Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Applying to Graduate School in Philosophy

Yes, it's that time! Last year, I wrote a series of long posts on applying to Ph.D. programs in philosophy, based on my experience on admission committees at U.C. Riverside (and also to a lesser extent on my experience as an applicant and graduate student in the 1990s). Since people appear to have found it useful, I uploaded the whole series to the Underblog. There are also links to the original posts, where comments are welcome.

I have received a number of emails from people asking about their particular situations, and while I like to be helpful and I try to respond to all emails, I would encourage potential emailers to read through the posts and the comments to see if I've already addressed your type of situation. If you are in a type of situation that I have not addressed, though, I'd be happy to receive an email -- or even better hear about it in a comment, where my reply might also be useful to others.

I reiterate that these posts represent my own perspective only. Some of the things I say may be inaccurate or unrepresentative of general opinion. (And if so, I'd appreciate hearing from others who have served on admissions committees or who have recent relevant admissions experiences.) What I say is certainly not UCR policy. I won't even be on the admissions committee this year.

A few notes:

(1.) I know very little about M.A. programs, including admissions criteria, graduation rates, placement success, expectations within the programs, etc. I suspect that there's enormous diversity in these dimensions among programs.

(2.) Many students have emailed me or posted comments on applying to grad schools one, a few, or many years after graduation. I advise students to read through the comments section of Part II. There's also some further discussion in Part IV.

(3.) Another big issue is the student with the imperfect GPA or unusual institutional background. There's more discussion of this in the comments sections of several of the Parts.

(4. [update, 2:07 p.m.]) You might also want to check out the comments section on Brian Leiter's blog on the difference between U.S. and U.K. statements of purpose.


Anonymous said...

I do have a question not specifically covered in your (incredibly helpful) set of posts (thank you).

Because the expectation levels are higher at other schools to achieve the same level of academic standing at my own school, I am wondering what kind of competency level is expected of an applicant in one's field of interest. Are deficiencies much of an issue? If I have not had a full survey of my particular field of interest, but have done more in-depth analysis on certain philosophers, is that frowned upon? Or is the main qualification just being able to create sound, solid philosophical writing and show that you can read and understand philosophy and have a willingness to learn?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

That's a helpful question, anon. I'd say that it's the latter -- it doesn't matter so much what your specific training is, as long as you show a talent for philosophy in general. Now if there's a complete mismatch between your writing sample and your stated areas of interest, that might look a *little* funny, but as long as you claim the area of your sample as one of your areas of interest, even if not your main one, I think you're okay.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


the job market in philosophy is about as bad as it is in history, English, or language departments


the baby-boomer cohort in philosophy departments -- as it is in other departments -- is now either completely retired on track to do so in the next 5 years


all advice about applying to grad school can be reduced to one simple, resounding syllable -

* DON'T *

You will find not work in an academic department. You have been warned.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks, kboughan, for that sober warning. My impression of the academic job market in philosophy is that it was a disaster in the 1980s and the first half of the 1990s, that it started to recover in the second half of the 1990s and that recently it has been very much better than at any time since at least the 1970s. It's on the downswing again now in 2008-2009 (based on the just-released October issue of "Jobs for Philosophers") and I wouldn't be at all surprised if we're only seeing the beginning of the decline.

If kboughan and I are right about this, then you should be very cautious about developing expectations about your prospects on the academic job market 6-9 years from now based on departments' Ph.D. placement records from the 2000s.

Anonymous said...

So both historically and at present, the job prospects in philosophy departments are pretty much the same as in humanities departments.

So again: Just don't.

Or plan for a Masters degree, if you must satisfy some youthful (or for some, late life) intellectual urge. There are some fine Masters programs out there. (Disclosure: I teach for one. I enjoy it.)

Possible silver lining for those who have just passed comprehensive exams and are beginning to suspect that they are really screwed: I am told by intimates in the business world that a Ph. D. is an interesting and attractive credential in the corporate world. If you can show hard-core analytical skills, so much the better. You'll make three times my salary just starting out, and I'm guessing maybe twice what Eric does. So that's something.

Of course, we're all screwed to some degree if we are in the opening stages of a second great depression.

Anonymous said...

I was wondering what your impression was of applicants with a good BA outside of philosophy and a good MA within philosophy (good= well-regarded program with a good performance for GPA and the rest). Will it hurt such applicants that they don't have an UG degree in philosophy, or will a respectable MA make up for this? Will it simply vary from school to school? Will it vary depending on the tier of the program? Thanks so much.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Anon 4:48: My impression is that there's a lot of variability between schools in their perception of the value of a terminal Master's degree. Your best indication would probably be to look at the track records of comparable students applying from your Masters program. Presumably most of those students either did not major in philosophy as undergrads or did but didn't quite have the application for admission to a Ph.D. program of the quality they were aiming for (otherwise they would have gone straight into a Ph.D. program).

A look at the placement records of schools with terminal Masters might help give you a sense of what Ph.D.-granting departments tend to look favorably upon applicants from such programs.

leiarollag said...

I have a quick question. I am about to submit my application to UCR, but I cannot choose PhD as my proposed degree. I am only able to choose (1) - , (2) ND.

Do you know if this will affect my application? Can it be fixed? Or, do you know why this is?

I really appreciate all of your advice on your blog. :)