Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Applying to Philosophy Ph.D. Programs, Part VI: GRE Scores and Other Things

Part I: Should You Apply, and Where?

Part II: Grades and Classes

Part III: Letters of Recommendation

Part IV: Writing Samples

Part V: Statement of Purpose

Part VI: GRE Scores and Other Things

GRE Scores

GRE scores are less important to your application than grades, letters, writing sample, and statement of purpose. A few schools don't even require them. In my experience, some members of admissions committees take them seriously and others discount them entirely. My own opinion is that they add little useful information. However, since some committee members take them seriously, it's worth studying for the GRE and retaking it if you didn't do well. Also, since the higher-level administrators who oversee the process and often make the decisions about fellowship funding can really only evaluate your GPA and GRE scores, people who do well on these quantitative measures are likely to get better funding offers -- more years of fellowship without teaching, for example (being paid simply to be a student!). Also, it looks good for the department if the students they admit have better average grades and GREs than the students in psychology, economics, etc. We don't want to send too many 1100 GRE offers up to the dean's office for approval!

The GRE scores for this year's entering class at UCR ranged from 1230 to a perfect 1600, with most in the 1300s and 1400s. At UCR I'd say below 1250 is a strike against an applicant, above 1400 is a bonus. There is no GRE Subject Test in Philosophy.

Awards

Of course you made dean's list! If you list too many awards, the really good ones may escape notice. Among the most impressive awards: Magna Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa, departmental or college "outstanding student" or "outstanding essay" awards (if the department only selects one per year and the college only a few), awards from nationally- or internationally-recognized institutions such as the NSF or DAAD. Generally, though, even fairly impressive awards don't count for much. It's your grades, letters, and sample that really matter.

Race and Gender

Some schools give you the option of specifying your race and gender. Letter writers must also choose pronouns and can choose to mention race if they think it is relevant. (Some would never do so. Others think they help the applicant by doing so, if the applicant is a minority. If you prefer to keep the information confidential, tell your letter writers in advance.) Committees will often guess gender and ethnicity based on names.

Philosophy is largely a male discipline right now in the United States, and it's overwhelmingly non-Hispanic Caucasian. (Tenured men outnumber tenured women by a ratio of about 4-to-1. The ratio of non-Hispanic Caucasians to minorities is probably even more skewed.) I believe there are persistent systemic biases. However, I also believe that most admissions committees would like to counter these biases and see a broader diversity in the field. Admissions committees may nonetheless show bias implicitly in how they read a file from "Maria Gonzales" compared to a file from "Mark Johnson", unconsciously expecting less from the first file than the second. However, at least the admissions committees I've worked on have used conscious strategies in attempt to counteract, maybe more than counteract, these biases. For underprivileged minorities, especially, an application might be seriously considered that would be quickly dismissed if the applicant were a white male.

While we white males might feel disadvantaged by this, we should bear in mind that we profit from persistent bias in our favor in other contexts. For example, it's generally much easier to fit a professor's stereotype for a "promising philosophy student" if you have a certain kind of look and diction, the tone of voice and cultural attitude, that is characteristic of upper middle class white men. Decades of psychological studies suggest that stereotype-driven expectations can have substantial effects not only on how one is perceived (and thus presumably on letters) but also on one's performance on objective tests (through being encouraged, supported, believed in, made comfortable, etc., by one's teachers).

Personal Contact and Connections

Such things don't help much, I suspect, unless they bring substative new information. If a professor at some point had a good substantive, philosophical conversation with an applicant and mentions that to the committee, that might help a bit. But seeking out professors for such purposes could backfire if it seems like brown-nosing, or if the applicant seems immature, arrogant, or not particularly philosophically astute.

Some professors may be very much swayed by personal connections, I suppose. I myself, however, often have a slightly negative feeling that I'm being "played"; and even if I know the person hasn't sought me out for the purpose of improving her admissions chances, in aiming to be fair and objective in my evaluations I will tend to discount that person's application somewhat -- maybe even more than it deserves.

Cover Letters

Your cover letters may be thrown away or lost. Don't include any important information in them.

Part VII: After You Hear Back

106 comments:

Brad C said...

Hi Eric,

I know a student from France who is applying to American Ph.D. programs. Do you think low GREs are usually discounted for this kind of student, as I would expect?

This series of posts is a real service! I bet future philosophers will appreciate it if you consider collecting them in a document on your web-page after the series ends.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks, Brad, for that helpful point. Yes, students whose native tongue is not English are generally forgiven for lower scores on the GRE, especially the verbal section. However, if the GRE verbal score is *too* low, that may raise concerns about whether the applicant is proficient enough in English to succeed in a U.S. Ph.D. program in philosophy.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great series. It's really quite helpful.

You sort of addressed it in an earlier post by advising students to consider graduating in the fall, but what about those who don't? Should we inform the admissions committee of the relevant classes, in philosophy and/or cognate fields, that we will take before we graduate?

Jennifer M said...

In some programs GRE scores are used as a way of making a first cut. After the cut, GRE scores may not matter much unless you happen to have gotten a perfect score, in which case it may help you to qualify for a special type of fellowship from the Dean's office or University generally- that's a free line for the department (a student they don't have to pay for- which is very good for the dept.)- so getting a very good score may improve your odds of being admitted.

Jon said...

Eric,

Thanks for this series--as someone who is currently embroiled in the morass of applications, this has been really helpful. A question: my verbal score on the GRE was significantly higher than my quantitative score (95th percentile vs. 70th percentile). Is this going to impact my chances in any significant way? Is the test worth retaking to try to up my quantitative score, even if I did pretty well in verbal and analytic writing? Thanks!

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Anonymous: I don't think it's worth mentioning classes you plan to take. Presumably, any classes you are *currently* taking will show up on your transcript (even if the grades aren't in). If there are any that don't (because you're auditing for example), you can mention that.

Jennifer: Thanks for that additional input!

Jon: In my experience, people pretty much ignore the analytic writing score for some reason. (Maybe this varies, though.) If it were strangely low, that might stick out -- but it's probably the least important part of the least important part of your application. On Verbal/Quant, it seems to me that the combined score tends to receive the primary focus, though a low verbal with a high quant might look a little worse than a high verbal with a low quant. If you think you're likely to get a higher combined score by retaking the test, you might consider it. If you're under 1250 or 1300 total, especially, it *might* be worth an investment of time to study for and retake the exam -- but probably not at the expense of polishing your writing sample.

All this said, I think evaluating the GRE is where departments and committees probably vary the most, so it's hard to make generalizations.

Stephen said...

Thanks again for your helpful comments, Eric.

I'm very glad to see your most recent comment re GRE scores, as I ended up with a disappointing 5.0 analytical writing score, even though I am, by all accounts, a better than 71st percentile writer. However, I scored higher in verbal than quantitative and over 1400 overall, so based on your experience, my GRE scores should be good enough not to hurt me and might even help me at a few schools.

Nonetheless, I wish that philosophy departments would stop asking for GRE scores. Preparing for them can be an ordeal for applicants, and then most of the schools claim not to take them seriously. Kudos to Cornell and MIT for not requiring them.

Justin said...

Here's a question not related to GRE scores, but since this is your latest post about grad school, I'll ask it here: I've noticed that lots of applications ask about other schools to which you are applying. What is the best way to handle this? Just be honest?

It seems like it may help if you think about it one way, since you may get better funding offers if they think you will be courted by another school. However, perhaps a mid-range school may not even offer you admission if they think you will get an offer from a more prestigious program? That is hopefully, and probably, not the case, but what do you think?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for that question, Justin. I'd recommend being open in your answer to the question about what other schools you're applying to.

I don't think that question is likely to hurt you unless your list of institutions is very strange or diverges from what you say in your statement (e.g., you say you're only interested in Continental but your applications are to departments without specialists in that area).

