Where to go for undergraduate philosophy?

I am interested in going to school to study philosophy with the express purpose of pursuing grad school in philosophy afterward (so I care about placement into good grad programs). Currently, from what I know I have three big prospects: Rutgers, New Brunswick, Yale, and Georgetown. I have a parent who is faculty at Rutgers so I can go with free tuition (and probably get into the honors college), and I know they have a VERY good grad program, but am unsure about them on an undergraduate level. On the other hand, I have legacy at Yale and a decent shot at getting in, and have fallen in love with Georgetown (and their department seems interesting as they have strength in the history of philosophy, plus a good Hegel scholar in Terry Pinkard). I also have looked at Amherst, Uchicago (a little), Princeton, and Boston College. I am interested in epistemology, the history of philosophy, political philosophy, and ethics (and I prefer continental over analytic). Please help me figure this out.

Finances are not a huge issue but are relevant btw.

Do you have a set budget amount? Do you qualify for need based aid? Run each school’s Net price calculator to get an estimate of COA.

Do some research on Rutgers by looking at the faculty, their research projects, and the classes that are offered (and how often). Pitt also has an excellent philsophy undergrad program. All of your other schools are reaches, so do identify some match schools, as well as one affordable safety (maybe Rutgers?).


Schools with smaller, discussion-based classes may be particularly well-suited to the study of philosophy. For ideas along these lines, this site suggests colleges such as Hamilton, Claremont McKenna, Carleton, Amherst, Williams and Smith:


Well, first you have to apply and be accepted. So apply to all the schools you are interested in. Nothing to figure out until you have multiple acceptances in hand.

Good luck!


Two colleges in the nation (Hamilton and CU) offer a general summer program in philosophy. You may want to keep these programs in mind should you decide to pursue summer study at some point: Undergraduate Workshops in Philosophy - The American Philosophical Association.

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You can look at some schools professors and see where they went undergrad. You might be surprised that it’s wider than you think. And of course, you have to be able to get into programs. Yes, there will be elite - but there will be non elite too.

Look at Rutgers -

I see a U of Arizona with a PhD at Gtown

Oberlin / PhD at Michigan

Michigan / UC Berkeley

Colgate / Pitt

Look at Elon - to put in a private

Emory / Marquette

Holy Cross / Stony Brook

Kent State / Duquesne

West Georgia / UTK

Look at UCLA Grad Students

There’s UCLA, UCB and Wellesley but there’s also Nyack College, San Diego State, Biola, Minnesota, Wisconsin.

I surmise to say - you can get into a solid grad program from most anywhere.

Do certain ones help - likely - but even an article I pulled up shows kids in PhD programs from : Cal Baptist, Calvin College, Cedarville, College of Charleston, Columbia College, CUNY Brooklyn, James Madison, Loyola Marymount, Middle Tennessee, Missouri-Kansas City, Providence College, Simon’s Rock, Spring Arbor, St Thomas, SUNY Geneseo, Trinity University, and Western Washington. I know some get a Masters first.

I hope you land - not just at an elite - but at a school that fits you.

Good luck.

I don’t know the specialties of various philosophy departments, so I can’t help you very much there. But philosophy is a major that is not universally popular, so going to an institution where there’s a critical mass is important both in terms of making sure the program continues (i.e. doesn’t get cut when there are budget shortfalls) and also allowing for greater variety in electives offered. At no school, however, would I expect the same number of philosophy electives as biology or psychology electives, as those majors tend to be much more popular, allowing for more faculty members and elective offerings.

With all that being said, I looked at schools with acceptance rates above 20% (as you already seem to have found plenty of reaches) that were in the approximate regions that you showed an interest in (the northeastern quadrant of the U.S.) that had fewer than 10k students, as (apart from Rutgers) that seemed to align more closely to your preferred schools. In the beginning, I looked for at least 5 students who had philosophy as their first major (IPEDS data doesn’t list double/triple majors) and who graduated in the most recent year. (FYI: the most common number of grads for schools that offer the major is 0 or 1.) So for an off-the-cuff guess, I would multiply the number of grads by four to make a guesstimate about the size of the undergrad program. As I went on, I found sufficient numbers of schools that the number of grads increased, unless it was a smaller school.

