So This Is Your First Year In Seminary? Tips, Tricks and Other Advice

Biblia Hebraica

In one more week the masses will pile into Fuller’s bookstore, library, classrooms, and student lounges as the first week of the 2007-2008 school year begins. This is a big year for Fuller, its 60th anniversary. The first week of the fall quarter is always the busiest of the four quarters on campus, all kinds of people trying to get the hang of grad school, living in a new city, and not knowing anyone (one way to find our about people is to visit the Fuller Blogger’s Page or Fuller’s Facebook Network).

I thought it would be fun to write some advice to new students, offering tips, ideas about what supplies you might need, and other advice that could come in handy. As a Fuller student (and employee) for four years now I feel like I’ve had my fair share of “Geez, I wish I knew that a year ago” that I thought it might be fun to share some of the stuff I’ve learned.

Supplies You Might Want to Get for Grad School:Non-Computer Stuff

frontal shot

I hope I don’t sound like there’s tons of stuff you need to get, because you can swing grad school with little to nothing in the way of supplies. A notebook, a good pen, and some good coffee will get you through no problem. But for those of you who are looking for a few more things to help you along the journey let me give you a few things to think about.

Get an NRSV Bible. Preferably if you’re going to fuller you’ll have an Oxford Annotated with Apocrypha. This is the standard Bible that gets used in most classes, but any NRSV will do just fine. I’ve got my pocket-sized oxford that I love.

Get a couple good cloth bags to carry all your goodies. You don’t need a fancy pants book bag, just grab a couple cloth bags from the bookstore (for $3.25) or from a local grocery store and carry your books, and groceries, in that.

But if you must get a book bag, check out Sierra Trading Post and their Bargain Barn – there’s a really good chance you’ll find something really good for cheap.

Find yourself a good moleskine and use it to organize your school life. I recommend using the “Getting Things Done” Student Hack to help you get started.

Also, you should consider investing in some earplugs (I really like the reusable ones). They really help when you’re sitting beside people who are talking rather loudly at the coffee shop or the library. I’ve written out some of my best tips for studying here.

Supplies You Might Want to Get for Grad School:The Gadgets

ipod and lacie

Here’s a really basic list of some computer things I use on a regular basis.

Download Firefox – Campus Edition. While I’ve recently written about how much I like Apple’s Safari for a browser the Zotero plugin for Firefox is hard to top.

Download Book Cataloging software. If you own a mac, get Books.Why? Because you can export your book list, back it up, and have it for insurance reasons. You can also use it to keep track of which roommate has borrowed what book.

Some schools offer free dowloadable Software. Fuller offers a free Endnote license to students. Log into your Campus Pipeline account and get it. It is a very powerful program which helps you to make a bibliography quite easily, though I still recommend Zotero over it.

Find an easy way to bookmark all those websites you find while researching. I use delicious, it’s super easy, free and very handy. Here’s how you set it up.

While you’re at it why not set up a wordpress blog to keep up with friends and family back home, or to practice writing and make some new friends.

Another online service I like to use is 30Boxes. It’s a free online calendar that’s great for keeping track of school, work, and your extra-curricular activities.

Also, while you’re at it get a account. It’s free online storage, great for backing up documents and sharing files with your classmates and profs.

And while Microsoft word is the most popular, you don’t need to dish out a ton of cash for a word processor. Check out google documents, which not only has a documents app, but spreadsheets and a brand new presentation application.  You can also download the highly popular free open source processors Open Office and Neo-Office (For Mac).

Also, get an external Hard Drive and backup often! If you use a Mac and are looking to make your backups super easy download iBackup for OSX (it’s free).

Most likely you will want to get some good Bible Software. If you’ve got a PC most people get Bible Works and have been really happy with it (but more and more are using Accordance Bible Software with a free emulator). Mac users all use OakTree’s Accordance, which I personally love to use.

Finally, if you are looking for good advice on more gadgets, there’s no better place to look that Paul Stamatiou’s post on what stuff to get for school.

Some Really Unofficial Advice About Going to Seminary

quaker books at the LA Library

Find a Church, but take your time. Get advice from people around Fuller, and find a place that is not only welcoming but looks like they’re willing to work with you some as a seminary student. And when you find one, don’t commit (or over commit to quick). Here are tips I’ve written on Church Shopping Part one, two and three.

Actually, good basic advice is to not over commit to anything in you first quarter in grad school. I’d say don’t join anything at all if you can help it, just get used to the work load. And seminary students often feel like they can do it all, and not only that but that they should. That’s really bad thinking and even worse theology.

Ask around about what profs to take, and get second opinions. If you have heard of a prof before, or don’t know much about them search them on google or do more investigation. If you don’t like the first class and you think it’s going to be a waste of your time, drop it, don’t hesitate. You’re spending way too much money to not have a top-notched class.

I can’t stress enough to not take out more loans than is absolutely necessary. Remember YOU ARE IN SEMINARY. This isn’t law school, you’re not going to be making loads of money upon graduation (nor is that the goal of seminary). But still, try and work some and get as much help as you can because loans add up quickly and make it virtually impossible to do ministry the way you may envision it at this time in your life. It doesn’t matter how amazing your intentions are when you graduate $40,000 in the red you’ve got to start thinking about plan B.

While I just said “Don’t over commit” (and I mean it), I would also advise finding some place to volunteer in the community (and that has nothing to do with Fuller). You need to get out there and met people who are inside the seminary bubble. Serving is also a great way to keep your faith growing.

Finally, when it comes to books please buy them from an independent store like Vroman’s or Fuller’s Bookstore, not Amazon. And if you want to shop online go to, it’s the same place Amazon gets all their used books before they mark them up another percentage and ship them to you. It’s a good practice to support the “little people.”

Food, Health and Transportation While in School

farmer's market

Lastly, a few tips on going to grad school and staying healthy.

In Pasadena we all love Trader Joe’s grocery store. All of California does for that matter. And they offer a lot of more healthy meals, and organic foods that help take care of the ol’ heart. If you don’t have a TJ’s near you I’d encourage finding a Wild Oats or Whole Foods for more healthy choice meals.

Locate your local farmer’s market for vegetables, fruit, and other local goodies. Pasadena has a market that runs on tuesdays from 8-12pm (I think) on Villa and Los Robles and one on Saturday from 8-12pm on Sierra Madre BLVD.

Lastly, Learn about the public transportation in your city (Here’s Pasadena’s public transit site) and walk as much as you can. Or consider getting a bike and commuting that way. These are much healthier ways to get around the town than driving.

Finally, find out some of the best cheaper places to eat. If you’re in Pasadena I recommend La Estrella, Saladang, McCormick and Schmick’s happy Hour and Pita Pita.

That’s about all I can think of now. If you have suggestions, questions or comments drop them below. And Enjoy your first year in Seminary.

If you’d like to connect with other Fuller Bloggers check out the Fuller Blogger Listing.