Mid-ranked places like UCR will certainly admit strong applicants who we think are likely to get admissions offers from top-ten places (what would we do, reject them?). A place that has a hard cap on admissions or funding (see today's post), however, may pressure such strong candidates to make a quick decision to free up slots for applicants more likely to accept.

The main function of such questions is to give committees and administrators a sense, in general, of what schools are their main competitors. Once you're admitted, you'll also find that the committee is curious what other schools have admitted you; and if you decline, they might ask where you're going instead and why.

Committees can use this information in ways that benefit their program and philosophy education in general. For example, several years ago the university administration forced the UCR Philosophy Department to offer many admittees (without M.A.'s) only four years of guaranteed funding. We lost a lot of them to comparably-ranked programs who were offering five years of guaranteed funding. This helped us make the case to reinstate our former policy of offering five years of guaranteed funding for admittees without M.A.'s.

Anonymous said...

You're an incredibly poor Sociologist. It's incredible how so many departments have been caught up in the social equity admissions ideas of the day. Flatly, it's embarrassing for anyone who has been gifted into a top program--they, and their corresponding careers will always be suspect. Is it actually the case that having people who possess higher percentages of melanin (or a vagina)improves the quality of a Philosophy program?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Well, the issues around affirmative action are complex! I do think it is hard to see the equity in it unless one appreciates the (sometimes subtle) ways in which upper-middle class white males are given advantages that may result in their applications looking a little better than they otherwise would.

Perhaps, also, I should have emphasized that considerations of race and gender have, in the committees I've served on, only explicitly come into play in taking a closer *look* at certain applications, and in deciding among the ten or so applications near the admissions cutoff. I haven't seen a committee reach deep into the pool to pull out an otherwise unqualified applicant! As a result, the UCR program (like every other philosophy Ph.D. program I know of) remains mostly white male.

KidIcarus said...

Hi Eric,

I recently received a devastatingly low GRE score halfway through my Phd application efforts, and am unsure as to how or whether I should proceed. Although my practice GRE scores ranged from mid 1200's to 1400, I scored 590 verbal and 520 quantitative on the actual test (1110 total). Beyond the sting of humiliation, I feel that this score has possibly dealt a stultifying blow to my long term prospects of graduate school.

Though I do understand that many students have had to face the unhappy reality that they do not and may never fit the standardized image of academic promise, I feel that, with the exception of the GRE, I had everything else going for my application. To give you an idea: I was the top graduate from a department in the UC system with the following: College Honors, a Phi beta Kappa induction, a 3.9 major GPA, solid letters of recommendation, and a polished "A" paper from a preeminent philosopher as my writing sample. In light of the intense competition, I suppose that this profile is rather "average". Nevertheless, I think that I had a fair shot at being accepted into a solid, mid to lower tier Phd program; good chance at a high quality MA program.

Now, however, I doubt that my application would even make it past initial considerations at any department, assuming of course that my score would even meet the minimum requirement of a given department. On the very unlikely chance that I would be admitted into a Phd program, it seems that funding would be out of the question. Furthermore, those programs that don't require GRE scores are few and far between (ie small programs that have relaxed admission standards, such as CSU Long Beach<->rouge upper tier programs, such as Cornell).

Based upon your experience with admissions, I hope you could lend some advice that would be useful not only to me, but also to any others who are suffering from a similarly unimpressive GRE score. Are these scores so low that I should avoid applying to Phd programs now if I think I could apply later with a higher score? In other words, are the chances for admission with poor scores low enough that it would be best to avoid any possible stigma of rejection that would detract from a later application? How do you think second time applications are viewed in general? If it would not be wise to submit an application with these scores for a Phd program, do you think these scores would be any more admissible for a MA program? Finally, because GRE scores last for five years, I wonder whether any substantial increase in my retake score would be tethered back by this earlier low score. In that case, it seems that five years would have to pass before admission into a Phd program with funding was even realistic. Do you know how retake scores are generally treated?

Your advice would be immensely appreciated. Id also just like to note how invaluable your posts have been to me throughout this process. Your series has helped me to put a sober, intelligible face to an otherwise bewildering admissions process.

Thanks!

Justin Tiwald said...

Kidicarus,

Very sorry to hear about the unexpectedly low GRE scores. For what it's worth, our MA program at SFSU does not currently require the GRE. This might change next year, as we're rapidly building the program, but it's worth putting on your radar this year (especially if you intend to work on the philosophy of science or applied ethics).

And I hope you'll still apply to Cornell, MIT and the other competitive programs that don't require the GRE.

More tentatively, I think you can recover from a bad round of GRE scores in due time, given a better second round score and a good writing sample. Eric would speak with more authority about this, however. Best of luck.

Errol Lord said...

Eric,

Thanks for the great series. They are a great service to the profession (or to the future of the profession). I wish that they were written when I applied last year. They would have significantly improved my application.

That brings me to my questions. I am currently in a almost ranked PhD program. I am going to reapply next cycle (I am getting an MA here; btw, the profs at my current school are ok with me reapplying.) I am glad I am doing what I am because I think my application is going to be much better next time in almost all respects. I have three questions.

First, how much do presentations at student conferences help one's application? I presented at 4 undergraduate conferences the spring semester of my senior year (after my apps had gone out). I am scheduled to present at 3 grad conferences this next semester and have papers under review at a few others. The grad conferences are one's held at top departments with students from top departments presenting. I take it that the undergrad conferences won't count nearly as much as the grad conferences. But how much will either improve my application?

Second, I took many philosophy classes as an undergrad that weren't directly affiliated with the philosophy department (i.e. they didn't have the PHI prefix). Many of them were taught by philosophy professors. Some were honors classes and some were political science classes. Are grades in those classes as important as grades in philosophy classes? If they are, what is the best way to flag to the committee that those classes were very philosophically oriented?

Finally, I received a bad grade in my undergraduate formal logic class. By far my worst grade in philosophy. Mostly this was due to non-philosophical reasons (my brother was having mental health problems). I am taking a grad level logic class next semester. I suspect that I will do much better this time (hopefully an A- at the least). Do you think that my prior bad grade is moot if I do much better next semester? Should I flag that in my PS? I would rather not if it wasn't necessary.

Again, thanks for the service.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for the kind words, Errol. On your questions:

(1.) I don't think presentations, undergrad or grad, count for much. However, I do think they show that you are likely to continue to be an active and invested member of the profession. I'm inclined to think that bodes well for your success and it might tilt me positively if I am otherwise on the fence about your application.

(2.) It probably won't be possible to tell from your transcripts that those classes were philosophy classes, so those grades will get less weight than grades in classes that are marked as philosophy in your transcript. I suspect the best way to flag them, if you want to do that, is to have a sympathetic letter-writer from your undergraduate institution mention this fact about your coursework in her letter. (Go ahead and how her this post if you think that will help!) Or, alternatively, if the courses are pertinent to your areas of interest, you can mention them in your personal statement, as part of describing how you came to be interested in that area. (It is permissible, but certainly not required, to mention particular courses you have taken pertinent to your interests in your personal statement.)

(3.) Admissions committees generally aren't formulaic in their assessment of transcripts, so we often write off a single bad grade as an aberration, especially if it was relatively early in your studies. Getting a top grade later in the same subject will help even more. I wouldn't highlight the issue about dealing with your brother in your personal statement unless it dragged down a whole quarter's load of grades and did so substantially -- otherwise, it will just seem defensive. If you decide it's in your best interest to bring it up, you might see if you can get one of your letter writers to mention it. The way to broach the topic would be to meet the letter writer to talk about your letter (bragsheet and transcript and essays in hand) and point out that fact about your transcript and your excuse, among the several other things you'll discuss with her. Then the letter writer can decide to incorporate that into her letter or not.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

KidIcarus: I advise you not to overreact to your low GREs. As I mentioned in the post, they're probably less important than your transcripts, writing sample, grades, and letters. Some places (as Justin mentions) don't even require them, and some members of admissions committees look at them very skeptically. I'd recommend that you go ahead and apply as you were intending to apply. Based on your description of your application, I think you stand a very good chance of getting into a good graduate program. The only adjustment I'd make to your application process is this -- apply to *more* departments than you originally intended (maybe 12 instead of 8?).

kidicarus said...

