Admissions FAQ

Frequently Asked QuestionsDSPT - Contaact Admissions

General Questions:

Are lay people welcome to enroll?

Do I have to be Catholic to enroll?

Is DSPT faithful to the Catholic tradition?

Do faculty members take the Oath of Fidelity?

I'm interested in going on to a doctoral program. To what programs have DSPT graduates been admitted?

I've been away from school for a long time. Am I too old to study at DSPT?

My undergraduate degree is not in philosophy or theology. Can I still apply?

Does DSPT offer scholarships or federal loan money?

Does DSPT provide student housing and employment?

What is the relationship between the GTU and DSPT?

How do the three Catholic schools of the GTU differ? What makes the DSPT specifically Dominican?

What do DSPT graduates do with their degrees?

I would like to read more about the Dominican tradition or the method and heritage of St. Thomas Aquinas. Do you have any recommendations?

Course/Program Questions:

I don't feel ready to commit to a degree program at this time. Can I take classes at DSPT without applying to a degree program right now?

Is it possible to attend DSPT on a part-time basis?

I work full-time. Does DSPT offer any night, weekend or summer classes?

Is it possible to audit classes at DSPT?

Does the DSPT offer any online or distance learning courses?

How does the DSPT's MA Theology program differ from the GTU Common MA?

Can I transfer units from another school into a DSPT degree program?

Application Questions:

How important are GRE scores to my application?

Who should write my letters of recommendation?

What do I need to know about the writing sample?

What should my Statement of Purpose include?

What sort of acceptance rate does DSPT have?

Can I visit DSPT?

General DSPT Admissions Questions:

1. Are lay people welcome to enroll?
About 70% of our students are lay men and women.

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2. Do I have to be Catholic to attend DSPT?
Although most of our students are Roman Catholic, we often welcome students from the Orthodox churches, many Protestant denominations and from other faith traditions, as well as students without any religious affiliation. Classes at the GTU often have students from many different religious backgrounds or none at all.

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3. Is DSPT faithful to the Catholic tradition?
This is demonstrated in the 2008 report of the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, which followed an Apostolic visitation of the DSPT:

"The syllabi of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology refer to Church documents and classical theologians plentifully, thus reflecting a serious intention to think with the Church. There is no doubt that the students are taught to love and to be faithful to the Tradition and Magisterium of the Church.

"A serene sense of confidence in the value and usefulness of the Magisterium's teaching and its central importance for those who are learning theology prevails. St. Thomas is given pride of place in many of the philosophy and theology courses, though at the same time the best of contemporary sources is also in evidence.

The students seem to know the issues involved in the contemporary crisis of subjectivism and moral relativism, and are adequately trained to provide a response based on reason and affirming the existence of moral and philosophical truth.

The seminarians most certainly show apostolic zeal. They also have an authentic 'Catholic spirit' with a genuine love for and dedication to the universal Church."

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4. Do faculty take the Oath of Fidelity?
At his installation, the President of the School, who is the officer charged with representing the School to the local Church, takes the oath of fidelity, administered by the local Bishop, as a sign of solidarity with the Magisterium in the mission of the Church. The Faculty do not. In the Dominican tradition of education, which dates to the 13th century, the whole faculty as a college assumes responsibility for the integrity of the academic program, and the faculty requires of each new member much more than the taking of the oath: it requires not only orthodoxy, but respect for the Dominican tradition itself, and an indication of the ability to uphold that tradition while engaging contemporary scholarship and concerns. It is the direct responsibility of the faculty as a whole to ensure the integrity of the program; to insist upon the oath for individuals would suggest that the faculty as a body does not have that responsibility The curriculum of the DSPT is based upon the plan of studies of the Dominican Order, which informs the mission and curriculum of the School.

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5. I'm interested in going on to a doctoral program. To what programs have DSPT graduates been admitted?
DSPT graduates have been accepted to top doctoral programs in North America and Europe in fields such as philosophy, theology, religious studies, history, literature, art history, Near Eastern languages and cultures, and film.  Among recent (5-7 years) MA graduates who applied to doctoral programs, 90% were accepted.  Here is a sample:

Arizona State University
California Institute of Integral Studies
Catholic University of America
Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium)
Duke University
Graduate Theological Union
Indiana University at Bloomington
Northwestern University
Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Rome)
Purdue University
St. Louis University
University of California at Berkeley
University of California at Los Angeles
University of Fribourg (Switzerland)
University of Geneva (Switzerland)
University of Munich (Germany)
University of Notre Dame
University of Texas at Austin
Yale University

DSPT graduates have also been accepted to law schools, nursing schools, and other types of programs.

