Admissions Recruiters

Admissions Top 5 Application Tips

Join Admissions colleagues Rev. Todd Maberry, Ms. Minoka Gunesekera, and Rev. Ashley Cross as they walk you through our best advice to Duke Divinity School applicants. This episode is tailor-made for someone currently applying or planning to apply. If you are are an alumnus or friend of Duke Divinity School, consider sharing this episode with someone you know who might (or should) be considering seminary. Our 2021 application is available now.

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Download the episode transcript or click below to read it.

Bonus Episode! Top 5 Application Tips Transcript

Rev. Todd Maberry: Welcome to the Divcast, the podcast that gives you an inside look into the Duke Divinity School community. I am Todd Maberry, your host for this episode, as well as the 2006 M.Div. grad and current senior director of admissions recruitment and student finance. This is a special bonus episode where we are counting down the top five tips for a successful Duke Divinity School application, and I will be joined by our two admissions recruiters, Minoka Gunesekera and Reverend Ashley Cross. This episode is designed for anyone who's considering an application for any masters or doctoral degree program at Duke Divinity. We recognize that many people who listen to this podcast will not be applying to Duke, but if you are an alumni or a friend of Duke Divinity, would you think about someone who would be a great fit for Duke and consider sharing this podcast? We will be deeply grateful if you do.

Today, I am joined by our two wonderful and talented admissions recruiters. Before we jump into what we want to talk about, I want to give you all a brief opportunity to introduce yourself. So Minoka, would you go first and offer a brief introduction of your background?


Ms. Minoka Gunesekera: Sure. So my name is Minoka Gunesekera, and I am a 2017 Masters of Divinity grad from Duke Divinity School. Before that, I was born and raised in Blacksburg, Virginia, and have a degree in public and urban affairs from Virginia Tech. And when I'm not at work, I love to bake and love to watch all kinds of things Disney.


TM: Nice. And Ashley, would you briefly introduce yourself?


Rev. Ashley Cross: I'm happy to. Greeting friends. I am Reverend Ashley Cross, and as Todd mentioned I'm one of Duke Divinity School's admissions recruiters. I am originally from Greenville-Spartanburg, South Carolina, and I've been in North Carolina since 2011, when I started undergrad at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. After studying political science and philosophy, I thought I was headed to law school and instead ended up discerning a call to ministry that led me to Duke Divinity School. And so I finished my M.Div. in 2019 and now half of my bi-vocational life is spent talking with prospective students and journeying with them, and the other half of my life is serving young people as a children's minister at Union Baptist Church here in the heart of Durham.


TM: Thanks for that. And our topic for today is top five tips for successful Duke Divinity School Applications. We're going to be counting down the top five tips for submitting a great application. And that's the work that we do together. The three of us, along with other members of Duke's Divinity's faculty and staff. Review all applications that come in, and ultimately we want to have really great applications because we want really great students. So we're not interested in weeding anyone out. We want people to put their best foot forward. So we're going to give the answers to the test, as a way to hopefully encourage and inspire great applications. I know for me personally, I've probably read close to 5,000 applications over my time at Duke Divinity School, and I love coming away from an application, feeling inspired and thinking to myself, "Man, we need to have this person at Duke Divinity School." So we want to encourage that as much as possible today. So we're going to count down the top five.

Ashley, you're up first with number five. Would you give us the number five in the top five tips for a successful Duke Divinity School application?


AC: Absolutely. I'd say tip number five is to keep in mind that the readers of the application have never met you. So they don't know your story. They don't know the academic or personal challenges that you've had to navigate. And because our application process doesn't include interviews, except for the ThD program, the application that you submit is going to be the best chance for us to get to know you as a person. So be proactive in sharing the important details about yourself and your history as they pertain to the application. In other words, if you think we should know something that we aren't asking, feel free to share it. And if you have questions about how to include those details, just know that you can contact our office and that our recruiting staff is always happy to help you navigate that and advise you on the best way to upload pertinent information. So be proactive in sharing information about yourself.


MG: Totally. Honesty is definitely the best policy.


TM: There is an opportunity to add supplemental documents if you feel like something needs more explanation. A great example of that is, we have a minimum GPA that we require for most of our degree programs, but there's no hard and fast rule around that. If there's a reason why you're below our stated minimum GPA and you think there's a good reason that we should know about, you should write us, let us know. Were there things happening in your family? Has a lot changed since you were in school? Sometimes we get people who have went to school a long time ago, and there's always room for explanation. So as Ashley said, keep in mind that the readers of the application don't know you, so preempt any questions they may have about you.

Let's move on to number four. Minoka, you've got number four.


MG: No matter what degree program you apply to at Duke Divinity School, you're going to need references. And what you need to think about is choosing references or recommenders that know you well, but not too well. So our team hopes that your momma and your grandmother, they love you, but they might not be the best person for you to choose as a recommender for Divinity School. So we ask that no matter who you choose for your recommendation, that they be people who are not related to you by blood or by marriage, but they are people that know you well and can write a letter of recommendation that really describes you in the best light.


TM: We are often asked, "My dad is also my pastor. Could he write for me?" In that case we would ask that you'd try to find someone else, because as Minoka said, we assume that your family members know you and love you and think the world of you. We're looking for people who can offer maybe a little objectivity about you.