Justin and Eric,

Thanks for the helpful feedback!

Eric - Thank you for your response. I agree that it would be an overreaction to not apply at all this round. If my application does indeed stand a fair chance with those departments who give a holistic assessment of their applicants, then it is just a matter of landing my application with the right committee. It seems then that the more programs, the better my chances. However, because departments are rarely transparent regarding their admissions procedures, it is difficult to determine for a given department whether a previous rejection would negatively stigmatize a subsequent application. Do you think, then, that by increasing my chances of finding the right department for this round, I would simultaneously run a considerable risk of detracting from the potential success of later applications with “fixed” GRE scores, in the case that I am rejected across the board? Is it worth inquiring into a department’s general policy concerning second time applicants?

On another note, do you think that one should address low GRE scores in some way in their application? Of course, I would like to distance myself from the profile that my scores may suggest. I would also like to dissuade anyone from simply tossing out my application based upon them alone. However, I don't want to undermine a department's perspective on the usefulness or significance of GRE scores as admissions criteria. Furthermore, I wouldn't want to come across as defensive - as you warned against regarding another issue - thereby drawing more attention to the issue. Do you think that there is an appropriate way, perhaps in one's statement of purpose, of addressing such a deficiency? Obviously, any applicant is going to think that their weaknesses belie their academic promise - but is it worth mentioning nonetheless?

Justin - Thank you for taking the time to respond to my post. Being just on the other side of the bridge, SFSU is most definitely on my radar. But since your post I have been researching the program more extensively. Although my interests do not lie in either philosophy of science or applied ethics, I think that the MA program would be a good opportunity to strengthen my overall background in philosophy. However, because “fit” is often stressed for admission to Phd programs, I was curious if this applied to the MA program as well. Is it a problem if, for instance, one's specific, overarching interests in graduate study are not directly represented by more than one faculty member? More generally, do you think that a close "fit" between faculty and student interests is particularly important in an MA program?

Thanks again

Adrian said...

Dear Eric,

Thank you very much for these posts, they are extremely helpful, especially considering the fact that you read and reply to our comments. Thank you.


I have a question regarding extra information sent to admissions, such as an extra letter of recommendation (I know you mentioned this earlier, but while I feel comfortable with my letter writers, I can't but help to have doubt on the stregnth of one or two of them), CV (So as to offer information in an explicit way outside of my personal statement), or a 'philosophy' courses abstract (just to make things easier). Would such extra information be of any help? Could such information backfire some how (aside from being poorly presented or containing information which is just plain negative)?

Michael Pickar said...

I am a philosophy student at Southwest Minnesota State University (a small, liberal arts college) in Marshall, Minnesota. I intend to apply to graduate philosophy programs, and I would like to start graduate studies in Fall 2009. The only problem is that my philosophy GPA is currently 3.60; however, my cumulative GPA is a 3.75. Would graduate admissions committees look poorly on this discrepancy?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Sorry for the delay in getting to your questions, Adrian and Michael. Perhaps my responses will still be helpful either to you or others.

Adrian: The risk in including additional information is if it seems strange or irrelevant or not consonant with the good aspects of your application. Why send a c.v., when whatever information from that c.v. that is relevant to the admissions decision can be mentioned in your personal statement and/or by a letter writer? An additional letter can definitely be a bonus to your application if it is an excellent letter, but three strong letters looks better than three strong letters and one tepid one.

Michael: I'm afraid that for students in your situation, it really is the philosophy GPA that matters most to admissions decisions. But it's not formulaic. If your GPA is being pulled down by a single class or by underperformance in your early years as a student, that's not as problematic as if you're consistently an A-minus student in philosophy.

Anonymous said...

Hi Eric,

You mentioned that completing a Master's Degree may not compensate for a "less than sterling" undergraduate record. Is there any way to recover from sub-par undergraduate course work? I began as a pre-med major and, needless to say, did NOT do well in the hard sciences. Will writing an excellent MA thesis or high GRE scores help me at all? Is the PhD a lost cause?

Meredith

Mayank said...

Hey Eric,

You suggest that GRE scores are not as significant as some of the other metrics. Some of the posts also reflect a level of discomfort about GRE scores. While I sincerely hope that Kidicarus can give Chomsky and Stalnaker my regards, or Fodor and Goldman, and that he so gets to choose (I really do, thumbs up kidicarus), on the whole I can only hope for myself that GRE scores are allowed to be the tenor of my 'successful' application. See, I am, or rather will be next year, an overseas candidate from India. And nothing terrorizes my kind more than the thought of how my 'marks' in '%age' are going to be interpreted. Worse are the wide ranging inconsistencies in marking between different (1)universities, (2) departments, and quite unbelievingly ceteris paribus (3) academic years!! While I am at least a top 10% if not a top 5% philosophy student at my univ (4th in class out of 50+ and a known bad exam writer, exams counting for 75 to 85%), my %age just does not compare to a 3.8 GPA. It does not even compare to the neighbouring university's 15-20% student or that of my own univ's last batch. I am worried my 55% in MA might not even be interpreted as the minimum required 3.0. With such unenviable matters of interpreting foreign grades at the hands of admission committees, GRE scores can be one reliable indicator of the applicant's intellectual worth and thereby of great help to the admission committee. It would be just oh so awesome if we in fact had subject GRE for philosophy and GPAs were more or less discounted, at least for foreign applicants. But, I dont expect it to happen anytime soon, at least not soon enough for me.

What say Eric. 55% in MA from an Indian Univ, decent writing sample, decent SoP, no audits (I am not sure I know what that is by the way) at Harvard, 1 letter from a respectable name, 2 letters from people no one has or will hear of, but 1450+ GRE. Any takers?

P.S. but of course standardized tests beg their own perils.

Mayank said...

Hey,

On reading my own comment again I think I said more than what I intended to when I said GRE can be reliable indicator of one's intellectual worth. Actually, GRE would be a reliable indicator of the candidate's intelligence, which is not always a reliable indicator of intellectual worth. However, it could be reliable at that if coupled with good written work.

Of course people at times can have a bad day, as kidicarus seems to have had, and that bad day can be extremely unfairly detrimental to their prospects. But, leaving aside bad days and issues of language proficiency, GRE would I suppose be a much more objective and non-erratic measure of what it measures than some other measures are of what they measure.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Anon 7:00: No, don't despair! I just meant that remark to apply to admission to the most elite schools (and even in those cases there are exceptions). Excellent performance in a good M.A. program should be sufficient for admission to a middle or lower ranked Ph.D. program.

Mayank: Grades from foreign universities are often hard to interpret, as are letters from unknown people outside the U.S. I don't think a good GRE is likely to make the difference but a truly awesome sample can do wonders for an application, and a rave letter from an eminent philosopher is a substantial asset. If you have no luck getting straight into a good Ph.D. program in philosophy, you might be a good candidate to us a U.S. M.A. program as a stepping stone.

Mayank said...

Hey Eric,

Thanks for the quick shoot back Eric. I see I am considerably more lucky in that respect than a couple of earlier blokes, eh. Aah, just kidding. But, it is nice to see that even though we guys get paid for teaching, we aren't quite all sophists. In other words sincere regards to guys like you and Leiter.

On my own story I shall polish my paper till I can see my reflection on it. Anyways, the post was more of an attempt to make a general case using myself as an example. But, your advice is forever valuable.

Thanks
Mayank

Stupid for Doubling said...

