-reviewed journal is a journal in which article submissions are reviewed by scholars in that field to ensure the quality of the research. Magazines such as Time or Newsweek are not peer-reviewed journals).
The more reputable the sources you use, the more convincing your paper will be, so these are the types of resources you should be looking to use.
There are multiple ways to access these peer-reviewed articles, including BU Search or through the list of library databases on the STH Library website. A librarian can show you exactly how to use each of them.
You just have to ask.
3. Utilize primary sources
Primary sources are materials that provide direct evidence or firsthand testimony concerning the period or subject under investigation.
Some examples of these include letters, photographs, diaries, and much more. The School of Theology’s archives contain firsthand accounts of Methodism in New England, accounts and reports in missions, the records of the Boston University’s School of Theology, and many other historical items.
These items can add further depth to your project by revealing details left out of secondary sources (books or articles that discuss primary sources, like the peer-reviewed journals mentioned above). These details can also help to refine your thinking and offer new research opportunities for the future (and impress your professors).
4. Locate items at other Colleges and Universities
It can be frustrating to find a citation or an abstract for an article that looks like it would be perfect for your paper and then discover that your library doesn’t own the journal or the book.
However, your librarian can help you track down those pesky items and get access to them.
For instance, you can use BU WorldCat Local to find out if another local Boston Library Consortium (BLC) library holds the item and request it right from the results screen.
If it is not held by a BLC library, it might still be owned by a Boston Theological Institute (BTI) library. If so, you can get a BTI card from the STH Library Circulation Desk and go to that library and get it yourself.
Only on campus twice a week? Not a problem! You can use interlibrary loan (ILL) services to request an item from another library and have it sent either to your library, or to your e-mail account (if the other library sends an article in an electronic format). Interlibrary loan books and articles may be delivered either in a few days or a few weeks. Please prepare early if you need the resource for an upcoming paper.
Again, you just have to ask, so be sure to stop by the Circulation Desk.
5. Learn different forms of library research
As you may have noticed by now, librarians are teachers, too.
Each semester, the BUSTH library staff provides sessions on using the databases, interlibrary loan, bibliographic managers, and archival research, among other topics.
A trip to the library to discuss your current paper can get you out of dire straits, but learning how to use library resources can make sure you never end up in that frantic position again.
Classes are posted on the library website, Facebook, the STH Calendar, the Library’s Twitter account, and throughout the STH building. If you can’t make a class, feel free to make an appointment with a library staff member and we’ll be glad to assist you one-on-one.
In the meantime, jump in on the comments section and let us know how else we can help you!
James has worked at Boston University as a professional librarian since 2000, joining the School of Theology Library staff as Head of Public Services in 2002. Jim has been an active member of the American Theological Library Association where he has served on the Public Services Interest Group Steering Committee and two theological reference task forces.
Have you ever been faced with an assignment or test question you had absolutely no idea how to answer?
Did you ever receive a grade for a paper and feel that the professor was looking for something completely different from what you had written?
Does that 25 page term paper seem too intimidating even to begin?
These 19 tips will help you get organized, construct a plan of attack, draft your paper, polish your writing, and ultimately conquer that terrifying writing assignment.
Read and Respond
1. Take time to read the assignment guidelines carefully, and identify all of the different parts of the question. Instructors will want to see each aspect of the question addressed in your answer, and it is good, if not always necessary, if you do this in order.
2. Make an outline––even for a brief response paper, even for a timed exam––listing the points you will cover in your answer. In this way you will be working toward a complete, well-rounded response.
Develop a Thesis
3. Your answer should say something. Do not simply parrot what you have heard in class, or string together ideas culled from a book. Make an argument, or, in the case of an informal response paper, come up with an original question about the material you have been reading.
4. State your argument, called a thesis, and then prove it, using examples from primary and secondary sources, or from your own experience, if that is appropriate in the context of the class.
5. Try to anticipate holes in your argument, and plug them. Articulate possible problems and how you might counter them, or, if they are insoluble but for the grace of God, say so clearly. Avoid a defensive tone.
6. Summarize what you have tried to say, with a concluding sentence, paragraph, or section at the end of your work, no matter how short the paper.