I've got number three, and that is to craft your resume for an application to a divinity school. For all of our applications, we asked for a resume or a CV. And sometimes when people think of a resume or CV, they think of, "Here's all the jobs that I've had over my life." And that's not exactly what we're looking for. We're more looking for what background and experiences have you had that lead you to be a good candidate at Duke Divinity School? If you've been involved in a church or a parachurch ministry, we want to see that featured pretty prominently in the types of ministries that you've been involved in. If you're applying for more an academic degree program and you've written papers and participated in seminars, we want to see that as well. Your academic credentials should be on there. We're not looking for, if you worked at Starbucks as a 16 year old, unless working at Starbucks as a 16 year old, inspired you to connect with people over coffee, and that catapulted you into the ministry. Otherwise, you can leave off the job that you had when you were an adolescent.

We're going to move on then to number two. And Ashley, you have number two.


AC: I cannot tell you all how many applications I've read where basic grammatical errors really work to weaken the statement of purpose or the submitted writing sample. These are typically errors that might've been corrected if someone else had just given the piece of writing a glance over. So, when chatting about how to submit the best application, one of the things I always tell prospective students is dot your i's, cross your t's, put your commas in their respective places, and then have a second pair of eyes glance over the work that you're presenting. Even for the strongest writers, having someone edit your essay, I think, is really beneficial. These are the folks who can catch the basic mistakes that result from a lack of proofreading. They can offer feedback about parts of your writing, where there are opportunities for you to work on structure and work on clarity. They can offer you perspective about whether or not you've answered all parts of the question. Ultimately, I think this works to help make sure that you submit the strongest application possible. Your writing matters, and having someone edit your essay, someone that you trust, is going to be a really effective way to present the best work that you can to the reading committee.


TM: This essay that you submit will not be a part of any graded work that you submit for the divinity school. So it's not graded in any way, but we do read them and we are an academic place. So part of the questions that we're asking ourselves when reading an application is, "Is this person ready for work at a graduate level?" And basic grammatical errors indicate to us that maybe this person is not ready. So, never have someone else do the work, do the writing for you, but you should have someone else help you out with the editing piece of it.

Let's go on and move to number one. Minoka, you're up.


MG: So, the number one thing that we think makes for a good application is making sure that you understand the place where you are applying. For Duke Divinity School, it's doing your research, whether it's talking to people that have gone to school here, researching online, finding the reason why not only are you looking at theological education or divinity school, but why particular are you looking at Duke Divinity School? Make sure that those reasons are in your application. I know for me, when I was writing my application to Duke Divinity School, I was really drawn to the community because of the field education program. And so I made sure to write that into my application. And now as a reader, I know when I read an application, it's helpful and it's really insightful to see, "Okay, this applicant doesn't just want to go to any school, but really wants to go to school at Duke Divinity School."


TM: We totally get it that most people who apply to Duke are applying to other places, but you should still take the time and effort to do your research on, what is it about this particular community that is appealing to you and where you see yourself as a fit. All three of us, I think, have read essays where it says, "I can't wait to go to a school that's not our school." It's pretty obvious that they just use the same essay for multiple schools. So that's something that we pay attention to.

This has been wonderful. Great top five. I want to throw in a bonus tip, and that's to pay attention to deadlines and to meet them. The way we do it at Duke Divinity School is we have three deadlines for every program except for our doctoral program, the Th.D. or Ph.D. Th.D. or Ph.D. applications are due mid-December. Everybody else has three application dates. One is November, and the whole point of that early deadline is that you would know earlier if you've been admitted or not. We usually release decisions around Christmastime. Then there's a January 15th deadline. That's our priority deadline, where we give away any merit scholarship and virtually all of the scholarship support that we know that we have for the upcoming year. So it's really important to meet that deadline, if you want to receive optimal financial consideration. Then we always have people who decide later that they would like to attend Duke Divinity School and they apply for a later deadline in April, and you still receive full consideration, but at that point, the consideration for the scholarships just depends on what's available, based on the current cycle. Understand those deadlines. Do your best to work to meet them, and know that we work with you. We get that sometimes references can be slow, but as long as you've done everything that you've been able to do, we'll work with you on a way forward.

This has been great. Ashley, do you have anything to add that we've missed?


AC: I would just say to know that our entire staff takes this really seriously and we take holding your stories and experiences and the articulation of your callings as a gift. And so know that we are praying for you by name and hoping the best for you as you approach the application.


TM: Minoka, any final word from you?


MG: I would just say, one of the pieces of advice I often give to folks I talk to on the phone is that, if you're having issues or you have questions, please don't hesitate to reach out to anybody on our admissions team. We want to make sure that you feel like you are ready and able to put your best foot forward in this application. And if for some reason you're having computer issues, or what have you, and we don't know it, then we can't have the opportunity to help you. So that's just my piece of advice, is make sure you're communicating with our office.


TM: Ashley, Minoka, I'm grateful for your time today. I enjoy working with the two of you and I'm hopeful that this podcast will lead to us having even more great applications in this upcoming cycle.


AC: Absolutely.


MG: Thanks, Todd.


TM: All right. We'll see you all around.

Thanks for spending time listening to the Divcast. Be sure to subscribe to our feed, available anywhere you find podcasts. You can send us feedback and questions by emailing Our executive producer is Morgan Hendrix. Sound design is by Brandon Holmes. Special thanks to Rev. Ashley Cross, M.Div. 2019, and Ms. Minoka Gunesekera, M.Div. 2017, for their work on today's Divcast. Our music is from Christian DaPonte, M.Div. 2021.

We will always end with a Div 'did you know?' which is a fact or interesting aspect about Duke Divinity or Duke University that you may or may not know. Did you know that Duke Divinity aims to embody the motto of Duke University, which in Latin is 'eruditio et religio', knowledge and faith? I hope you will join us again for the next Divcast.