Hello,
I am currently in an MSc program in a top 15 UK university after going to a top 5 liberal arts College in the States. My main concern is that in undergrad I was a double major in Philosophy and Computer science and my "in major" GPA is ~3.5 while my philosophy GPA is 3.8. My concern is that no one will ever get to the rest of my application because my "in major" GPA is substantially lower than the normal requirements, even though in reality that doesn't reflect my philosophical academic work. On the positive side my undergrad had a senior comprehensive exercise that basically was a senior thesis that I worked on for around 7 months, that is already pretty polished and only getting moreso. On the last go round i applied to this program as a back up but since I didn't have a solid writing sample (i was still writing my thesis) and fell into a lot of the traps of Statement of Purpose writing, I was wondering if I would get a better chance this year? Specifically will my undergrad GPA keep me down?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

S for D: The admissions process isn't formulaic; people will see your excellent grades in philosophy, which sound like they're good enough to make you a contender, depending on the other parts of your application. Also, of course, the master's might be a valuable addition.

Anonymous said...

Hi Eric,

I would love to know what are you thoughts on my case. I did the GRE and I got very poor scores due to rusty math skills and anxiety. I feel that I don't have enough practice in of performing calculations with that speed. The level of math required in the GRE is not an important requirement in Mexico's social sciences and humanities academia, so I haven't had a truly direct incentive to keep it fresh. (This is very wrong of Mexico's academia, but it is the case, though.)

I did both 'licenciaturas', in Law and in Philosophy. I kept the Spanish word because that, the first degree in Mexico is not quite a Bachelor degree. For instance, in Latin America, after finishing a 'licenciatura' in Law, you have the right to practice Law. We spend not just 3 to 4 years, but 5 years with a lot of courses. Our systems are not flexible to enable students to do a major and one or two minors. If you take a 'licenciatura' you typically focus on just that with 4 hours of classes per day.

What would you think of an applicant in my case; low GRE scores, two degrees roughly equivalent to Bachelor degrees, one in Law, the other in Philosophy, a Master's degree in Philosophy, probably a good letters of recommendation set and a polished Writing Sample? (probably age is important, so, I am 27 currently.)

I know that I can improve my GRE a lot, but I can't have that guaranteed. I get very anxious with this kind of tests and I find them myopic to cases like mine.

If you were in a case like mine, would you keep going? I have money troubles and I need to save my savings for a really good shot.

Thank you a lot!...

(I am worried by another thing: I am very interested in matters of rationality, normativity and metaphysics. I have studied what are known as gödelian arguments, and getting a low score on the GRE can be... Ironical?... Suspicious? I don't know. I really have the feeling that I might be trusting the wisdom of phi. departments...)

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Anon Nov 5: A low GRE is a disadvantage but not a huge one. There's a lot of variation in how seriously different schools and different committee members take it. I wouldn't be too dispirited about it, but I might recommend applying to more places than you otherwise would -- a kind of shotgun approach.

Anonymous said...

Hi Prof. Schwitzgebel--

I believe my question falls under "other things."

What belongs on my resume/CV at this point? Do I whip together a faux CV that includes my areas of interest and my coursework? Or can I simply send a resume with educational and work information? In some ways, the latter is more informative (since the adcom can find my interests and coursework elsewhere, and they may care to know, e.g., that I've been working throughout my MA program).

Perhaps you can shed light on this last aspect of PhD admissions.

Thanks!

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Anon Dec. 14: A formal resume/c.v. isn't necessary. I probably wouldn't send one until it is specifically requested.

Connie Barris said...

Hi.. I found your blog while looking for information on the GRE.. I took on the creature today and did not do well.. I am attempting to go back to grad school... and well.. this was ugly...
I have a few questions if you please...
first, if you do not complete the section do the ones you answer, still count?
second, how much will the essays count towards the final score of your GRE? and what benefit will it be towards your final points?

I am really stunned.. humiliated, etc...

Thank you...
Connie
fishnparrots@comcast.net

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Connie, I don't know how GRE scoring works. That information must be out there somewhere, though.

In my experience, philosophers normally don't take the GRE essay scores very seriously. Most important is the total score of the verbal and quantitative sections.

Robert K. said...

Hi. Thanks for this blog. It's really helpful. I have just one question: What do schools think of multiple GRE scores? I have a disappointingly low GRE score from two years ago. I'm going to retake it this year, but should I expect schools to consider both or average them?

Anonymous said...

ditto to Robert's question

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Robert/Anon (with apologies for missing Robert's original question): There are two relevant interpreters of GRE scores: the admissions committee of philosophers and the school-wide administrators. But probably in both cases there will be substantial variation between schools and individuals, with some disposed toward averaging and some disposed to most recent or best.

Anonymous said...

Good point.

Thanks Eric!

Anonymous said...

"Philosophy is ... overwhelmingly non-Hispanic Caucasian." This sentence is absolutely false. In the first place, there is philosophy, and good philosophy at that, in Spain, Portugal, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Chile, etc. where professors are overwhelmingly Hispanic, men and women. There is also philosophy in Japan, Mozambique, Togo, South Africa, South Korea, Algeria, China, Egypt, etc. whose professors can hardly be described as Caucasian. Were the Greeks Caucasian? Or the Romans? Of course you meant "Philosophy is ... in USA", but nevertheless the statement is false as it stands.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Yes, thanks for the correction. That is indeed what I meant!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for having rephrased it. But please allow me to draw your attention to the fact that now the scope of "in the United States" in the sentence is just "is largely a male disciple". The sentence still wrongly and absolutely states that philosophy is overwhelmingly non-Hispanic Caucasian. This is false because professors of philosophy are overwhelmingly Hispanic in Spain, Portugal, South America, and Central America. They are also overwhelmingly non-Caucasian in Africa and Asia. Since a lot of foreigners seem to visit this website, I would suggest "Philosophy is largely a male discipline, and it's overwhelmingly non-Hispanic Caucasian in the United States". And thanks for this tremendously useful blog!

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Anon: I'm glad you caught the implicit parochialism in my thinking and gave me a chance to correct it. I think that in the current statement it is clear enough that the scope restriction transfers to the second clause -- especially since it would be bizarre to interpret me as saying "in the U.S. philosophy is largely male, and in all countries it is largely non-Hispanic caucasian".

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all your useful information! I would really appreciate your perspective on my case. I am a Canadian student applying for Phd. programs in Philosophy in the US. In Canada, the GRE is not required and in general standardized tests are not frequently administered or highly regarded. I did not have to write an SAT to enter university, and as such, to write the GRE I had to dust off math skills I haven't used since high school.

I scored in the 94th percentile in the Verbal while scoring (humiliatingly) in the 23rd percentile in Quantitative section. Even more embarassingly, I only received a 4.O in the writing section. The rest of my application is quite strong (stellar marks, solid writing sample, a publication in a good journal, strong letters) plus I am an uncannily good 'fit' with my first choice school, having met several profs at a conference and having completed a double major which covers a specialization unique to their program. Should I retake the GRE? Will my low score automatically disqualify me from admissibility? Or will the rest of my application make up for it?

Furthermore, how relevant are Quantitative scores to Philosophy departments anyway? I often hear arguments for some correlation between quatitative skill and logical ability here, but since I aced undergrad Symbolic Logic, I am extremely skeptical that it obtains.

In addition, I can't seem to dispel a sneaking suspicion that I may have used Canadian or British spelling on some words in the writing section (as is perfectly correct up here and used by our government and newspapers I might add) which the computers used to mark the writing section may not have recognized.

I have heard that in the US the educational curriculum from primary school, through secondary and perhaps even in post-secondary school is geared toward achieving high scores on standardized tests which often include a mathematical component. In Canada, where public education is standardized and of a universally excellent quality, this is not the case, and so I fear Canadians are at a disadvantage when it comes to standardized testing. On the other hand, I have heard that Canadian students are well regarded in American schools and even that our marks are sometimes considered to be of higher value than those achieved by American students.

