Joel Estes Comes Full Circle as Director of Admissions

Estes finds joy in helping applicants discern whether seminary is right for them
Profile Joel Estes

Joel Estes has worn many hats at Princeton Theological Seminary since receiving his MDiv in 2012. He enrolled in the Seminary’s PhD program, but changed direction from the dissertation track to serve as associate director of web communication. In late 2019, he was appointed to his current position as director of admissions and enrollment management, which he views as a calling.

“I love this new role because I’ve come to see that my calling is helping others follow theirs,” he says. “It’s a delight to partner with prospective students and help them envision what theological education might be for them, and guide them through the enrollment process.”

Estes’ original plan was to become a professor, but then he joined the Communication team and linked that with work for the Office of Admissions, using digital communications to reach prospective students. He realized his skills and passion lie in helping applicants discern whether seminary is right for them. Estes also sees a pastoral component to the job.

“It requires planning, vision setting, working with people, and serving them well in helping them discern their vocational call,” he says. “I was able to use a lot of these gifts and I felt like Admissions would be a place where I could flourish.”

A former high school teacher and ministry director whose scholarly research on the letters of Paul, early Christian manuscripts, and biblical theology has appeared in several academic journals, Estes brings to his role a love for the classroom and the church. “I love to talk to prospective students about how Princeton Seminary combines faith and scholarship, and the extraordinary people who choose to come here give me so much hope for the future of the church.”

Estes credits the skills he learned as a seminarian, such as careful listening and the ability to speak into people’s lives to offer counsel, as highly valuable in Admissions. He says the time he spent in campus housing with his wife and four young children has helped him express to applicants “what it feels like to be in a community with wonderful diversity and a common commitment to the life of the church.”

“The community aspect of Princeton Seminary is such a differentiator and we value that as central to the curriculum,” he says. “Living in that community has been instrumental to my effectiveness in this role because students aren’t just choosing where to study; they’re choosing a community to be embedded in for a significant period of their lives.”

The Admissions process is a team effort involving many individuals. Estes is thankful for the work of the office’s “fantastic staff,” including Lydia Tembo, assistant director of recruitment; Vanessa Johnson, recruitment assistant; and Sherry Garrahan, enrollment services coordinator. Their team also works with a vibrant group of student ambassadors who can “speak to potential students in a way we can’t.”

Estes hasn’t ruled out completing his PhD at some point, and has a strong interest in disability theology, as his oldest son Owen, now 10, has multiple disabilities.

“Learning about the disability community led me to new ways of thinking about theology, scripture, and ministry,” he says. “Our differences are gifts that can open us to each other and our understanding of God and the church in valuable ways. As I talk to potential students, I help them see that their differences are central to what we do here. It comes back to listening to each other well.”

Educating faithful Christian leaders.

Chaplain at the Hill School, Pottstown, Pennsylvania

Khristi Adams, Class of 2008

“At Princeton, we had precept groups—we’d engage text and debate. That gave me confidence to have those conversations anywhere.”