Most of the schools on this list do not offer graduate degrees in philosophy. Those that do have graduate programs have the number of Master’s degrees granted in the most recent year (the first or only number) and then the number of PhDs granted (the second number, if there is one). (Brandeis, Duquesne, Marquette, U. of Rochester, Villanova, American, and Case Western were the only ones with grad programs.)

This list is sorted by schools with the highest concentrations of philosophy majors, done as a ratio dividing the number of first philosophy majors in the most recent year by the current number of undergrads, with all info pulled from College Navigator, the feds’ website. If you’re competitive for a school like Yale, then the schools on this list could range anywhere from safeties to targets or even low reaches. If you’re more interested in particular schools, I’m sure members of the board would be happy to provide additional info.

School # of Undergrads # of Philosophy Majors Grad available? Majors to Undergrads Ratio
Wabash (IN) - Men’s school 835 9 No 0.01078
Kalamazoo (MI) 1210 11 No 0.00909
Wheaton (IL) 2163 19 No 0.00878
Lake Forest (IL) 1727 10 No 0.00579
The College of Wooster 1967 11 No 0.00559
Mount Holyoke (MA)-Women’s school 2193 12 No 0.00547
Kenyon (OH) 1885 10 No 0.00531
Washington & Jefferson (PA ) 1149 6 No 0.00522
Brandeis (MA) 3687 19 4 0.00515
Connecticut College 1948 10 No 0.00513
St. Lawrence (NY) 2145 11 No 0.00513
St. Mary’s College of Maryland 1497 7 No 0.00468
Drew (NJ) 1513 7 No 0.00463
Hobart William Smith (NY) 1559 7 No 0.00449
Centre (KY) 1357 6 No 0.00442
Union (NY) 2107 9 No 0.00427
Wheaton (MA) 1667 7 No 0.00420
John Carroll (OH) 2417 10 No 0.00414
Oberlin (OH) 2986 12 No 0.00402
Allegheny (PA ) 1353 5 No 0.00370
Gettysburg (PA ) 2241 8 No 0.00357
Lawrence (WI) 1426 5 No 0.00351
DePauw (IN) 1752 6 No 0.00342
William & Mary (VA) 6797 20 No 0.00294
Skidmore (NY) 2758 8 No 0.00290
Emmanuel (MA) 1947 5 No 0.00257
Lafayette (PA ) 2729 7 No 0.00257
Christopher Newport (VA) 4449 11 No 0.00247
Dickinson (PA ) 2125 5 No 0.00235
SUNY New Paltz (NY) 6090 14 No 0.00230
SUNY at Purchase 3107 7 No 0.00225
Augustana (IL) 2318 5 No 0.00216
Bucknell (PA ) 3747 8 No 0.00214
Clark (MA) 2389 5 No 0.00209
Smith (MA) - Women’s school 2523 5 No 0.00198
College of the Holy Cross (MA) 3083 6 No 0.00195
SUNY Geneseo 4110 6 No 0.00146
Duquesne (PA ) 5095 7 13, 0 0.00137
Marquette (WI) 7528 10 3, 4 0.00133
U. of Rochester (NY) 6767 8 1, 4 0.00118
Villanova (PA ) 6989 8 7, 2 0.00114
American (D.C.) 7917 9 2 0.00114
The College of New Jersey 7,039 6 No 0.00085
Case Western (OH) 6017 5 2 (Applied & Professional Ethics) 0.00083

ETA: I consider this list the more “accessible” version of @merc81’s list in terms of admissions rates, though both lists do feature Oberlin. :slight_smile:

If they have a good grad program, then their undergrad program will be good, too (same faculty). But the bigger issue here is that you really don’t want to go to grad school where you did your undergrad – academics prefer more cross-pollination and don’t want you to work with the same mentors for your entire education. So if you think you might want to go to Rutgers for grad school then don’t for undergrad (or if you plan on going for undergrad, then assume you’ll go elsewhere for grad). If you want to be at Rutgers, a faculty discount is hard to beat.