I hear a lot about "international students" having difficulty writing the GRE due to having English as a second language, yet nothing about the plight of Canadians who are perfectly at home in the language, yet completely bewildered by standardized testing in general, and the GRE in particular. Do American admissions committees take this into account? And, as a more general question to the forum, should they?

Thanks for your perspective.

Anonymous said...

PS. Sorry about the double post!

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Anon. Nov. 23: Departments and committees have very different perspectives on the GRE. Most (in my experience) disregard the writing section, but some have minimum cutoffs for combined verbal/quantitative score. If so, you will be excluded from those departments. But many committees don't take the GRE very seriously, so by no means should a low score dissuade you from pursuing admission!

My experience is that low GRE scores are often disregarded for "foreign" students, but I'm inclined to doubt that most U.S. committees would consider Canadian students "foreign" in the relevant sense.

If you think you can do significantly better on the quantitative part by retaking the GRE, I would encourage you to do so. But I would also encourage you not to panic. Reasons for your low GRE score can also be explained by one of your letter writers, if it seems advisable to do so; but I wouldn't try to make any excuses yourself.

Anonymous said...

Hi Eric,

This is excellent information! It's been informative and helpful. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Eric, I apologize if you have addressed this already, but I had very very low GRE's scores my first time applying so if I reapply to some schools that I was rejected from, this time with substantially higher GRE scores (and some new courses taken and a better writing sample) will my application be viewed disfavorably just because I was previously rejected? And also, do you think letter writers will be less favorable in their evaluations on the second time (e.g. in your experience, are letter writers less favorable if they have to wrtie them again)?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Anon: I don't think your letters will change much, except to update on the basis of what you have done in the period. If what you've done has been good, they will probably get better.

As for reapplying, my experience is that programs are quite willing to take a new look at previous applicants and that having applied previously is not much of a disadvantage.

Anonymous said...

Eric: Thanks very much for your fast reply. This is a really great blog you have going here - im sure lots of people really appreciate it.

Newt said...

Hi Eric,

Fantastic series here. I have a question regarding GRE's:

I increased my GRE score from 1100's to the 1400's, with a 99th percentile score in Verbal section. I pulled a nasty 3.0 however on the writing section (I am a native speaker), probably due to a combination of nerves and timing issues, and perhaps due in some part to simply lacking a specific style/approach.

I don't know how to feel about this. I have seen your comments elsewhere that most people disregard the writing section: do you think this observation would extend to eye-catching scores like mine?

I know I am a very strong writer. My letter writers have all been very complimentary of my writing, and I imagine their evaluations will be borne out in some way in their letters. As such, I feel my application would speak for itself provided it isn't flagged with too much suspicion from the gate. Still, I don't presume to know what reviewing committee are likely to think.

Do you think I should do something to address in the SOP, or should I avoid seeming defensive and just let the application speak for itself? I suppose if I am totally shut out I could consider retaking the test. Still, I'm not sure that any increase in the AWA section would be worth the risk of losing my tip-top Verbal score.

What's your thinking?

Kind Regards,

Newt

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Philosophy professors will judge your writing by your sample. We don't give a bean what the GRE essay-scorers say.

There might be a few committee members somewhere who take the GRE writing score seriously, but I would guess they are very sparsely distributed; and maybe some committees are under pressure from higher administrators to admit students with good GRE writing scores. However, if either of these things is the case, I have never heard of it. Put this last on your list of things to worry about.

I. Leung said...

Hi Eric,

I am a chinese student wo studies Philosophy in a MA-Program in Germany. My GRE-Scores are 740 verbal, 800 quantitative and 3.5 on the writing section. Could you tell me whether the last score, which is terribly low, would serious hurt me in the admission process? Should I retake the section? Thanks a lot!

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

I Leung: In my experience at UCR, we always ignored the GRE essay score. I can't entirely promise that all committees will be the same in this respect, but I don't think this should be a cause for concern, especially for a foreign applicant. Those are terrific verbal and quantitative scores. My advice would be to stand pat!

I.Leung said...

Hi Eric,

Thank you so much for the reply and for these great series! So I won't give up hope!

Anonymous said...

Hi Eric,

Thank you so much for your posts! They are a godsend.

I had a question regarding the application that I don't think was directly addressed. In the event that an applicant has had several disadvantages and is representative of the minority, where would you disclose this information especially considering how the Statement of Purpose is geared towards research interests and goals? I know of at least one program encouraging applicants that are minorities, but when I looked at the application itself, I did not find any direct place to disclose and explain one's background.

Personally, I am a minority and had a disadvantaged status in several ways - first one to attend college, grew up in poverty in the United States and broke the cycle by age 23, female, minority race / immigrant family (albeit over-represented in the college system so I don't think this will help), etc. My story is a little different in the sense that I worked for several years in an unrelated field and decided to pursue the Ph.D. route, for financial reasons. I am a mixed-bag candidate in every sense -- I have GPA’s ranging from 2.7 to 3.8 in masters and/or non-degree colleges, and my undergrad GPA is a 3.5 overall with a triple major at a decent school. However, I do have good reasons to explain the fluctuations (i.e. I pursued two masters programs simultaneously from state schools, while holding down two jobs), GRE scores will be low, and rec letters remains to be seen. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it is important for me to be able to explain my situation, but which part of the application would I be able to do this?

Thank you so much!

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Anon, Apr. 21: Some schools have special parts of the application where candidates are invited to explain such things, and you can if you wish discuss it in your personal statement / statement of purpose. My view is that it comes off best if one or more of your letter-writers addresses these issues and you yourself either pass over them in silence or use a light touch.

Anonymous said...

Hi Eric,

Thank you for your response!

I have another question. I noticed that in the application, some schools ask which other schools I am applying to as an optional response. Do the UC's communicate with each other regarding an applicant for Ph.D. programs? (I've heard they do this for undergrad...) Also, if an applicant is competitive, would disclosing this information potentially raise the funding level for the applicant?

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hi Eric,

I apologize for the barrage of questions, but I have another question regarding the GRE that deals with this year in particular.

I am planning to take the old GRE and the new GRE this year for this fall’s application. As you probably know, the GRE will be changing substantially in August and the scores will be released in late November. As some Ph.D. programs have deadlines of December 1, the old GRE will have to be taken. However, the problem arises when an applicant’s score differential is significant given the different format of the tests. I, for one, am certain that I will do better on the new format than the old one. (My main weakness pertains to the vocab sections as English was not my first language. However, my critical thinking skills are pretty solid, which the new GRE has switched to.) The score differential can potentially be 200-300 points for me --1100 versus 1300-1400.

I know that admissions committees do accept late applications with the caveat of lower funding options. However, in this particular situation, funding will be low anyway if my old GRE score will be imputed, so I’m wondering whether I should hold my application until I receive my new score, or if the admissions committee would be willing to re-evaluate a candidate’s standing based on the new format of the GRE?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

No, the UC's don't communicate with each other about this (that I have heard of, anyway). The main function of the question is for admissions chairs to get a sense of what other schools they are competing with for applicants.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Hard to know what committees will do with that. I suspect it will vary case by case. Sorry I can't give a better answer!

Anonymous said...

Hi Eric,

thanks for your post. I would like to pose a question: what are the chances for an international graduate student with a 4.75 GPA, an M.A (with a 4 in the dissertation), an excellent sample of writing, but with letters of recommendation from not so renowned professors or local professors?

thanks

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

@ anon Apr 22: I'm not sure what you mean by a 4.75 GPA. 4.00 is usually the top in the US system.

In my experience, international applications are difficult to evaluate, but if your writing sample is excellent, that will take you a long way. Letters from well-known Anglophone philosophers, though a major asset when present, are by no means required. Good luck!

Micah Zehnder said...

Mr. Switzgebel, I am a recent fan of yours, and accidentally stumbled across your blog today.