7. In most academic writing, you are expected to incorporate primary and secondary sources. Primary sources are the things we are studying: historical texts, images, and objects, sociological data, interviews, experiences. Secondary sources are the work of those who study these things with us: books, articles, and online resources analyzing the same things we are.
8. Make sure your primary sources are in the right translation and edition. Using the King James Version of the Bible to debate fine shades of meaning in biblical manuscripts unknown to the seventeenth century will not prove helpful.
9. Select strong secondary sources, paying attention to the press (academic presses at reputable universities, journals in your field, websites citing authors and editors who are responsible for their content) and the author (read biographical information, or a review). If you are uncertain, ask a professor or TA to evaluate a source for you.
10. When summarizing material, cite the page(s) in a footnote. When directly using the words of another author, place all of the borrowed words in quotation marks and cite your source in a note. Do not be guilty of plagiarism through ignorance or laziness. Proper citation style can be found in The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2010), available online through the BU Library.
11. Integrate material from other authors into your writing. Introduce an idea or quotation with a brief summary of its interest for your work, and then discuss its relevance or dismiss its flaws more fully after presenting it. Be critical, but not strident or glib.
12. Read over what you have written.
13. Correct grammatical errors; eliminate repetition of words, phrases, and ideas; sharpen the precision of your vocabulary.
14. Does your writing flow smoothly? Do you have logical transitions to guide the reader from one step in your argument to another? Do sentences and paragraphs represent single, coherent thoughts, without extraneous material?
15. Is there a beginning, in which you state your thesis, a middle, in which you list your proofs, questions, or musings, and an end, in which you offer your thesis again in slightly different words, reflecting a more conclusive position?
16. Have you been as clear and simple as you can, without sacrificing nuances of meaning?
Some Other Suggestions
17. Schedule your work on longer assignments. If a 25-page research paper seems daunting, do your initial research, make an outline, and then set yourself smaller tasks (a set number of words, pages, or paragraphs per day) until you have finished a draft.
18. Read with an eye to becoming an author. Other writers will be your best mentors and teachers. Does a certain book seem to engage you more than another, or impress you as especially well-argued? Most likely it is not only because you agree with its ideas, but because you are in sympathy with the way the author communicates. Discover the kind of writing you admire, and try to imitate it, whether it is warmly conversational chatter, or an imperious, acerbic diatribe. Do not copy the style of another slavishly, but experiment until you find a tone that feels authentically your own, while respecting the standards of your intended audience.
19. Read The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White (also available online through BU, but there is a charming illustrated edition, Penguin, 2005). Depend upon it; follow its maxims and be humble about your ability to improve on its advice. Make every word tell.
Margaret Arnold is a doctoral candidate in the DRTS, working on her dissertation, “Mary Magdalene in the Era of Reformation,” with Prof. Barbara Diefendorf. Her editorial experience includes work on four volumes of the American Edition of Luther’s Works, and Steven Ozment’s The Serpent and the Lamb: Cranach, Luther, and the Making of the Reformation. Her article, “To Sweeten the Bitter Dance: The Virgin Martyrs and the Lutheran Reformation,” will be published in the next issue of the Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte. She is the co-author (with Christopher Boyd Brown) of a volume forthcoming from Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht on Art and the Artist in Early Lutheran Preaching: Inspiration, Vocation, and the Example of Albrecht Dürer. She is available for help with written assignments in the STH Writing Works Center.
Johnny, a teenager at the local high school and a member of your congregation, is sitting in your office. He’s upset. He’s not doing very well in school and he’s afraid he’ll get kicked off the football team if his grades don’t improve.
Even worse, he thinks his girlfriend might be on the outs.
He says these things slowly and hesitantly, as if he’s never said them out loud before. Then, slouched in his chair, he looks to you for a response.
Yesterday, Mrs. Smith came to visit you and wanted to talk about her husband and to complain about her children never calling.
Tomorrow you know there will be more of the same and it’s starting to wear you out.
All of these people are coming to you because they don’t feel they have anywhere to turn. When you don’t come up with all the right answers they grow frustrated, angry, and sometimes even hostile.
It’s overwhelming you and you’re afraid that you’re starting to burn out.
So what do you do?
