HDS Sees 11 Percent Spike in Applicants

The Harvard Divinity School saw an 11 percent increase in total applicants this year, prompted in large part by the weak economy and HDS’s increased efforts to reach prospective students, said Maritza S. Hernandez, associate dean of student services at the school.

This represents the second consecutive year in which the school has reported significant increases in applicant numbers. Last year, the number of applicants increased by almost 15 percent from the previous year.

“The economy has played a role,” Hernandez said. “Usually during economic downturns, people sort of re-evaluate their lives. They take it as an opportunity to maybe follow their passion and do what they want, especially if they’ve been laid off.”

Though she predicted that the school will continue to see high applicant rates given the current state of the economy, there are no plans to increase the class size.

“We’re at a level where we can provide the type of education that the Divinity School wants to provide,” Hernandez said.

The only other significant increase in applications to HDS in recent times was in 2002, when Harvard reported a more than 11 percent jump in applicants following the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, said Hernandez.

Similar increases were seen nationwide, with enrollment in seminaries increasing by 8 percent that year, according to the Association of Theological Schools.

Besides the economic downturn, Hernandez credited the spike in applicants to the school’s increased efforts to promote HDS and its programs to prospective students.

The admissions department reached out to more than 2,000 colleges and universities that did not traditionally produce HDS applicants.

It also started a Diversity and Explorations Program in 2007, aimed at informing underrepresented racial and ethnic groups about opportunities in ministerial and theological education. These efforts informed “people who wouldn’t have [otherwise] thought about divinity schools,” Hernandez said.

According to students, such efforts, along with the non-denominational stance of the school, contributed to its attractiveness.

“HDS might be a good place because it is a program that is pretty open as opposed to Yale or the [University of Chicago],” said Matthew A. Lewis, a first-year student at HDS.

—Staff writer Melody Y. Hu can be reached at