I must say, it has been a troubling experience. Unfortunately I have had an unbelievably rocky academic career. I graduated from high school at a young age, and spent a few years dabbling in computer science, and business courses at Golden West Community College and attending fashion school (for design) at Orange Coast College. Eventually I stumbled into a higher division Epistemology course at OCC, and decided to drop everything else to pursue philosophy at the University of Southern California.

Unfortunately, most likely because of my mostly auto-didactic, home-schooled education, I was expecting a major university to be the same as it was in the 1800's. When I was confronted with the cold hard reality of the modern university, my interest mostly waned in academics. The General Education tended to bore me, and the quality of the people around me sickened me. I had a few good semester is occasionally brilliant professors, and the little philosophy I was allowed to take had my professors recommending philosophy as a career choice to me, but the undergraduate program at USC allows for so little philosophy to be taken compared with all of the other rather worthless, time-consuming courses that I hated academia more than anything by the time I was through.

I hardly learned anything about philosophy in school. If I hadn't fallen in with a very special crowd outside of school, and spent many nights reading Nietzsche, and Sartre, and a bunch of other assorted philosophers, and literary figures, I probably would know next to nothing about philosophy.

I am getting somewhat long-winded here, so forgive me, but essentially what this boils down to is that my GPA is worthless (about a 3.5). It looks extremely erratic too, no uniformity at all. I was tricked into being forced to take a business law minor near the end of my tenure that really sank it, and additionally, I went through a divorce during my last year there. So my philosophy courses are pretty much all A's, but there are hardly any of them.

I really grew to hate academia so much that I should have dropped out, but I didn't for whatever reason. I had abandoned the idea of going into academia despite many recommendations that I should, and attempted to see what the corporate world would be like. I firmly established that I cannot thrive there, and because of the law minor I know I would hate law as well. Virtually the only thing I could see really being able to do day-in-and-day-out is something like philosophy. So, with a renewed interest in the major philosophical traditions, especially in newfound works in Philosophy of Science, and Philosophy of Mind (you being one of the people who have reinvigorated me), I have come to the conclusion, that I want to pursue philosophy grad school. I was hoping that with letters, a great essay, and high GRE scores I could make up for the horrible GPA, but now I am reading here that the GRE doesn't count for much, and GPA does.

Well, I can't go back in time and give myself the motivation I have now. So what exactly am I supposed to do?

Can I apply to a grad school without mentioned I even have an undergraduate degree?...

Will I still have a chance at a top school if I can manage a perfect GRE score?

(As far as I can tell it is pretty much pointless to pursue this as a career if you're not in a top 10 grad school program).

I am afraid timing does seem to be everything, and my timing has been terrible. This may be your toughest case yet, but if you have any advice I would be exceedingly appreciative.

Thank you for your time, and also for writing such thrilling philosophy.

- Micah

Micah Zehnder said...

Mr. Switzgebel, I am a recent fan of yours, and accidentally stumbled across your blog today.

I must say, it has been a troubling experience. Unfortunately I have had an unbelievably rocky academic career. I graduated from high school at a young age, and spent a few years dabbling in computer science, and business courses at Golden West Community College and attending fashion school (for design) at Orange Coast College. Eventually I stumbled into a higher division Epistemology course at OCC, and decided to drop everything else to pursue philosophy at the University of Southern California.

Unfortunately, most likely because of my mostly auto-didactic, home-schooled education, I was expecting a major university to be the same as it was in the 1800's. When I was confronted with the cold hard reality of the modern university, my interest mostly waned in academics. The General Education tended to bore me, and the quality of the people around me sickened me. I had a few good semester is occasionally brilliant professors, and the little philosophy I was allowed to take had my professors recommending philosophy as a career choice to me, but the undergraduate program at USC allows for so little philosophy to be taken compared with all of the other rather worthless, time-consuming courses that I hated academia more than anything by the time I was through.

I hardly learned anything about philosophy in school. If I hadn't fallen in with a very special crowd outside of school, and spent many nights reading Nietzsche, and Sartre, and a bunch of other assorted philosophers, and literary figures, I probably would know next to nothing about philosophy.

I am getting somewhat long-winded here, so forgive me, but essentially what this boils down to is that my GPA is worthless (about a 3.5). It looks extremely erratic too, no uniformity at all. I was tricked into being forced to take a business law minor near the end of my tenure that really sank it, and additionally, I went through a divorce during my last year there. So my philosophy courses are pretty much all A's, but there are hardly any of them.

I really grew to hate academia so much that I should have dropped out, but I didn't for whatever reason. I had abandoned the idea of going into academia despite many recommendations that I should, and attempted to see what the corporate world would be like. I firmly established that I cannot thrive there, and because of the law minor I know I would hate law as well. Virtually the only thing I could see really being able to do day-in-and-day-out is something like philosophy. So, with a renewed interest in the major philosophical traditions, especially in newfound works in Philosophy of Science, and Philosophy of Mind (you being one of the people who have reinvigorated me), I have come to the conclusion, that I want to pursue philosophy grad school. I was hoping that with letters, a great essay, and high GRE scores I could make up for the horrible GPA, but now I am reading here that the GRE doesn't count for much, and GPA does.

Well, I can't go back in time and give myself the motivation I have now. So what exactly am I supposed to do?

Can I apply to a grad school without mentioned I even have an undergraduate degree?...

Will I still have a chance at a top school if I can manage a perfect GRE score?

(As far as I can tell it is pretty much pointless to pursue this as a career if you're not in a top 10 grad school program).

I am afraid timing does seem to be everything, and my timing has been terrible. This may be your toughest case yet, but if you have any advice I would be exceedingly appreciative.

Thank you for your time, and also for writing such thrilling philosophy.

- Micah

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Micah --

It is hard to get a job at a research-oriented university if your degree program isn't approximately top-10, but some people do so, and top-50-ranked programs like UCR place plenty of people into research careers.

I think your best path forward is likely to be connecting with one or two of those USC philosophy professors that you have a good relationship with and getting their permission to audit, or even better enroll in, upper-division or graduate-level courses. Do all the work for those classes and try to earn a top grade. Thus you can show a track record of top performance and get excellent letters and potential material for an excellent writing sample.

Good luck!

Micah Zehnder said...

Thank you very much for your reply.

I wonder if you think it is important for the professor to be in an area I want to study in graduate school? Unfortunately my school doesn't offer graduate seminars in philosophy of science, philosophy of mind, or even aesthetics, or philosophy of mathematics.

It is all philosophy of language, metaethics, and normativity, most of what I am not particularly interested in doing.

Out of those philosophy of language would probably be the best one to take, would you agree?

I am really extremely grateful for your help.

Best,

- Micah

Art E Grymes said...

Eric,

What role, in your experience/estimation, does affirmative action play in PhD admissions? Is a black or hispanic applicant likely to be given a longer look than a white or asian applicant? Some programs 'strongly encourage' minorities to apply on their webpages, but I'm not sure if they just want to get up the number of minority applicants, or if minority applicants are actually more likely to be accepted.

Thanks!
Art Grymes

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

It doesn't matter very much. I think you could do any of those topics.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Art: I think it varies a lot school-by-school and year-by-year. My guess is that most committees genuinely want to be a smidgen more generous to black and Hispanic applicants. However, whether that desire is enough to counteract unconscious sources of bias is unclear.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Art: I think it varies a lot school-by-school and year-by-year. My guess is that most committees genuinely want to be a smidgen more generous to black and Hispanic applicants. However, whether that desire is enough to counteract unconscious sources of bias is unclear.

Anonymous said...

Hey Eric,

Thanks for the very useful information. I had a strange question:

I am about to take the GREs and have taken a number of practice tests - so far, I am noticing that my scores are the inverse of a lot of the regular GRE patterns for Graduate programs. That is, my quantitative section is 600-650 (where most applicants are in the high 700's) and my verbal is 730-750 (where most applicants are in the 600 range).