You help people learn to find safe places to develop their unique self-understanding in the presence of a caring audience.
Everyone Needs to Tell Their Story
One of the foundational principles for self-development and personal and family formation is the need for a responsive community where you can tell your story—a community where caring others will listen and provide helpful feedback for strengthening your own self-understanding and identity.
As a pastor, you will need to come to grips with the anger and hostility that is sometimes projected onto you as a professional caregiver when people can’t find such avenues for love and caring relationships in their personal lives.
But the way to deal with this pressure is not to hope it will simply roll off your back. The better tactic is to help your congregants begin to build healthy audiences for themselves.
In order to do that, first you need to reflect on the social and cultural issues that impact your congregation and your ministry so negatively. You need to understand why you’re the only person listening to these people in need.
Understanding the Problem
These are the three contemporary social and cultural factors influence storytelling in congregations today:
- Status Anxiety
Alain de Botton describes status anxiety in his book Status Anxiety in this way:
The predominant impulse behind our desire to rise in the social hierarchy may be rooted not so much in the material goods we can accrue or the power we can wield as in the amount of love we stand to receive as a consequence of high status. Money, fame and influence may be valued more as tokens of–and means to–love rather than ends in themselves.
- The Narcissism Epidemic
Closely related to status anxiety is the narcissism epidemic, described by Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell as a form of self-admiration characterized by superficial self-esteem. This self-admiration is characterized by a false sense of identity. Examples include: phony wealth characterized by unessential debt and interest only loans; by phony beauty resulting from plastic surgery; phony athleticism based on the consumption of performance enhancing drugs; phony academic genius rooted in grade inflation.
Cornell West calls nihilism the loss of meaning, hope, and love as a result of the breakup of the village. He means that people have become relational refugees not grounded in nurturing relationships. They need a village, or supportive communities with relational ties, where they can nurture their self-identities.
What It All Means
Congregations are full of people that feel unloved and unlovable because the relationships and communities that provide love are disappearing. Despite this loss, people who feel unloved and unlovable expect perfect love, empathy and attunement from the clergy and their families.
As Carrie Doehring writes:
in a culture in which attunement (empathy) may be greatly lacking in many relational contexts (in the community, in work relationships, and in the corporate world) there may be a demand for perfect attunement in dyadic healing and nurturing relationships. The parent, the pastor, the counselor, or the teacher is expected to be an expert at attunement and empathy (80)
For this reason, active pastors and those preparing for ministry are not immune to status anxiety, the narcissistic epidemic, or nihilism. Attempting to be all things to all people, combined with a pastor’s isolated position, can quickly make a pastor vulnerable to all of these cultural forces–particularly status anxiety.
This vulnerability highlights your own need, even as a pastor and caregiver, for an audience of listeners and a supportive community.
So what’s the solution to this wide cultural problem, if not superhuman pastors?
Lead By Example
It all begins with you.
Establishing audiences of mutually supportive listeners within your congregation will certainly relieve some of the pressure on you as an empathic leader, but your role will always be central.
To illustrate just how necessary a caring audience is for support and care you must be willing to tell your own story.
Despite the general loss of the village mentality among contemporary congregations, people will often respond to genuine invitations to participate in storytelling and the retelling of stories.
Even when they will not tell their own stories, they willingly become part of storytelling audiences where they listen for the purposes of contributing to the growth of others.
Eventually, they will take risks to tell their own stories. They will follow your example and seek out supportive audiences on their own. You may be part of many of these smaller audiences. Sometimes you may not be.
What matters is that you foster an environment within your congregation that encourages this mutually supportive behavior. By encouraging the creation of audiences within the life of the church you can help to restore the village functions which are being lost all over the world.
What’s Your Story?
Everyone has a unique story and every congregation has a personality. You can start this whole process by considering your own story and the ways in which your congregation functions already as a village.
- What audiences may already exist?
- Who else is telling stories?
- Who’s listening?
- Who seems most in need of an audience?
- How, as a pastor, can you help your congregation begin to weave all these threads together?
Go ahead and get started here in the comments. Tell us your story.