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6. I've been out of school for a long time. Am I too old to study at DSPT?
While DSPT has the youngest student population of any other GTU member school, the average age of our students is 35. We do have many younger students recently out of college, but we regularly receive applications from working professionals interested in a career change or who simply want to augment their professional training with philosophical or theological studies. Our students include teachers, doctors and nurses, architects, artists, photographers, research scientists, engineers, deacons, priests, religious sisters, lay ministers, and more.

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7. My undergraduate degree is not in philosophy or theology. Can I still apply?
Although some background in philosophy or theology is certainly helpful, we receive many applications from people who studied other subjects in college, from English or Political Science to Physics or Mechanical Engineering. All that is required is a Bachelor's degree, in any subject, from an accredited institution. Students who lack formal study of philosophy or theology may want to apply first as a Special Student or to the Certificate of Theological Studies program, both of which allow them to explore their options before choosing a degree program.

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8. Does DSPT offer scholarships or federal loan money?
Limited scholarships and grants are available and require a separate application.  See the Financial Aid section for more information.  Federal loans and other types of aid are handled through the GTU Financial Aid Office, which also maintains an excellent database of outside scholarships and grants for students of philosophy and theology.

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9. Does DSPT provide student housing and employment?
Housing is available for full-time students enrolled in an approved degree program. A separate application is required.

Student jobs are sometimes available at DSPT. Because we are located so close to UC Berkeley, students are generally able to find part-time employment in the area without much difficulty. For more information about student jobs, contact the Director of Student Services.

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10. What is the relationship between the GTU and DSPT?
The DSPT is one of nine member schools and eleven affiliated institutes that together make up the consortium known as the Graduate Theological Union. Each member school offers its own degree programs and participates in the GTU Common MA program, and many DSPT faculty serve as doctoral faculty for the GTU. Each member school has its own character, but all share a common library, registrar, financial aid office, and other services. A student at one GTU school is encouraged to take courses throughout the GTU as well as at UC Berkeley.

The DSPT was the first of the three Catholic schools to join the GTU (in 1964), and it remains the only member school offering programs in philosophy as well as theology. We are also the only GTU member school offering our own MA Theology program in addition to participating in the GTU Common MA program.  The DSPT is an invaluable member of the GTU community, offering rigorous courses spanning the entire Western tradition.  More GTU students take classes at the DSPT than at any other GTU member school.

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11. How do the three Catholic schools of the GTU differ? What makes the DSPT specifically Dominican?
Each school looks to the charism and heritage of the religious order by which it was founded and the particular theological traditions of those orders. The Order of Preachers (more commonly known as the Dominicans) was founded by St. Dominic de Guzman in 1215 to combat Albigensianism, which flourished especially in southern France and northern Italy. Like the Franciscans, founded six years earlier, the Dominicans were mendicants or "begging friars." From its earliest years, the Dominican Order established communities in towns and cities where major universities were located so that the friars could be actively engaged in the intellectual and cultural discussions of the age. As Pope Benedict XVI has noted, "Friars and Preachers did not hesitate to assume this commitment as well and, as students and professors, they entered the most famous universities of the time, founded centers of study, produced texts of great value, gave life to true and proper schools of thought, were protagonists of scholastic theology in its greatest period, and significantly influenced the development of thought."  Dominicans were present early on in great university cities such as Paris, Bologna, Padua, Cologne, Oxford, and Cambridge. This is why the DSPT was established near UC Berkeley in the 1930s.