Do you think this will help, hinder, or not matter at all when it comes to the admission process? I am also concerned that the percentiles are so out of sync - a 600 or so in Quant is barely 50%, but a 730 is 99%. In your experience, which is more important: combined GRE score, specific percentiles, verbal over quantitative, or quantitative over verbal?

Thanks again for all of the great advice - your blog has been invaluable!

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

I suspect the composite score is more important than how exactly it splits, for most committees (though as always, things vary). The non-linear spread helps distinguish better among those at the top of the scale, I believe.

Anonymous said...

Hi Eric,

Thanks for this incredibly helpful series of posts. I just took the GRE for the first time in July and ended up with a 690 in verbal (97th percentile), 730 in quantitative (77th percentile) and 5.5 on analytic writing (94th percentile). I suppose these are okay, but I did much better on my practice test. I have spent the last month trying to decide whether to take it again, and I still just do not know. My question for you is: how would it look to committees if I took it again and did worse? I don't anticipate doing worse, but it's possible, and I'm not sure whether the potential benefits of doing better are worth the potential costs of doing worse. If I get rejected from a top ten school just because my GRE scores were too low, I don't think I'd ever be able to forgive myself. And I'm not sure how to factor in the fact that any additional tests I take will be in the new GRE format. Do you have any thoughts? Thanks very much for your consideration.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Different places look at the GRE differently. Some will look at your most recent only; others will consider both. Most don't take the writing score very seriously. Don't worry too much: Your scores are respectable, and small differences in GRE scores don't matter too much to an application.

World Fusion Radio said...

Greetings,

What is your opinion on how someone with teaching experience in college philosophy should approach the PhD application process? I have an M.A. and life events redirected my path into the work world. I started teaching philosophy part-time and the past five years I have been teaching three courses a term as an adjunct philosophy professor at a four-year college. I want to return and earn my PhD.

I hear two very different stories about how my teaching experience will be received. One side says committees will be wary of it thinking I won't really be willing to be a student again. (Not true for me!) The other side says committees will like my experience, maturity, and the obvious sign that I am serious about philosophy as a career. What is your opinion? And how should I attempt to deal with any possible resistance to my situation?

I can add that in the past year as a non-degree candidate I took six PhD level philosophy courses for credit at a Top-40 department (3.8 GPA) and I have several publications and conference presentations on my CV.

Thanks.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

WFR: It could go either way. I could see some skepticism. On the other hand, UCR admitted an eminent clinical psychologist with a PhD in psychology and numerous books to his name, even a conference in his honor, and it worked out well for us and for him. He went through the usual slate of courses and wrote a dissertation connecting clinical psychology with his new-found expertise in 20th century Continental. So it does happen.

I would work carefully on the personal statement.

Anonymous said...

Should I include a resume even if not requested? Some schools ask and some don't and I want to be thorough.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

@ Anon: I don't think it matters much either way. If there's something striking on it, it could help -- but maybe even better to have that striking fact mentioned in your personal statement or letters. If your resume looks too professional and not academic enough, that could be a disadvantage unless you have a very high degree of professional success and a good story to tell about why you want to transition.

Anonymous said...

Well the bulk of it is my academic achievements, publications, and a few campus jobs, including research assistant. I only graduated last semester. There is some good accomplishments on there so you think its a good idea to make sure they're covered in my app?

BTW, this blog has been so so helpful to me!

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Anon: It couldn't hurt.

Anonymous said...

I repost this comment, which, I think, suits here better:

Dear Professor Schwitzgebel,

thank you very much for your blog, which is very enlightening. It's a shame that I discover your blog only after I have submitted several applications. I have a few questions concerning my remaining applications, and hope that you might give me some advice.

I am an international student. I received by BA in Hong Kong; and received my master degree in philosophy from a joint program by three different Universities in different European countries ("Erasmus Mundus"). Since the three Universities have different system of grading, I was worried that having three systems of evaluation on one transcript would make the transcript so obscure that would affect my chance of admission. So, I attached a brief explanation to my application, explaining what's going on with my strange transcript, what the marks and grades means, etc. Do you think I have made a terrible mistake by attaching it (I guess so...)? Should I take it away from the rest of my applications? Or, what would you suggest me do?

My second question: actually, I am a PhD student already, studying with DAAD full scholarship in Bonn. I am applying for Universities in the States because my interest in philosophy changed from German Idealism to problem of vague object. Since this is my first year in my doctoral program in Germany, would the admission committee interpret my intention to quit the program in my first year negatively?

Thirdly, after reading your previous posts (in 2007), I found I have committed to several mistakes you mentioned there. For example, I have been too vague and unspecific about my interests in my personal statement. I just gave some general remarks on my interest (nothing more specific than I have written in this comment). Although I have not talked about my interests in detail, I have submitted a sample paper on the topic. Could this compensate the problem of my personal statement? Actually it is the working on the paper that convert me to my new interest; should I highlight this in my personal statement as well?

Furthermore, do teaching experience (as TA in Univerisities and as instructors in adult education center) and competence in foreign languages help a lot in my application?

Finally, since, if admitted, I will be quitting both the PhD program and the DAAD scholarship, no professors who wrote recommendations for my PhD program and DAAD scholarship are going to write for me again for another program. So, my letters will be extremely weak (I even have to find a friend who has never taught me but has become an assistant professor to write for me). Will the committee understand that there is a special reason here for my weak letters? Or should I mention it in my personal statement?

Thanks so much for your patience in reading my questions. I apologize for the length of my comment. And I hope you could give me some advice about them. Thank you very much.

Derek

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Broadly, Derek, that sounds okay. Too vague a statement, transferring from another program, explaining your transcript ( in a factual, nondefensive tone) -- those are not big issues. Weak letters are a big issue, though. Is there a professor at your current program who can be understanding of your desire to transfer and write you a strong letter?

Anonymous said...

Dear prof. Schwitzgebel,

thanks for your reply. That's the problem, my supervisor in Germany is one of those who recommended me for DAAD. And, for some reason, he does not like analytic philosophy (not hostile though). So, very unlikely; and I am still hoping that he won't get too mad at my intention to go.

So, I guess I can only stick to what I have and wish for luck then.

Thank you very much.

Derek

Anonymous said...

Dear Prof. Schwitzgebel,

I have another quick question. Is it a good idea that I try to explain (just a bit) why my letters are so weak in my personal statement?

Thanks.

Derek

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Definitely not. Your best bet is just to let them stand as is and hope the committee will understand why they might be weak, given the facts of your situation. To be defensive will mostly just highlight the problem and probably set the wrong tone in general.

Anonymous said...

Hi Eric,

Quick question for you:

I am currently studying at a seminary, majoring in philosophy. It is accredited by the usual bodies, and so my BA in Philosophy will be "valid" so to speak.

I am considering a different career path, and so I am looking into Phil. Ph.D programs. My GPA is 3.9, with my major GPA around 3.95 or a bit closer to 4. My worry though is that we are a very small college (200 students) and I am pretty sure that it is not the most academically rigorous, although it is not by far a breeze. Any idea on how institutions will see this? I am considering returning to California and applying to a UC campus, particularly Davis, Irvine, or Riverside.

Thank you so much for the help. This series has been invaluable!

-DJ

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

A lot will hang on the writing sample. Although pedigree seems to be an important factor, at many mid-ranked PhD programs top students from any institution will be considered seriously and in my experience they will be admitted if the committee judges them to be across-the-board terrific. But it's very competitive!

Kate H said...

Thank you for your help and posting this great advice! I'm looking into theology, but much of your advice is applicable.

Thanks again!
Kate

Anonymous said...

Hi Eric,

Just wanted to say that this series was unbelievably helpful to me in applying to grad programs. I read through it many times and much to my surprise have already gotten an acceptance in this round. I don't doubt your advice helped me avoid some pitfalls.