Edward P. Wimberly, Ph.D. is the Jarena Lee Professor of Pastoral Care at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, GA. He is a member of the New England Annual Conference. He served Emmanuel Church in Winchendon, MA and St. Andrews United Methodist Church in Worcester. He is married to the Anne Streaty Wimberly, whom he met at Boston University in 1965.
Dr. Wimberly will be taking part in the BUSTH Distinguished Alumni Panel. The panel and is free and open to all. Click here for information.
You’ve been told the Personal Statement is the place where most application mistakes occur. You also know it’s vitally important that you carefully craft this piece to best present yourself. That means writing well and at the same time showing show the admissions staff just who you are.
Sounds pretty simple, right?
Maybe, but not always easy. You could be making one of these two common Personal Statement mistakes.
The two biggest Personal Statement Mistakes
- writing a personal statement like a diary entry and over-sharing using tweet-worthy language, or
- the opposite: using highly academic language to say nothing personal at all.
To write a good Personal Statement you must strike a balance between two poles.
By way of example, let me address two imaginary offenders in the styles to which they are accustomed, starting with the “Ramona Quimby” diary entry folks, whose statements seem like something Beverly Cleary or Judy Blume would have written.
(For those of you under 30, Ramona Quimby was the fictional character whose many misadventures were chronicled by Beverly Cleary in her beloved 1980s “Ramona Quimby” series of books. Ramona was an adorable, if precocious, little girl, who taught young girls like myself much about the pitfalls of growing up. But, even so, she would not have been admitted to seminary on the basis of her diary entries.)
I’m sooooo excited that you want to attend this seminary – that’s great! But I didn’t really need to know that your first crush was Han Solo, or that you think your church’s baptismal font might have an algae infestation – LOL! I appreciate your enthusiasm, but every sentence can’t end in an exclamation point, right?!?!?! So, we need to totes tighten up your language, drop the TMI stories and professionalize your statement a bit, K? I hope I’ll get to hear these stories once you’re here, but the Admissions Committee is trying to make sure that you have good boundaries, and your statement as it is doesn’t inspire that confidence – yuck, bummer! So, do me a solid and pretend that you’re writing for your professors and not your diary because, well, you are! :)
True Story: I once spent a good 5 minutes at my desk staring at the first line of a Personal Statement that started with the abbreviation, “IMHO.” It must have been early-on in that abbreviation’s life cycle, because I had not yet heard it, and so I was annoyed at the applicant for both not explaining an abbreviation and making me feel old since I couldn’t immediately place it and knew it was popular jargon. Please do not make your Admissions Director feel old.
Here’s the opposite kind of offender:
To Whom It May Concern:
In the year of Our Lord two-thousand twenty twelve, in its tenth month, which is to say, October, on the seventh day of that said month, I am writing to you, lowly as I am, to make a humble request, borne of humility and experience – something of import that could conceivably foment change in the righteous decisions of one Admissions Committee: the writing of your statement of a personal nature must be improved. For I tell you that the longer your sentences, the more commas, nay, punctuation, of any kind, that you use, the more language that seems formal but is, in truth, quite wasteful of your limited space, the less credibility you hold. To never say anything personal is to miss the point of this statement altogether – we truly, and with great enthusiasm, want to know you as a person, Child of God, academician. But how might we know this unless you do, in truth, tell us? I beseech you to hone your language, as well, to something that you might speak in public, for if you truly spoke like this it would be surprising to me and to anyone beyond the 18th century. Kindly, and with haste, review and personalize!
You may think I’m being facetious – surely no one would stoop to either of these levels – but I can promise you they do.
The Sweet Spot
So here are two tips to make sure you don’t fall into the same trap as our imaginary friends.
- Choose personal stories that are relevant to your faith or academic journey. Choose a couple even if you only want to write about one. That way if your first choice turns out to be unworkable you have others to fall back on.
- Write them up in a way that shows they mean something to you, but without so much emotion that the strangers reading your file feel uncomfortable. I tend to think that the best style is the one you would adopt if you were writing a formal email to your favorite professor – human, but not unprofessional.
While that’s still not easy, it is a simple formula. The rest is up to you. The admissions staff at your dream school knows you have stories to tell, so take your time crafting the Personal Statement into the fine self-introduction it should be.
