Frequently Asked Questions

General Questions

What is the ISM?

The Institute of Sacred Music is an interdisciplinary graduate center dedicated to the study and practice of sacred music, worship, and the arts.

Who is in the ISM?

The Institute is a community of approximately 120 students, faculty, fellows, and staff. Students and faculty have dual identities at Yale. They are at once full-fledged members of the Institute and either or both the School of Music and Divinity School with all the rights and privileges associated.

What does it mean to be a student in the Institute?

ISM students receive their degrees from either the School of Music or Divinity School upon successful completion of the appropriate degree requirements. At the same time, ISM students focus some of their electives in sacred music, worship, and the related arts. The number of ISM electives taken differs according to a student’s degree track and program.

What are the advantages of enrolling in the Institute in addition to the School of Music or Divinity School?

As an Institute student, you have direct access to some of the world’s leading minds in sacred music, worship, and religion and the arts. The Institute’s curriculum is a flexible one that gives you the best of training in your own field, and supplements it with exposure to and education in other fields.

For example:

  • As a church musician, you will learn more about the theological and liturgical contexts of the traditions in which you will work.
  • As a performer, you will explore more than the notes on page for that Bach aria or work of Britten or Palestrina you are performing. You come to recognize the importance of knowing about the sacred texts on which these works are based.
  • As a future ordained minister, you will make connections between theology and the arts, understanding that this will enhance your ministry.
  • As a scholar or teacher, you will understand the religious, cultural, and political contexts from which the sacred object, space, or text you are studying comes.

We encourage students and faculty to seek out new modes of learning, knowledge, and skills that go beyond the traditional degree in music or theology. The Institute is the ideal environment in which to make these connections.

What courses are taught by ISM faculty?

All Institute faculty offer courses that enhance the curricula of their respective schools and reflect the mission of the Institute. Many of the courses are interdisciplinary and may be cross-listed. Course listings are available online.

What is the ISM Colloquium?

Colloquium is central to the purpose of the Institute and to the faculty’s involvement in, and personal attention to, how ISM students are trained. Colloquium is the meeting ground for all Institute students and faculty, the place where we study together, grapple with major issues, and share our work as students of sacred music, worship, and the arts.

The Institute of Sacred Music Colloquium is a course, taken for credit, that meets every Wednesday from 3.30 until 5 p.m., with informal discussion from 5 to 5.30 p.m. It is divided into two term-long parts, with responsibility for the fall term resting primarily with the faculty and outside presenters, and for the spring term primarily with the students.

What other opportunities are part of life in the ISM?

ISM students have numerous unique opportunities for shared learning and community. They immediately become immersed in a lively culture of cross-disciplinary activities ranging from musical performances to liturgies, from lectures to art exhibitions, from poetry readings to films, from symposia to the classroom experience. ISM students have front-row seats to some of the most engaging learning in the world in sacred music, worship, and the related arts.

Additionally, the Institute plans short excursions each semester to interesting and relevant destinations in the region. ISM students are eligible to apply for occasional travel seminars, and the entire Institute travels internationally for an intensive study tour every two years.

Link to more information about study tours

If I am an ISM student, what degrees in music may I pursue?

An ISM student jointly admitted to the School of Music may pursue the Master of Music or the Master of Musical Arts degree. Many ISM students have also successfully completed the Doctor of Musical Arts program.

The ISM and the School of Music

Who are the music students in the ISM?

They are talented musicians pursuing degrees in organ, choral conducting and voice (early music), with special interest in sacred music and all its cultural and religious contexts. At present, all School of Music students pursuing these degrees are in the ISM as well.

Link to more information about our current students

Why should I consider applying to the Institute as well as the School of Music alone?

At the Institute, you will become part of a lively interdisciplinary community of learning that will at once give you rigorous conservatory training in your discipline and also knowledge of the theological, historical, and cultural contexts of the music you perform. This will put you in a stronger position to work as church musician, performer, and teacher.


Can I pursue a degree in church music?

Not exactly. All students jointly admitted to the Institute and School of Music pursue degrees in organ, choral conducting, or voice (early music). However, those with a desire to pursue special training in church music may wish to elect the church music curriculum. This curriculum supplements the core conservatory training in any of these three programs with the liturgical, historical and practical education needed to succeed in the field. The curriculum is comparable to graduate church music degrees in leading schools around the country. Completion of the church music studies curriculum is noted on the ISM certificate. 

