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How difficult is it to get into a graduate program for philosophy?

RyanjingleRyanjingle Registered User Posts: 39 Junior Member
By difficult, I mean GPA, GRE scores, maybe the type of institution you attend undergrad. I don't know, any information you think would be helpful in determining admission into a graduate program for philosophy. Thanks in advance guys and girls!

Replies to: How difficult is it to get into a graduate program for philosophy?

  • MandalorianMandalorian Registered User Posts: 1,714 Senior Member
    Entirely depends on the strength of the program.
  • BooBooBearBooBooBear Registered User Posts: 354 Member
    Also depends on what area of philosophy you want to study. If ancient or medieval, you will need Latin, perhaps Greek, and both French and German language proficiency. You want to study modern American philosophy, languages will be less important. You don’t apply to graduate school in philosophy or any humanities and just say that you want to enter the PhD program and pick a field later.
  • BooBooBearBooBooBear Registered User Posts: 354 Member
    Often LACs do a better job preparing kids for PhD programs because the intimate settings and smaller faculties allow the students to get to know their professors better, which produces stronger letters of recommendation as well as students who may have had more direction on what to study and why they want to do so.

    There is a danger in the large university department for a top student only taking one course each from a large number of professors (because there is such a larger and diverse faculty), and never receiving the mentoring necessary to groom for top PhD programs. Doesn’t have to be that way, but it could happen. At an LAC you will have a more limited selection of courses and faculty, so you are almost “forced” to take the same professor more than once or even twice.
  • bluebayoubluebayou Registered User Posts: 25,018 Senior Member
    Duke is one of the few schools that publishes stats on grad acceptances. (Duke is generally ranked in top 20 for Phil, but as BooBoo notes, it may not have the sub-specialty that you seek..)

    Often LACs do a better job preparing kids for PhD programs because the intimate settings and smaller faculties allow the students to get to know their professors better, which produces stronger letters of recommendation as well as students who may have had more direction on what to study and why they want to do so.

    Please lets not start a LAC-Uni war here. (There a literally hundreds of such threads on cc, particularly in the Parent's Forum.)

    And just to counter your point: take Duke or Stanford (top ~10) for example. Both are highly ranked but have very small Phil departments, at least in undergrad. Thus, mentoring is rather easy to obtain. (Or perhaps, you meant large publics?)

  • RyanjingleRyanjingle Registered User Posts: 39 Junior Member
    Thanks guys. Going to an LAC does seem like a good option. But quite honestly, I don't know what I would do with a philosophy degree other than become a professor, do you guys have any ideas? I'm stuck on whether or not to go to graduate school for philosophy or education, or even minor in something else and begin another career pathway! I'm confused. I love philosophy but I get discouraged as it is not beneficial in the job market. What can I do with this degree? I feel as if its a vital time to make a path and stick to it. Any opinions? Thanks for all the help. @bluebayou @BooBooBear @Mandalorian
  • heiferheifer Registered User Posts: 4 New Member
    Getting into a top 50 PhD program in philosophy is incredibly difficult. Although this list is controversial (like any ranking of programs), it is a very good rule of thumb for what to expect in terms of admissions outcomes:

    Anything top 20, and unless you are in the top <1% of applicants, it will be heavily dependent on chance. I went to a solid LAC, and I am now in a top 10 PhD program in philosophy. At my program, roughly 500 individuals applied, and 6 were accepted (with another 6 on the wait-list). It is common for applicants these days to attend a 2 year masters program in philosophy prior to entering a PhD program if they were unable to gain admission to a PhD program directly from their undergraduate degree, but this path might be prohibitively expensive, as none of the masters programs are fully funded (by contrast, every single PhD program worth its salt is fully funded and will provide you with a livable stipend).

    I can definitely attest that my experience at the LAC was extremely beneficial to getting into the program I'm in. As others have pointed out, at a LAC you will be able to forge much closer relationships with your professors, which will be crucial for the application process. The three most important parts of your application will be: 3 letters of recommendation written by tenured or tenure-track philosophers (or perhaps political scientists, etc.), your 15-25 page writing sample (essentially a very polished term paper), and your statement of purpose, where you outline why you want to attend the program and what you hope to accomplish there and after. (GPA and GRE are mostly used as a first-pass metric to whittle down applicants.) Having an advisor who you meet with regularly is essential to putting these components of your application together, so that they can give you advice on which other professors to solicit recommendations from, what to write in your statement of purpose, and how to edit your writing sample.

    Of course, you should also consider whether or not getting a PhD in philosophy is right for you, regardless of these very grim admissions prospects. The prospects for securing a tenure-track job after attaining a PhD are even more grim! Things look a bit better if you get your PhD from a top 20 program, but even then there are no guarantees. The state of the job market in academic philosophy is worse now than it has ever been, and all signs are pointing towards it getting even more competitive. Only pursue a career in academic philosophy if doing philosophy is something you genuinely love. You can use your time as an undergrad to try to figure this out.
  • juilletjuillet Super Moderator Posts: 12,281 Super Moderator
    edited April 21
    A very common misconception is that college graduates can/do only get jobs that are directly related to their majors. But that's not true; there are many, many things you can do with a major in philosophy. You don't have to go to graduate school to get a job with a philosophy major.

    The Census Bureau did some research to track where college majors ended up working (check out their interactive graphic: https://www.census.gov/dataviz/visualizations/stem/stem-html/). They found that college graduates with all majors follow all kinds of paths. Most STEM majors actually don't end up working in STEM occupations, and only about 50% of engineering majors and 50% of computer, math, and statistics majors ended up working in STEM occupations.

    The keys are the kinds of skills you learn and the kind of experience you gain when you're in college. Pursue internships and part-time jobs; network and visit the career center early and often; and take classes and do activities where you can learn skills that are valuable on the job market.


    Also. I went to an LAC, so I am clearly a fan of the experience. But students at research universities can foster close relationships with professors, too. First of all, as mentioned, a research university doesn't necessarily mean your department will be huge and impersonal - there are lots of smaller, tight-knit departments in certain fields at research universities. Second of all, research universities tend to have more professors in the department; sometimes the student-to-faculty ratio is similar. If you're proactive and diligent, you can foster relationships with professors in the department close enough to get good recommendation letters - this is evidenced by people going onto PhD programs from larger research universities all of the time.

    Universities also have things that LACs don't: for example, a philosophy professor at a university with a philosophy PhD program regularly evaluates doctoral applicants and will be able to give you an experienced opinion on what makes philosophy candidates stand out; these professors are often also better networked and may know the professors at the departments to which you want to apply. Research universities may also have graduate students to whom you can talk to about the application process and about being in grad school.

    One's not better than the other. They're just different experiences. Which one is best for you depends on a lot of factors.
  • BeaudreauBeaudreau Registered User Posts: 1,078 Senior Member
    @juliet - Awesome graphic! Thanks.
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