How To Get A Full-Ride / Scholarship For Ph.D Work

Ever since I announced a few months back here on Pisteuomen that I received a full-ride to do my PhD work, I've had a number of people send me emails, make comments on the site and leave messages on Facebook requesting that I write a post regarding these matters. Today, when I mentioned that another school contacted me with an offer, some more prompts were sent my way. So, in this post, I'm going to offer what I believe to be the 3 most important tips for getting a full scholarship to do PhD work. No doubt there are other significant factors but in my experience, these are what I deem to be the top 3.

1) Networking: The value and power of networking is probably the most important factor when applying not just for a full-ride but PhD programs in-general. And even while I think this aspect deserves pride of place among the top 3 factors, I must admit, I am not fond of it. In fact, I refer to it less as "networking" and more as "playing the game". Really, that's what it feels like much of the time: a big social networking game; see how many friend requests you can land and how many important hands you can shake!

Sometimes this can all seem so disingenuous, too; it can make the whole experience seem "not worth it" and "fake". When you go to conferences and actually meet the peoples' books you've been reading, there's a lurking sense in the back of your mind sometimes saying "Do these people perceive me as fake or as only trying to befriend them so that I can move forward?" That said, making contact with important people will get you far!!! If they like you, it's that much better!!! Some of the ways to connect with people are:

A) Take courses with professors that you admire and attempt to build a friendship / relationship with them. (Actually, this can help you remain honest throughout the networking process because the relationships are real!) When I was at Asbury Theological Seminary, I took as many courses as I could with Dr. Ben Witherington, III. At the time, I did this because I admired him as a teacher. Somewhere throughout the process, I realized that I wanted to pursue a PhD and having grown close to him, he offered to be a reference for me. Dr. W. even provided me with a very nice copy of the letter he sent; I still have it to this day as a piece of encouragement!

So, taking courses with professors is a great way to begin forming relationships. I'm sure it didn't hurt that when I applied to Asbury Theological Seminary's PhD program I had a glowing review from Dr. Witherington to offer (he's on staff there!!!). I had done some independent study with Dr. W. which I now realize was also a great way to connect with him one-on-one. Just as well, I had taken a number of courses with Dr. David Bauer, who is the Dean of the PhD program. I ran into him at SBL by happenstance, we talked and he encouraged me to send in an application. That was another positive connection!

B) In fact, attending as many conferences as possible pertaining to your field / area of study is a great way to network and form relationships. If you attend seminars / lectures where persons that you want to study with are presenting, you can often times touch base with them. I've found that seeking people out this way was invaluable in the PhD application process. For every school that I applied to, I attempted to find a person at SBL who taught there, so that I could introduce myself. C) After that, I immediately followed-up with a personalized email. In the first email, I wrote no more than 2 paragraphs detailing who I was, what I appreciated about them & their institution and what my research interests were. At the end, I always asked if they'd be open to conversing a bit about such matters and ALWAYS, they were. This leads me to the next point.

2) Email: Before you send in your applications, you should email every department or professor that you want to work with and attempt to discourse with them about their interests & how they align with yours. In fact, I found that it always flatters professors when you can quote titles of books they've written or passages from them. Even more, to suggest that their research has laid the groundwork for yours seems to be a good thing to do. In these emails, you need to get to the point of describing your research interests. I had a couple of friends help me craft & critique these emails as I began (thanks Raf & Herbie!) and that was an invaluable part of the process because it kept me from looking like a moron! Before you send your emails, make sure you proof & edit them; have someone else do it too.

(At last count) I sent out nearly 150 emails to different schools / departments when it was all said & done. All of these emails were written with great care. Here is one of the initial emails that I sent to Dr. Bauer at Asbury:

"Dr. Bauer,

Hello, this is Michael Halcomb. I hope this email finds you and your son well and having a happy holiday season. It was great speaking with you at SBL last week and I must say, my heart rejoices that your adoption process went so well. As an adopting parent, I love hearing stories like yours. I can only hope our adoption fares so well! Regarding the brief discussion we had about the possibility of returning to ATS for PhD work, I want you to know that I am incredibly excited about it. I love Asbury and would be overjoyed to come back. In fact, my current research interests really took shape at ATS while studying with Drs Rynkiewich, Witherington and yourself.

In terms of academics, pursuing a PhD in New Testament is my goal. My research interests are threefold: 1) [example] 2) [example] 3) [example]. In my view, the above endeavors are not only unique but they tap into areas that remain virtually untouched by biblical scholars. Having presented three conference papers (and hopefully three more in the next year) on these matters, I am convinced that deeper research into these areas would be highly beneficial to the field of NT studies and could possibly charter new paths for study and conversation. I would love to talk more with you about this subject if you are willing and/or feel it necessary. If so, please let me know that it is okay to contact you, or, feel free to get in touch with me via any of the means below. Dr. Bauer, I value your input and am excited about the potential of studying at ATS."