The ISM and Yale Divinity School

If I am an ISM student, what degrees in Divinity may I pursue?

An ISM student jointly admitted to the Divinity School and Institute may pursue the Master of Divinity, the Master of Arts in Religion or the Master of Sacred Theology.

Who are the Divinity students in the ISM?

Our Divinity students are intellectually and artistically sophisticated students with strong backgrounds in the humanities and the arts. Currently, virtually all Divinity students in the M.A.R. concentrations in Liturgical Studies and Religion and the Arts are enrolled in the ISM, as well as S.T.M. students who wish to concentrate their research in these areas. We also have numerous M.Div. students who are particularly interested in the connections between worship, theology, and the arts.

Link to more information about our current students

Do I need to have had formal music training to be accepted in the ISM?

No. But some knowledge of music is very helpful. There are also courses and experiences in sacred music for students at every level who wish to improve their understanding of music. For example, many Divinity students in the ISM take instrumental music lessons or singing lessons, and enjoy participating in the ISM choirs.

Why should I consider applying to the Institute as well as to the Divinity School alone?

At the Institute, you will become part of a lively interdisciplinary community of learning that will at once give you the rigorous theological training of the Divinity School, and give you access to courses and other training in music and the arts. You will learn to make connections between these areas and will become better equipped for ministry, scholarship, teaching, and other forms of public service.

What is it like to study liturgy in the Institute?

The program in liturgical studies offers a basic education in historical, theoretical and practical aspects of the discipline. Thus it pertains both to the training of concentrators in the field who are preparing for Ph.D.s or forms of liturgical leadership as well as to the education of those with vocations to the churches: musicians and ministers. A substantial number of electives supplement the core course of study, ensuring that students may gain a broad understanding of liturgy and approaches to its study and encounter a variety of traditions. In addition to their work with the ISM’s stellar faculty, students attend lectures and work with visiting fellows and scholars, and participate in symposia and conferences in liturgy throughout their time at Yale.


What is it like to study religion and the arts in the Institute?

The program enables students to pursue concentrated study in religion and literature, religion and music, or religion and the visual arts. Students declare their concentration at the time of application. Courses in these areas are taken principally from faculty in the Divinity School and Institute of Sacred Music; electives are taken elsewhere in the University: in the Graduate School (e.g., the departments of English, Comparative Literature, Music, American Studies, History of Art) or in the schools of Art and Architecture. In addition, students study the traditional curriculum of divinity: Bible, theology, history of Christianity, liturgics. Students are encouraged to attain reading proficiency in a second language relevant to their field of study. 

I’m interested in the Visual Arts concentration. How much time can I spend taking art classes elsewhere at the University?

A limited number of studio art classes may be taken for academic credit by students in the visual arts track, and they must demonstrate the relevance of this study to theology. Admission to studio art courses depends entirely on the permission of the studio teacher and is customarily granted only to those with strong portfolios.

Application Questions

How do I apply?

All prospective students should fill out the Institute’s online application at

Divinity applicants who wish to be considered for admission to the Divinity School even if not admitted to the Institute must fill out both the Divinity School application AND the Institute application. (Divinity applicants who do not wish to be considered for admission to the Divinity School need file only the Institute application.) The application deadline is January 15.

Music applicants must file both the Institute application and School of Music application found at and The admissions deadline is December 1. Applicants selected for live auditions will receive their invitations by January 15.

What about financial aid?

Full tuition scholarships are available to Institute students. Additionally, students may receive competitive merit awards that go beyond the basic financial aid. ISM students may also apply for summer language study grants and support for certain kinds of professional activities during the year. Divinity students may apply for music lessons for no charge.

When are acceptance notifications sent?

All decision letters are mailed on March 15. Decisions are also posted online at that time.

What is the ISM’s deferment policy?

ISM students may not defer study. If a student is unable start coursework the academic year in which they are admitted, they must reapply (application materials are kept on file for one year). With the approval of the ISM Director and YDS Dean of Students, Divinity students may study part-time. Music students must be in residence full-time for the duration of their study.

I’m an international student. What special regulations are there?

In order to gain admission to the Institute and to obtain a visa, international students must show that they have sufficient funds to provide for their expenses while in residence as a student in the United States. Bank affidavits and certificates of finance are required. 

How do I find out more?

Contact our admissions office by phone at (203) 432-9753 on weekdays 8:30 AM–5 PM, or by email (link sends e-mail) any time.