Anastasia Kidd was once a confused seminarian looking for her own calling, but is now the Director of Admissions for the Boston University School of Theology. For more suggestions on discernment, check out the Admissions section of the School of Theology website.
Have you ever walked away from a conversation feeling like you missed something?
You listened attentively. You were respectful. You tried to be empathetic. You thought you understood the other person’s points and you tried to address them.
But still, despite all your effort, at the end of the conversation there still seemed to be some sort of disconnect.
It may have been because you were speaking different languages and didn’t even know it.
Multiple Languages in Practice
A failed or incomplete conversation can be frustrating for anyone. But it’s especially troubling when it’s your job as a pastoral psychologist to understand and address the psychological or theological pain of the person sitting before you.
As I mentioned in my first article, a successful pastoral identity requires the incorporation of multiple languages of practice: theological, psychological, and clinical. That doesn’t mean that you must speak all of these languages simultaneously at every moment in each conversation, but it does mean two things:
1. That you should be able to speak psychological, theological and clinical languages comfortably as different contexts demand.
2. That you recognize people have multiple ways of describing what’s happening to them. In order to provide appropriate care you must be able to hear the differences and respond in a contextually sensitive manner.
The question “what is appropriate care” is far too large and varied to discuss here, but the root of these two points is this: to develop a pastoral identity and to provide appropriate care you must be comfortable both hearing and speaking the multiple languages of your discipline. So here’s a tip: brush up on your interrogation skills.
Yes, interrogation. Here’s why.
Interrogation = Better Listening = Better Reflection = Better Care
Underpinning a pastoral psychologist’s cohesive identity is a curious and seeking attitude. If you train yourself to always be seeking to learn, you will also train yourself always to listen. If you are an attentive listener you will become increasingly comfortable with the languages of your discipline as you reflect on the things that you hear and learn and how you feel about them. That means, finally, that you will be able to hear the needs of your clients and parishioners regardless of the language they use and you will be able to offer them the best possible care.
But what, exactly, do I mean by “interrogation?”
In this sense interrogate means simply to be curious and “to ask questions,” in a consistent, interested, and even probing manner. This fosters introspection about oneself and about others. But if you want to learn something, you have to ask the right questions. I’ll get to that in just a second.
First I want to stress that the goal of this exercise is not for you to compile a heavy tome of go-to answers to use like a manual when working with a client or parishioner. Thinking you know all the answers will deaden your ability to listen in a nuanced way to the needs of those who depend on you.
Instead, the goal of your interrogation is to cultivate a curious attitude that keeps you open to the needs of those around you and the different ways they talk about those needs.
Who, then, should you be interrogating?
Here’s the thing: no one. Or at least no one else. The primary target of your interrogation is not “who,” but “what.”
I’ll explore the kinds of theological and psychological questions you should include in your interrogations after we take a look at this “what.”
So if not “who,” then “what?”
Everything. Question your world. Question your expectations. Question everything.
Everything that informs you or entertains you can be interrogated, but let’s get more specific. Novels, fiction and nonfiction, poems, movies, TV shows, and documentaries all count as texts and they can all be interrogated both theologically and psychologically.
By opening the entire world up to such inquiry, even those things unrelated your normal theological or
psychological roles, you condition yourself to be seek out and hear the way similar ideas take different shapes in different languages and mediums.
What to Ask
So if the whole world is a catalyst for your curiosity, what sorts of questions help you to further develop a pastoral identity that allows you to provide proper care?
Consider the following:
What, in the course of your day, (travel, art, buildings, streets, people, noise, silence) communicates to you something about being human or something about faith?
• Now, listen to your self.
• Ask yourself: What are my reactions? What do I feel? What do I think? How am I affected?
• What do your reactions tell you about you—psychologically, theologically; your pastoral self?
Let’s think about this process as it relates to people you encountered on your way to work today.
• Did you notice the people around you? Did anyone’s voice, behavior or look surprise, interest or repulse you?
• What specifically evoked your internal response?
• Does it tell you anything about your self, the people you usually expect to see, or how you are witness to others on a daily basis?
• What do your responses suggest to you about how you think about what it means to be emotionally healthy? What do your responses tell you about how you think, beneath the surface, about community, faith, or grace?