Thus, making "connections" by whatever means available to you is a MUST! And I would remind you that when you are making connections, be genuine and honest. People can often see through it when your motives are false and selfish. I genuinely care about Dr. Bauer and have a number of common life interests outside of study with him. I love hearing about how things are going with him. Your attitude should probably be somewhat similar (when possible). Just as well, make sure that your connections are also professional and concise. This leads into my 3rd point.

3. Academics & Purpose Statement: During the course of my B.S. I did not want to or even plan to do any grad work. However, it turned out that I went on to a MDiv. During my MDiv, I couldn't wait to be done with school and never planned to go any further. However, I did a MABS. It was near the end of my MABS that I decided I wanted to pursue PhD work. Now, I still have the regret of not paying more attention in my undergrad studies. I also regret the fact that I did not forsee myself going this far from the very beginning (if I had, I would have surely paid more attention early on). It's no secret that you have to make good grades to get into PhD programs. My MDiv and MABS degrees both ended with 3.6+ GPAs (I was working full-time and doing full-time school during these degrees) which I still wish were better. My advice is if there is any inkling within you to teach later, then make good grades and win many awards early on and through the rest of the process. Study hard! Attempt to blaze new paths in the field your going for; be an innovator!

By the same token, publish as much as you can. Many journals will give young scholars first chances, so, take them. Network with journal editors at conferences, email them and ask for opportunities, have sample reviews ready, start a blog and post some articles or reviews for practice, in short, write and publish as often as you get the chance. In addition to networking, providing a good purpose statement (which I will say more about in a moment) and getting good grades & awards in grad school, one of the things that helped me out a lot was having a pretty good publishing record (a handful of conference papers & nearly two dozen book reviews).

As I just mentioned, one of the more important academic decisions you can make is to write a stellar Purpose Statement (I cannot share mine here because the research info. is confidential; I could find no way to "generalize" the Statement while keeping it intact and allowing for it to make any sense)! This is a part of every PhD application and should be taken just as seriously as Networking! Usually, there is a word or page limit to your Statement (stay within those bounds!!!). Your statement should be astute, informed, conversant & reader-friendly. In it, state your your research interests, how you arrived at them, who influenced you, why you want to study with a particular person, why you want to study at a particular institution, and how you think you can benefit the school's reputation and how it can benefit you. I cannot say enough about just how important this step is. With that being the case, if there are any of you out there going through this process and need help, I am willing (as time allows) to help you when I can.

So, to recap, the 3 most important aspects of getting a full-ride to study are, in my opinion: 1) Networking, 2) Emailing [getting in direct contact with important persons], 3) Academics & Purpose Statement. I'm sure there are others who have gone through the experience and have wisdom to share and maybe this post will spawn a bunch of posts, who knows. If you have any questions or thoughts, please, feel free to share them here.


  1. Thanks Michael. Good advice as I will be starting this process soon myself.

  2. No problem Scott, glad you thought is was "good advice". Maybe some others will find it helpful, too.

  3. I really appreciate this post Michael. Very helpful. I do hope you write more on the subject.


  4. Thanks Rob, what other types of things might be helpful?

  5. I'm not really sure, but there must be more! :-) Do tell all!!!!!

  6. I'm keeping a copy of this in my files. VERY helpful information. And good of you to share it with others.

    I'm excited about having Matthew with Dr. Bauer this fall! He certainly is a very helpful and encouraging man.

    What exactly are the details of his adoption?

  7. Rob, I'll see what else I can drum up.

    Nathan, good hearing from you again; we'll have to meet one another soon. In fact, I'm moving to KY on the 28th (if you're around and wanna help us move in, you're welcome...ha...I know at least one other ATS student will be there).

    Glad this was a bit helpful for you; I'm flattered that you plan on keeping this in your files.

    RE Dr. Bauer's adoption, 2 years ago, he adopted a son from China. Bauer is a single parent who chose to adopt.

  8. Yeah that would be sweet. The 28th of this month or the next?

    You staying in the Asbury apartments? I'm itching to find out how the dorms are situated so I can figure out what I need to bring . . . don't guess you stayed in those before did you?

  9. Nathan, yeah, the 28th of this month.

    I'm not staying at the apartments, we have a house about 8 miles from ATS. Nah, I didn't stay in them before, never even went in them, so, I have no idea what they're like. Sorry.

  10. Creating a personal statement can be an incredibly important task. In many cases it can hurt you much more than it can help you. There have been a lot of debate surrounding the importance of personal statements, because they often are a much larger potential detriment than a potential advantage. See more statement of purpose