I recommend that you look for excellent all-around undergrad institutions with thriving philosophy programs (and that means the college should be thriving, as well, because philosophy programs are often the first to get cut in a budget crisis). You want a good all-around major (you won’t specialize much as an undergrad) and a school that has a reputation for an excellent classroom experience. Look for schools that tend to send a lot of their BAs to grad school.





Philosophy Ph.D. admissions is largely based on the quality of the writing sample, the quality of letters of recommendation – that is, are they from respected scholars – and whether an applicant’s area of interest align with those of faculty teaching grad students. An applicant must have excelled in Philosophy classes, though some grade blemishes in other areas is not a deal-killer (it’s not like law school where the highest gpa matters, regardless of the major etc.)

Rutgers, NYU, Yale, Columbia and Princeton are among the top ranked Philosophy departments. But for someone interested in history of philosophy and continental, the choices – as well as job prospects after getting a Ph.D. – become much narrower. At many departments, especially at small liberal arts colleges, there may be one professor teaching history of philosophy, maybe two. And some top graduate programs have very few history of philosophy faculty, prioritizing other specialties.

A broad foundation in the major, with lots of opportunity for writing and working closely with faculty through seminars, Honors thesis etc. would be the best preparation for grad school application and success. If Yale is less of a highly-rejective school for the OP than it would be for most other applicants, that sounds like a terrific opportunity.


So I have some background in this subject (I was a grad student and teaching fellow at a top Philosophy program). A few general things I would suggest keeping in mind.

In general, most good colleges will be good for most college-level Philosophy, because pretty much all of us get that basic training between college and the first couple years of grad school, and often teaching in grad school. So as a grad student, I ended up teaching pretty much all the intro classes, first as an assistant but eventually with my own classes, plus a couple others.

The differences are more relevant in graduate school, although upper level college courses can diverge as well. Like, not every department is going to have a lot of depth in continental ethics, say, so that could definitely be something you use as a distinguishing factor.

My final thought is just that if you go to a large research university with a good Philosophy graduate program, you might well have more teaching done by graduate students and very junior faculty, particularly at the beginning. Even if the lecturer is a faculty member, they may be a recent PhD. And then of course in Philosophy, the discussion and writing sections are often really critical, and those will likely be led by grad students.

Now, I personally think that I did a great job. You’d have to ask my students, though, if they all agreed. And we had pretty minimal training and not a lot of experience at the start.

So to me that is sort of the trade off that often comes up. If you go to, say, a liberal arts college or a research university with a smaller department and not a ton of grad students, you might get less depth in various subjects at the upper level. But you will also likely have more time taught by experienced faculty, including in terms of leading discussions, evaluating your writing, and so on. And in fact, you might have opportunities to TA yourself (although then that means someone else is TAed by you, so that is a bit of a double-edged observation).

And ultimately, if you are an outstanding Philosophy student, that faculty will be able to write you good recommendations and such for grad programs. Although that can also work out for the outstanding students at a larger university with a more prominent Philosophy department. But it is maybe a little harder to be one of those outstanding students in such a situation.

So, no easy answer, but just things to think about.


Yeah, Rutgers Honors for free and presumably good numbers for Yale as a legacy are both extremely nice cards to have in your hand if you are interested in Philosophy.

That being said, both are going to be on the less intimate end for Philosophy majors, at least early on.

And then having an interest in continental Philosophy shakes things up a bit. At a high level, that is often associated with Jesuit colleges, although I am not actually sure what has happened with those programs recently in the era of declining humanities majors and COVID and such.

But there are definitely going to be all sorts of different colleges which are stronger in continental. Actually, I think it might be worth looking at McGill and Toronto too (from what I remember), which are usually pretty likely admits for a high numbers US kid.

Edit: Oh, and Penn State. Unless things have changed, they would be a very good choice for continental, and again are not a super-difficult admit.


Some of the Jesuit colleges from my list in post #8 are John Carroll, College of the Holy Cross, and Marquette, so you may want to check out the faculty interests at those schools more closely. Should this be true of other Roman Catholic schools, Emmanuel, Duquesne, and Villanova might be worth investigating.