The Dominican model of education which emerged in the 12th and 13th centuries is the only such system ever to be "canonized" by the Catholic Church. It is centered in particular on the method and tradition of the "Angelic Doctor," St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274), one of the greatest and most influential philosophers and theologians in human history. St. Thomas eagerly sought truth wherever it could be found, drawing on the great Christian, Jewish, Muslim and pagan thinkers of the tradition. He was a priest and a composer of some of the most beautiful hymns in the Christian tradition. His unfinished masterwork of Christian doctrine, the Summa Theologiae, called by Josef Pieper "the work of a heart fundamentally at peace," continues to have a profound influence today.  Blessed John Paul II, himself a product of a Dominican education, called St. Thomas "an authentic model for all who seek the truth.  In his thinking, the demands of reason and the power of faith found the most elevated synthesis ever attained by human thought."  St. Thomas insisted that a sound philosophy is extremely important in the study of theology, not separating them as so often happens in universities today. The DSPT carries on this tradition in its quest for truth, seeking those foundational principles from which we can confidently and meaningfully address the pressing concerns of our time. We believe that there is no conflict between the academic and the pastoral, or between science and religion. The Dominican approach is characterized by a balance between faith and reason, action and contemplation, philosophy and theology. Study, in the Dominican tradition, is itself a form of prayer, and everything is geared toward the important work of preaching the Gospel. The 13th-century Dominican Hugh of Saint-Cher remarked that "First the bow is bent in study and then the arrow is released in preaching." This preaching takes many forms, and the DSPT strives to prepare its graduates to be actively engaged in preaching the Gospel and speaking to contemporary culture, whether their work takes them into the classroom, a parish community, the mission field, the business world, hospitals, or elsewhere.

The Dominican tradition has produced a great many saints down through the centuries, including St. Albert the Great (the teacher of St. Thomas Aquinas and patron of the DSPT), St. Catherine of Siena, St. Rose of Lima, St. Martin de Porres, Pope St. Pius V, St. Vincent Ferrer, St. Raymond of Penafort, Bl. Fra Angelico, Bl. Margaret of Castello, and the Dominican Martyrs of Vietnam and Nagasaki. More recently, the Dominican tradition has produced great thinkers such as Bede Jarrett, Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Yves Congar, Servais Pinckaers, Marie-Dominique Chenu, Paul Murray, Jean-Marie Tillard, Simon Tugwell, Jean-Pierre Torrell, Romanus Cessario, Augustine Di Noia, and Aidan Nichols. Ours is a rich intellectual and spiritual tradition spanning eight centuries.

The Jesuit and Franciscan schools of the GTU have their own interests and emphases informed by their founding religious orders. The Jesuit school is part of Santa Clara University and has more lay students in pastoral ministry programs than in research programs. The Franciscan school (which will be leaving Berkeley and the GTU in 2014) has a particular focus on multicultural and pastoral ministry, with very few members of religious orders enrolled in their programs and a comparatively older student body. Both schools place a high value on social justice and contemporary concerns.  Many DSPT students have these interests as well, but they choose the DSPT because they first want to explore in a systematic way the fundamental questions beneath the burning issues of the day, questions such as "What is a person?", "What is justice?" or "What is the common good?" Here at the DSPT, we believe that by seeking answers to these ancient questions in the context of the great tradition of Western thought, we will be better able to address the issues of the present day from a common point of reference.

For more information on why students choose DSPT, please read our testimonials.

12. What do DSPT graduates do with their degrees?
Our students come from many different backgrounds and have many different reasons for joining us. The most common paths taken by our lay graduates are doctoral study, teaching (high school and college), higher education administration, parish or diocesan ministry, campus ministry, youth ministry, and non-profit work. However, we also have students and graduates who work in the business world and in the legal and medical professions who seek to apply their training in philosophy and theology to their careers.  An education in philosophy and theology is versatile, emphasizing critical thinking and effective communication skills needed in every profession.

13. I would like to read more about the Dominican tradition or the method and heritage of St. Thomas Aquinas. Do you have any recommendations?
There are many good books available. In addition to reading the works of St. Thomas Aquinas, we recommend these to get started:

  • The Aquinas Prayer Book: The Prayers and Hymns of St. Thomas Aquinas

  • Ashley, Benedict M. The Dominicans

  • Barron, Robert. Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master

  • Bauerschmidt, Frederick Christian. Holy Teaching: Introducing the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas

  • Bedouelle, Guy. Saint Dominic: The Grace of the Word

  • Cessario, Romanus. A Short History of Thomism

  • Chesterton, G. K. Saint Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox

  • Feser, Edward.  Aquinas: A Beginner's Guide

  • Gilson, Etienne. The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas

  • John Paul II, Fides et Ratio (papal encyclical of1998 on the relationship between faith and reason)