What makes this exercise so useful is precisely the fact that there is no answer sheet to turn to when you finish with your questions even when it comes time for introspection. The idea is to open yourself up to the many possible ways people may describe their experiences. In a clinical setting the only way to know whether you’ve connected with your client or parishioner is to continue asking questions and gauging your rapport based on their answers. The only way to make sure that you remain in a position to build an empathic connection is to remain open to the changes in your context, the changes in people’s speech and, perhaps most importantly, the changing way you think and feel about these things in both a personal and professional sense.
The world doesn’t sit still so you can’t either.
Get Started Today
All right, look around you. Listen. Notice. What do you see?
How can you interrogate it?
You can start your exploration right here in the comments section. I’d love to hear from you.
Making applications to multiple schools is a time-consuming and costly endeavor. Once you’ve narrowed down your choices of where to attend, your application is your ticket not only to admission but often to financial aid, as well.
Having read application files for years now, I’ve noticed several all-too-frequent mistakes applicants make in the process of completing their applications. A seasoned Admissions Committee can spot these mistakes a mile away, and they really do have an impact on their decisions.
So, here’s a list of the top seven most frequent – and heinous – application offenses, as well as how to avoid them (at all costs!).
1 Misspellings and/or Poor Grammar
Nothing says “I whipped this application essay together at the last minute” like a glaring set of grammatical or spelling errors. For the love of all that’s good in this world, please, please, please use spell check. Channel your 8th grade grammar teacher who taught you the difference between “they’re” and “their” and “there.” (Hi, Ms. Norville!)
Once you’ve read your essays over many times you may have trouble editing them yourself, so ask others to read and edit them for you. The more eyes that review your materials, the more likely they will be pristine grammatically. Admissions professionals may not be grammarians at their core, but they will be quick to judge your academic capability depending on the frequency of such errors in your application. One minor offense on an essay should not keep you from admission at most schools, but they do not bode well if repeated several times throughout, and should be avoided altogether.
2 The (How) Personal Statement
How can you tell if your Personal Statement is the right amount of “personal?”
Most seminaries provide a basic outline or word count for the Personal Statement, but there is often a lot of wiggle room in which to craft that masterpiece of yours. The Personal Statement is your place to shine, to show that you know how to write reasonably well, and that you have experiences that make you ripe for seminary study. This should be the one piece in your application that makes your Admissions Committee smile, thinking how well you would do at their institution. It is the piece I most look forward to reading in applicants’ files.
However, the major pitfall of the Personal Statement is either making it way too personal or not personal enough. Remember that making an application is a professional act, so your writing should be crafted with professional decorum in mind. This means no gratuitous cursing and no shortened colloquial language (totes!), and it means being as succinct as possible with your stories. And yet there should be something, well, personal about the statement. Feel free to show a bit of personality, and choose relevant, brief stories as representative of your larger life narrative.
3 Why I want to go to **Insert School Here**
You are applying to a select number of schools, so it is very important to show that you have done your homework to learn why each seminary is a good fit for you. I am always impressed when applications show that the prospective student has gone online to the Boston University School of Theology website, or even visited campus, to get a sense of this School and its ethos. When a student can articulate how her own interests are an excellent fit with our faculty, legacy, and/or curriculum, then I know she is taking her application seriously.
Conversely, when I read an application and could just as easily stick the name of another seminary in where “Boston University School of Theology” is mentioned, that is unfortunate. An even worse faux pas is when an applicant has done just that – copied and pasted different seminaries throughout the same personal statement – and then forgotten to make them all match. If I am reading a statement for Boston University that says, “and that is why Drew University is the place for me,” it’s a major turn-off, even though Drew is a very fine place, indeed. (That being said, I’m not upset when a letter of reference makes a similar mistake, which sometimes happens, since that was out of the hands of the applicant.)
Admissions officers know that you’re applying to multiple places – that’s fine and expected – just make sure to clarify why you’re making this particular application.
4 The Early Bird Catches the Worm
As “Queen of the Procrastinator People” I understand the feeling: you’ll get around to it eventually. But when it comes to admissions deadlines, that doesn’t cut it: you simply must meet the deadlines set by the institution to which you are applying.