One very minor point on this post: I think you mean summa cum laude. Magna is with high honors, summa is with highest.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks, Anon. I agree it's confusing on that point. I should probably say "magna or summa" -- or maybe just "summa".

Anonymous said...

Thank you for all of this, Dr. This blog is wonderful. I don't have a specific question, but more of a worry to allay.

I went to a wholly-unremarkable state school as a non-philosophy major with a 3.5 I'm now in a postgraduate, taught program at a top-5 UK department for philosophy. The way the program is set up, quite possibly my 2nd or 3rd attempt at a philosophy paper will be my writing sample (MA taughts are 1 year) and my planned letter writers, while renowned, will have little outside of personal talks and a few looks at my essays before they can write me anything. I know they must be honest and will have little to go by.

I, like everyone else, worry about my odds. I discovered philosophy late in life, and I still wonder about having a fighting chance at *any PhD program (as it is, I'm looking outside of the Leiter top 50, 30-40 I consider a reach).

Is there any reassurance to be had for a mediocre late bloomer provided they do well and get *decent letters and samples at a program of much repute (even though it's one-year)?

Thank you so much for your blog. It means more to a lot of us than we can probably put in a comment.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

I think you do have a shot, anon, coming out of a sterling institution, if you can shape up a terrific letter and sample. I think that some of the unranked and lower-ranked programs are willing to take a shot on a file with some weaknesses in it, if there's also something exceptional in the file.

World Fusion Radio said...

I wrote last October asking about going back for a PhD after 12 years of teaching college philosophy. I thought I would share my experiences in case it would be helpful for anyone.

I applied to 14 programs in the US and UK that specialized in the field of philosophy in which I wish to specialize. I presented with three sterling letters of recommendation, a 3.9 GPA from my MA work, a 1420 GRE taken in 2011, a writing sample accepted for publication, and a resume of other publications and presentations, including at the APA. The results? All but one of the 10 US schools rejected my application while every single UK school enthusiastically accepted me. I had heard that UK schools were more open minded about experienced students but I remain shocked at the difference with US schools. I'd been told that US philosophy departments would be too intimidated by someone with teaching experience and apparently it is true. It just is bizarre to me to think that US departments would rather hand their funding and assistantships to completely inexperienced kids than someone who has been doing that job for 12 years.

So, for anyone who is a more experienced person, I recommend UK schools, who will be much more accepting of your talents.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Interesting, WFR!

Anonymous said...

I must say I am rather discouraged reading this blog and the comments. It sounds like philosophy departments are very elitist, where you went to school being more important than your actual ability. Reading how two people with teaching experience worry about their likelihood of getting into a program makes me, an undergraduate with "only" a 3.7 "only" from a Big 10 school, think I have no chance; why bother? Is PhD philosophy really such an elitist nepotistic ivory tower?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Anon: Read this post, if you haven't already, and get more discouraged:
http://schwitzsplinters.blogspot.com/2011/10/sorry-cal-state-students-no-princeton.html

World Fusion Radio said...

Don't be too discouraged, Anon. Several facts to note: Departments have a vested in interest in appearing more in demand and exclusive than they are. When they say "we received 120 applications for 6 spots" understand that they are inflating the number of applications. They actually receive as little as half of what they claim to receive. Also, they don't tell you how many of their applicants turn them down because students will apply to 8-12 programs and pick and choose from offers they receive. The average department ends of making about twice the number of offers as they have spots each year. In my case I had to turn down 4 schools who made offers to me, and those schools will report it as though they turned me down in their bid to look exclusive. So don't believe the "6 of 120 accepted" claim and think you have only a 5% chance of receiving an offer. The reality is more like 12 of 72 accepted, or 17%. Which still sounds like poor odds but remember that you should be applying to 8-12 schools (or more) yourself and if you do you WILL have multiple offers to choose from.

The other thing to keep in mind is that with all due respect, Mr. Schwitzgebel writes this blog to try to scare people away from pursuing philosophy by making the field appear to be far more elitist and forbidding than it is. I won't psychoanalyze his reasons for this but I can assure you he is not giving you an entirely accurate picture of the PhD process. So don't lose hope!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, well GRE's are still dumb, especially if you have a degree in something like Pastoral Ministry or a related item. These sorts of degrees work more on principle than absolute facts and the GRE can't really measure your success in those sorts of things. Simply, some people are not natural test takers either and do better in the field than on test.

Anonymous said...

Eric,

I have started the application process and have noticed that some schools require one to submit a CV. Might it be advisable for me (as an undergraduate) to list the graduate coursework that I have taken and will have completed by the end of this semester? I ask this because two of the graduate courses that I'm taking are simply listed as "Topics" seminars on the transcript. I'm thinking it might be a good thing to elaborate on the content of the courses. If yes, would it also be good to detail some of the UG courses I've taken?

Also, a couple more questions about the CV. Would it be foolish to list my teaching interests as an UG? And I imagine it would make sense to list my proposed Area of Research, but isn't that accounted for in the SOP?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Yes, list the graduate courses. The other things are probably unnecessary.

Farshad said...

Dear Prof.

I am an Iranian MA graduate in philosophy. Now, I'm applying for the doctorate degree in philosophy to some U.S. universities. I just got my Gre scores: 165 in Verbal, 164 in Quantitative, and just 3 in Analytical writing! I expected 5 or at least 4. I'm thinking about requesting a review from ETS, but anyway, could you please let me know that how these scores can affect my application?

Best,
Farshad

P.S. Sorry, a couple of minutes ago, I posted the comment in a wrong place

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Those are good scores in the verbal and quantitative. Most philosophy professors I know don't take the analytical writing section seriously, so I wouldn't worry *too* much about that part.

Anonymous said...

Professor Schwitzgebel,

I am applying this fall for admission to both MA and PhD programs in philosophy. Irecently took the GR. My combined score is 311. My verbal score is 163 and my quant score is 148. The FAQ portion of UCR's site says that anything below a 310 is a strike against an applicant. That said, do think my quant score will put my application in the trash at most programs?

Also, I am an undergrad at one of the better known CUNY senior colleges. I've noticed that CUNY is highly ranked on the PGR. Will CUNY's rank help me at all in the admissions process?

Thanks,
Edmond

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Well a quant of 148 is pretty low, so those who take GRE scores seriously will see it as a strike against you. But most programs don't seem to have strict GRE requirements so it's not necessarily a defeater. Coming from CUNY is good, especially if you have a strong letter from a prominent philosopher.

Anonymous said...

Hi Prof. Schwitzgebel,

I was wondering if you might be able to say a word about how philosophy admissions committees interpret GRE scores using the *new* scoring system (between 130-170).

Perhaps I should re-frame the question. According to what I have read on your blog, my understanding is that while low GRE scores can raise doubts about an application, high GRE scores don't really count in favor of an application. So, my question then is, using the new scoring system, what counts as a "low" enough GRE score (on the new scale) for doubts to be raised in the minds of admissions committee members?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Anon Jan 26: It's hard to generalize across departments here. Over the years, as I have talked with various professors about the matter, there seems to be a wide variety of attitudes about the GRE. Here's a GRE conversion chart, from the old scoring system to the new:
http://www.happyschoolsblog.com/revised-new-gre-score-conversion-chart/

I've only been on admissions once since the conversion to the new scale, so my intuitions are all in terms of the old scores still.

Anonymous said...

I think you put it best, Professor. I myself, despite having recently taken the revised GRE, have no intuition about the new scores. So while with the previous test my aim would have been to obtain a combined score (V+Q) of 1400 or better, I'm not sure exactly what this means with the new GRE. According to the conversion table you provided, I believe I obtained the equivalent of a combined score over 1400, but I am uncertain if it means the same thing. The ETS has changed some additional features, including percentile ranks, so I'm not exactly clear what all this means.

Thanks for the link!