  • Kreeft, Peter. A Shorter Summa: The Essential Philosophical Passages of Saint Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica

  • Kreeft, Peter. A Summa of the Summa

  • Lehner, Francis C. (ed.). Saint Dominic: Biographical Documents

  • Leo XIII, Aeterni Patris (papal encyclical of 1879 on the restoration of Christian philosophy)

  • McInerny, Ralph. A First Glance at St. Thomas Aquinas

  • Mulchahey, Marian Michele. "First the Bow is Bent in Study": Dominican Education Before 1350

  • Murray, Paul.  The New Wine of Dominican Spirituality

  • Nichols, Aidan.  Discovering Aquinas: An Introduction to His Life, Works, and Influence

  • Pegis, Anton (ed.), The Basic Writings of St. Thomas Aquinas

  • Pieper, Josef. For the Love of Wisdom: Essays on the Nature of Philosophy

  • Pieper, Josef. Guide to St. Thomas Aquinas

  • Pieper, Josef. The Silence of St. Thomas

  • Selman, Francis. Aquinas 101

  • Sertillanges, A. G.  Thomas Aquinas: Scholar, Poet, Mystic, Saint

  • Shanley, Brian. The Thomist Tradition

  • Torrell, Jean-Pierre. Aquinas's Summa: Background, Structure, and Reception

  • Torrell, Jean-Pierre. St. Thomas Aquinas (2 volumes)

  • Vidmar, John.  Praying with the Dominicans: To Praise, To Bless, To Preach

  • Vost, Kevin.  St. Albert the Great: Champion of Faith and Reason

More reading recommendations may be found on individual faculty pages.

Course/Program Questions:

14. I don't feel ready to commit to a degree program at this time. Can I take classes at DSPT without applying to a degree program right now?
Yes. Some prefer to apply as Special Students or to the Certificate of Theological Studies program to get started. These are excellent ways to "get your feet wet" without having to choose a specific degree program right away. Special Student and Certificate courses typically can be applied to a DSPT degree program later, as long as they fulfill requirements for that program. Applications to these non-degree options can be accepted all the way up to the start of each semester, so they are also good options for late applicants.

15. Is it possible to attend the DSPT on a part-time basis?
Many of our lay students are part-time commuters. The normal allowable time to complete a degree program is twice the full-time duration. For example, a part-time student in an MA program would normally have to complete the program within 4 years; a part-time MDiv student would have 6 years.

16. I work full-time. Does the DSPT offer any night, weekend or summer classes?
Most DSPT classes are offered during the day: on Mondays and Thursdays, Tuesdays and Fridays, or on any one of those days. We normally do not schedule classes on Wednesdays because of faculty and department meetings. DSPT generally offers a few evening classes each year, but it is not currently possible to complete a degree program only in the evening or on weekends. More evening courses are offered at other GTU schools, and in most cases they count toward DSPT degrees.  Many students are able to arrange their schedules such that they are on campus only once or twice a week.

DSPT often offers a Summer Session featuring shorter, more intensive classes, though many of these are geared toward the general public rather than academic courses.

Our Master of Theological Studies (MTS) program includes a summer and weekend component.

17. Is it possible to audit classes at DSPT?
During the regular academic year, auditors must apply as Special Students and pay the regular tuition rate. During the Summer Session, some DSPT classes may be open to auditors at a reduced rate.

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18. Does DSPT offer any online or distance learning courses?
Not at this time. The study of philosophy and theology, and the Dominican approach to education in general, is best suited to a live classroom setting, with full interaction between faculty and students both in and out of the classroom. It is possible that DSPT will eventually offer some courses in an online or distance format, but there are no immediate plans to do so.  If you would like to be placed on a list to be notified if and when such opportunities are available, please contact the Admissions Office or subscribe to our e-newsletter.

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19. How does the DSPT MA Theology program differ from the GTU Common MA?

The DSPT is the only GTU member school that offers its own MA Theology program in addition to participating in the GTU Common MA program. Both require the completion of 48 units, including a foreign language exam, a written thesis, and a thesis defense. Minor differences are found in the distribution of courses. For example, GTU MA students must take one course in each of the areas of Biblical Studies, History, Systematic Theology, and Ethics; DSPT MA students must take all of these plus a course in Moral Theology and a course in a non-Christian religious tradition. The DSPT MA program allows for more electives.