This is the most basic of mistakes and, from my experience, one of the most-frequently made. An application deadline means that all materials – the ones you are responsible for sending (application form, personal statement, essay) and the ones that others must send on your behalf (references, transcripts, test scores) – should all be submitted to the Admissions Office by that date. Most Admissions Offices have a strict schedule of deadlines not to frustrate or trick applicants, but because of the sheer volume of materials they receive and the necessity to get these materials to their Admissions Committees for prompt review. An entire field of applications must travel together to the Admissions Committee, so late materials could hold up not only your own consideration but the decisions on dozens of other applicants.
5 If Life Hands You Lemons . . . Make Lemonade
So it’s a week before the deadline and you know something is missing from your file.
You have been diligent with your process, but a faculty member is out of town and hasn’t responded to your reference request, or the Admissions Office at the school to which you’re applying says they haven’t received your test scores.
What do you do?
In the words of Tim Gunn, you make it work. Don’t sit idly by worrying or checking in with the Admissions Office three times per day asking if such-and-such arrived yet. That gets cumbersome when 42 other folks are doing the same thing. If you know what is missing, call or email the Admissions Office to ask if they would accept another version of that credential sent in a more expedited way.
For example, a letter of reference emailed directly from a professor, a PDF version of the self-reported GRE score you were given when you took it, or a copy of your transcript faxed from the Registrar’s Office of your previous educational institution.
These methods of submission aren’t typical, but I know that our Admissions Office will accept them as temporary credentials and move an application forward to be considered even as we await “official, signed” copies of such materials. If a person is admitted and still has such a credential pending, we must receive the official copy before the admission is made final – but at least that buys the applicant more time and gets their application in for consideration by the deadline.
6 Stack the Deck
It might be a good idea to pursue one more reference than the Admissions Office actually requires.
References are the item most out of an applicant’s control, and, at least here, are often the culprits leading to a late application. You can minimize the chance of that by asking for a reference early enough that the person referring you has ample time (as in 2 months) to complete the work. Faculty are particularly busy folks, especially when multiple people are asking for references all around the same time. Plus, you are likely to get a better reference written for you if your referring person can take his or her time with the assignment.
That being said, life happens, and sometimes references just don’t complete their letters on time. That’s why I suggest asking one additional person to be a reference from the get-go, even if you feel confident that all your references will come through. That way you’re sure to have enough references submitted at the deadline for you to be considered for admission.
7 When the Mistake is Ours
At the end of the day Admissions professionals are only human.
Though it’s hard for me to admit, this means that mistakes can occasionally be made with applications. When dealing with thousands of individual credentials each year, a transcript may accidentally be misfiled, resulting in the false assumption that the transcript hasn’t arrived yet. In the worst cases (that, thankfully, only happen once in a great while) this kind of mistake can delay an applicant’s file from being labeled complete. Mistakes like this are unintentional and avoided as much as possible, but on the occasion that they do occur, please try to offer your friendly Admissions Office staff a little grace.
When such a mistake affects you, first assess the damage: for example, did this cause you nervousness and frustration, or did it actually keep you from being considered for admission or financial aid? In the first case you can certainly express your frustration to the staff, but you shouldn’t berate them. Berating an Admissions Officer could hinder your application – if a faculty learns that you reacted disproportionately upset to a minor mistake, they may not be interested in having you in class.
On the other hand, if the Admissions staff’s mistake did keep you from consideration or financial aid and they don’t seem eager to provide recompense, you may need to take more direct action. Remember that there is a hierarchy at every institution. Any complaint you have about your treatment during the Admissions process should be sent directly to the Director/Dean of Admissions, who will be able to explain or fix the problem. If your complaint is professional and well-meaning, you may find that it actually supports your case for admission.
But, again, if there’s no harm done, my suggestion is to forgive and forget, which will show the Admissions staff what a good sport you are. After all, you may have committed a mistake or two from the above list yourself, and wouldn’t you want us to give you grace?
Have you ever made an application mistake that made you want a do-over? Share your story in the comments!
Anastasia Kidd was once a confused seminarian looking for her own calling, but is now the Director of Admissions for the Boston University School of Theology. For more suggestions on discernment, check out the Admissions section of the School of Theology website.