I just dug this up on continental programs, which is handy because it is a recent (2023) discussion. This is from a grad program perspective, so I don’t think this should be taken as ruling out going to an LAC instead. I also would not overlook non-US options, like the aforementioned Canadian universities, if that might be of interest. Maybe UK too–Oxford, for example. But otherwise this seems like a very well-informed and thorough discussion:


Off hand, in addition to Penn State, it looks like DePaul, Emory, and Oregon would be well worth considering. Maybe also Villanova, Fordham, and Stony Brook. And more, in fact.

Again, I would really emphasize going to a college with a strong graduate program in continental is not the only thing one might consider. But if you are, say, filling out an application list and looking for reasons to select one school or another in a given selectivity range, hopefully this helps.


There are many, many schools with strong philosophy programs. I have a couple of suggestions when looking for fit. Are you interested in small, discussion based courses, or are you okay with larger lectures? If you want small classes, look at LAC’s. Also, when you are looking at the faculty, really look at who teaches the undergrads. Some schools may have great programs, but you will not see a Professor until Junior year, because courses are taught by the graduate level students. Also, you may consider the overall curriculum. What are the requirements, what will your overall program consist of. Some schools emphasize a lot of writing across the curriculum. Some offer many interdisciplinary courses that may have philosophical underpinnings that interest you.
You will find you have many options, so you can also consider geography, climate, student life overall, the “vibe” at the school, intensity of the culture, etc.
Find a school where you feel you will thrive. If you excel as an undergrad anywhere, you will have options for graduate school placement.

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And do note Rutgers’ inclusion on this list!

In fact, I don’t think many people would dispute that Rutgers has a top 5 Philosophy Department in the entire world.

For reasons described previously, a person could nonetheless prefer going to a different college for their Philosophy degree.

Still, free ride at Rutgers? Maybe plus Honors? Very, very strong bid.


I have heard good things about the experience of studying philosophy undergrad at Cornell, apparently intimate, supportive vibe, small classes, philosophy house to hang out in, lots of interaction with profs. Know someone who changed major to philosophy because the experience in that department was so good. (Obviously one data point, but worth looking into.)

This article (below) provides data from a 2019 analysis of admission into elite PhD programs in Philosophy. For academic jobs, pedigree counts (obviously productivity too) so worth researching if that’s your goal. Elite Philosophy PhD Programs Mostly Admit Students from Other Elite Schools (guest post by Eric Schwitzgebel) - Daily Nous

I think that is an important article, but I think it is fairly easy to misinterpret.

The article defined 46 US colleges as “elite”, and then it found that 60% of the US students (US students were only 70% of the total, the other 30% were non-US) at 8 of the top 13 PhD programs (the ones for which this data was available) came from one of those colleges–which means 40% did not. 60% is more than 40%, so that justifies “mostly”, but that is both a pretty weak definition of mostly, and a somewhat weak definition of elite.

If you then look at the notes, there was also less of a sharp distinction than the summaries by category imply. The numbers per college are typically small (which is a statistical issue). If you look at Note 5, many of the “elite” colleges actually had zero in this period–it looks to me like 16 out of the 46. Another 10 had only 1, another 5 only 2. Only 15 had 3+ (and not necessarily all the ones you would expect).

If you compare to Note 6, there is then a long list of other colleges that had 1 or 2, thus overlapping with most of the “elite” colleges. And if you then look in the body of the article, there is yet another list of colleges with 1 or 2, and one with 3 (Calvin College).

Note 3 about non-US colleges reflects a similar pattern. There are a few with a potentially significant number more than usual (defined here as 3+)–Oxford (duh), Toronto, Cambridge, McGill, St Andrews, Edinburgh, and KCL. But then a much longer list with 1 or 2.

So . . . I think this is consistent with the basic idea that the top few PhD programs are open to taking outstanding students from a pretty broad range of colleges. But at many colleges, you likely have to be one of the top couple students in Philosophy over a period of years, and they are not typically going to be placing students in the top few Philosophy PhD programs every year, and sometimes might go many years placing no one.

And then a range of colleges might do better than that, but even then that is likely subject to variation just based on the individuals in question year to year, and again some quite good colleges might end up placing no one over a period of years.

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