Applying to the Graduate Program in Religious Studies

The Graduate Group in Religious Studies is accepting applications for the PhD program. (Applications open on October 1). Presently, no M.A. program is available. Please note that Penn does not offer ministerial degrees or training.

The Graduate Group admits 2–3 students per year. Students who are admitted to the program receive a 5-year funding package that includes tuition and a cost of living stipend. All PhD students are required to serve as teaching assistants for 2 years as part of this package; most perform their TA work in their 2nd and 3rd years.

Applications are welcome from students from various academic backgrounds, though some exposure to the academic field of Religious Studies in an academic setting is usually required.

A BA/BS degree or equivalent is the minimum requirement. Many applicants have already done extensive work in Religious Studies, either as undergraduates, or in post-baccalaureate or Master’s programs elsewhere, while other applicants often will have majored in classics, philosophy, history, a modern language and literature, or area studies. In addition, incoming doctoral students should typically have prior training in one or more of the research languages required for their fields (see fields of study for details). Students who enter the program with graduate-level credits at other comparable institutions may petition to receive transfer credit for up to a maximum of eight courses.

In general, a comprehensive application package should show a combination of: 

  1. demonstrated research aptitude;
  2. creativity and scholarly promise;
  3. cogent scholarly writing;
  4. ability to consistently meet designated deadlines and objectives; and
  5. intellectual alignment with faculty and resources at the University of Pennsylvania. 

All applications must be submitted online through the School of Arts and Science's online application portal. For additional information, please see the Grad Division’s policies and procedures

Applicants will be asked to submit the following documents via the online application portal:

  • An academic curriculum vitae summarizing your academic background.
  • A personal statement of up to 750 words outlining your relevant training for the degree, your field of interest and research plans, and why you are interested in studying at Penn.
  • writing sample of academic prose (such as a term paper or standalone excerpt of a larger text) of 15-30 double-spaced pages. 
  • Academic transcript(s) from all previous academic work undertaken. (Screenshots or PDFs of unofficial transcripts may be submitted at the application stage. Official transcripts will be requested if you are offered and accept admission to the program.)
  • Applicants will also be prompted to provide contact details for 3-5 letters of recommendation from individuals who can speak to your academic background and aptitudes.
  • Applicants must indicate which of our graduate research areas they intend to pursue. Applicants should indicate at least one, and no more than three, research areas. Please select your primary research area first.
  • Applicants who are not US citizens or do not have English as the first language must submit language test scores. TOEFL & IELTS scores are accepted. These tests must have been taken within two years of the application due date. There are no minimum requirements but:
    • TOEFL: Competitive applicants tend to have a composite score of 100 or above with demonstrated consistency across the four sections of the exam (reading, listening, speaking, and writing).
    • IELTS: Competitive applicants tend to have an overall band score of 7 or above with demonstrated consistency across the four sections of the exam (listening, reading, writing, and speaking).
    • Students self-report their scores on the application and we will electronically match them through Collegenet. The institution code for electronically submitting these scores to Penn GAS is 2926.
    • If you have completed a post-secondary degree from an institution in which the language of instruction is English, we can typically waive the TOEFL/ IELTS requirement. Please contact Kate Stoler ( after your application has been compiled, including submission of your academic transcripts, to request this waiver.
  • Applicants requesting a fee waiver can send their inquiries, with proof of financial need, to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, If you are a McNair Scholar, please mention that in your email.
  • Please note that a GRE result is not currently required for an application to the program.
  • In advance of submitting their applications, applicants are encouraged to contact the specific faculty member(s) in their potential research area(s) via email to schedule a phone/email conversation about their particular interests.

Electronic applications are accepted from October 1st. The deadline for filing an application is midnight (ET) on December 15th. Applications and writing samples cannot be accepted after that date. The application fee is $90.00. 

Normally, decision letters (acceptances or declines) will be sent out by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences by March 1. Waitlisted students will be notified via email.