So, now finally to get to the question I was asked, which led me into a discussion of what our graduate program entails.    Here was the original question

QUESTION: Can you write something about the background of your PhD students, how you selected them, what makes a prospective doctoral candidate stand out against the pack, whether there is a huge academic gulf between knowledge and argumentative skills of your undergraduates and research students.

RESPONSE:   Like all good graduate programs, ours is very difficult to get into.   In a typical year, we will have maybe 30-35 students apply to study the New Testament/Early Christianity.   We can normally admit only one, or maybe two.  So competition is very stiff.

All of the students who apply have undergraduate degrees, usually from good schools.  A lot of them already have masters degrees.   Most of them (the applicants) have lots of background in the field and one or more ancient languages.

I tell prospective students that we look for a range of things in our applicants, all of them obvious to me, but maybe not to outsiders.   We look for very high Grade Point Averages; lots of courses in the field of interest; languages – the more the better, and with some established proficiency; strong GRE scores (the GRE is the Graduate Record Exam; it is the exam that gauges Verbal, Quantitative, and Writing skills/knowledge; it is the equivalent of the SAT or the ACT, only it is used for graduate schools rather than undergraduate); solid letters of recommendations; and very clear statements of purpose, indicating the student’s background and what he or she wants to do research on.  Students also submit a writing sample so we can see what their best research to date is.

So, some clarification of all that.  It is very difficult to get into our program without having a two- or three-year master’s degree already.  That’s because…