The GTU MA program is designed to take full advantage of the ecumenical and interfaith opportunities offered at the GTU, and as such it is more like a religious studies program than theology. GTU MA students are required to take five classes outside of their own school of affiliation, while DSPT MA students are encouraged but not required to do so. Students in both programs are free to take classes throughout the GTU and at UC Berkeley.

Those who choose the DSPT MA Theology program are generally looking for a more systematic training in theology, specifically rooted in the Catholic tradition. Those with philosophical interests find that the DSPT is the best option at the GTU: over 80% of GTU philosophy classes are offered here, and many DSPT theology classes include a strong philosophical component.

Tuition rates may vary between the two programs.

In both cases the DSPT and the GTU are listed on the diploma, though it is formally granted by one or the other institution.

GTU MA applicants must choose a particular school of affiliation which will serve as their "home base" for the duration of their program, and we welcome those who are interested in affiliating with the DSPT.

20. Can I transfer units from another school into a DSPT degree program?
We can accept up to half the units (coursework only) in a given program from outside the DSPT, as long as they are from an accredited institution and satisfy DSPT program requirements. For example, we can accept up to 21 units toward the MA Theology or MA Philosophy programs, more for the Concurrent MA program. Transfer requests must be made by petitioning the Academic Dean and may require the approval of the Admissions Committee in certain cases. Since a single course may not be applied to two different degrees, units that counted toward a degree at an outside institution may not be transferred.

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Application Questions:

21. How important are GRE scores in my application?
Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores are required of all MA applicants, though waivers may be granted in exceptional circumstances. Petitions for GRE waivers must be made to the Academic Dean and require the approval of the Admissions Committee.

If an applicant has a high GPA, good letters of recommendation, and a strong writing sample, GRE scores may not be weighed as heavily as they would be if the applicant's academic record is otherwise marginal. For more information about the GRE requirement, click here.

International applicants whose native language is not English must take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) in place of the GRE.  Those whose college education was taught primarily in English may choose to take the GRE instead, but one of these exams is required of international applicants.

22. Who should write my letters of recommendation?

It is best to have academic recommendations from faculty who can speak directly to your classroom performance, i.e., those who know your academic work and can address your suitability for graduate work. We understand, however, that sometimes it is not possible to get academic recommendations, and in those cases we can discuss adequate substitutes. For the MDiv program, one letter must be of a pastoral nature. For more information about letters of recommendation, click here.

23. What is required for the writing sample?
A writing sample is required of all MA applicants. Wherever possible, it should be an academic research paper, preferably on a philosophical or theological topic, of no more than 20 pages. It should use a recognized academic format (the Turabian style is the standard at the GTU) for footnotes and bibliography. A graded copy is not required, but it must be free of spelling errors, demonstrate good grammar, and be well-structured and clearly argued.

24. What should my Statement of Purpose include?
The Statement of Purpose is a very important part of the application, used by the Admissions Committee to determine whether an applicant is well-suited to study at the DSPT and also to assign a faculty advisor for those admitted. It can include some appropriate biographical information but should not be considered primarily an intellectual, spiritual or personal history. We are most interested in knowing why you think the DSPT is a good fit for you and what you hope to do while here. While we do not expect an applicant to be able to provide a title or description of his or her DSPT thesis, you should be as specific as you can in describing your areas of interest. If possible, you should also include a few words about your career goals beyond the DSPT. It is always helpful if you can identify one or more faculty with whom you might like to work. For more information about writing the Statement of Purpose, click here.

25. What is the acceptance rate at DSPT?
Most of our applicants have already determined that they are a good fit for DSPT and are well-prepared, and this is reflected in our acceptance rate of about 90%.

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26. Can I visit DSPT?
We encourage personal visits and are happy to arrange them! Visitors may sit in on DSPT classes, meet with faculty or current students in their area of interest, sit down with the Admissions Director, and tour the campus and wider GTU area. Many people find that a personal visit offers the best view of what the DSPT has to offer. To arrange a visit, please contact the Admissions Office.

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Other questions? Please contact the Admissions Office at (510) 883-2073, or by email at

Contact Admissions