Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Bleg: Statements of Purpose / Personal Statements

I'm planning to update my series on applying to PhD programs in philosophy.  One thing I'd like to do is display some actual statements of purpose (also known as personal statements) from successful applicants, so that future applicants can see what these things really look like at full length.  Thus, I'm hoping that some readers will be willing to send me their past statements of purpose for this use.

If you're willing to help out, please email me (eschwitz at domain: ucr.edu) the following:
(1.) your statement of purpose;
(2.) the academic year in which you used it;
(3.) what schools you were admitted to (not just where you accepted but your full range of admittances);
(4.) whether you want me to list your name and link to your homepage (anonymous is fine if you prefer, but I also want to give credit where it's due).

I'll select a few statements to post on the Underblog and link to from the main blog when I update the PhD application series.  I'll aim to display a few different flavors, to give readers a sense of the range of statement types.  Selection criteria will include: recency (past 5 years preferable), success of application (elite schools nice but not necessary), and my sense of the statement's quality, representativeness, and difference from other selected statements.

Thank you for your awesomeness!


Matt DeStefano said...

As someone who is going to an MA program and will re-apply to PhD programs in the future, this is great news. Your previous advice on the application process was invaluable in knowing where to begin. Thanks!

Eddy Nahmias said...

In theory I like the idea of providing people with models of good statements, but in practice isn't there a worry that people will stop writing *personal* statements and instead just pick one of the models you provide and fill in the blanks with their information. Maybe this isn't a problem, but I sometimes feel like I can actually glean some information about the person from their personal statement, and this potential value may get lost if people use them as fill-in-the-blank CV statements. But there are also questions about whether we want them to be anything other than that...

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Interesting point, Eddy. That does seem a risk and disadvantage. There is sometimes a personal flavor in statements that is lost if the statements become boilerplate indications of areas of interest. How much merit there is in making judgments based on that perceived flavor is unclear.

I'm inclined to think that providing sample statements produces the following important advantage: It reduces the tendency of the application process to privilege people with advisors who know how to help them write a good statement over the people without such advisors and so who lapse into the kinds of problems that most first-draft statements have.

Anonymous said...

I hope you don't mind me asking about an issue you covered a while ago. Do you know anything about how Australian universities are considered by top US PhD philosophy programs? I recently graduated BA (Hons 1st Class) in Philosophy. My university is top 20 ranked by the QS World University Rankings in Philosophy.

The US GPA system treats every 1 semester course identically. At the end, 8*4= 32 courses are aggregated, divided by 32, and given a single score out of 4.0. And then, as you say, individual admissions teams will make a more nuanced assessment based on performance in senior Philosophy courses.

In the UK, it's all practice, until the last two weesk of that 3 year degree, where you sit 8 *3 hour exams, which account 100% for your single assessment - a class of Honours (1st, 2.1, 2.2 third, Pass)

Australia is mid way. Our standard BA is 3 years long, with students emerging with 3*8=24 grades for each subject of (High Distinction - 3-5%; Distinction 10-15%; Credit 30%; Pass 50%. Forget about Fails, coz they won't be one of your 24 graduating subjects). These 3 year BAs are not eligible to apply for graduate research degrees, such as a PhD.

So, about 10% (?) of Australian BAs, take an additional single 'honours year in one subject only - say Philosophy, - which requires 3-4 graduate level seminars (typically assessed by 6-8,000 words of essay per seminar course. Each course is worth 15/20% of the final honours mark (ie 60/100)

But the big part is the Honours thesis: a 15,000 word thesis, worth about 40%.

At the end of that Honours year, all the marks are added, and each student is awarded a class just like the UK system, except it based totally on our 4th year Honours performance.

We all know this in advance, and many slacken off in their first 3 BA years, before getting serious for the Honours year.

My case is of the latter: My performance in the first 3 year BA was Credits, Distinctions, and 2 High Distinctions. In my 4th year, I got 89 - the cut off for a 1st Class is 80 - as I said, like the UK, we get one single classing (buy also the the actual total/100).

Have I totally ruined my chances by taking the completely Australia attitude of partying in the first 3 years, but meeting my potential (and more) when it mattered?

Are US adcoms familiar with these slight different cultural difference?

Thanking you in advance

Laura Grams said...

I teach a number of undergrads who are interested in applying to philosophy grad school someday, and I'd love to see samples of good personal statements just so that I can better advise students on their drafts. Thank you for doing that!

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Anon: People on admissions committees will have varying attitudes toward and knowledge about foreign schools and foreign academic cultures, so it's hard to generalize. Letters will make a big difference in how these files are interpreted. If one of your letter writers is patient enough to explain how the system works in a way that casts your performance as unusually good, by some quantitative measure, that will influence the committee's perceptions.

SG said...

I feel like applicants should tailor each personal statement to the particular program - to tell them why they are a specially good fit and how the program fits their research interests. Or, at least thats what I did and I was pretty successful this admissions cycle.

Anonymous said...

I stumbled across your site while stumbling through the application process for a PhD in Philosophy. Your information is invalualbe, although I am not reconsidering my decision to apply. My concern is the recommendations and the writing sample. I have been out of school for over 7 years and have lost touch with most of the professors. I have a law degree and a masters decree, but I would only be able to get recommendations from one law professor and then from professional contacts.
As for the writing sample, I do not have a 'philosophy' writing sample per se that is 25 pages. I have a law paper that was close to that length, but not sure it qualifies. my Masters GPA was 3.9 and my law GPA was a 3.24 (1/1000 away from Magna Cum Laude). I am happy I found your site, but concerned that I need to put away this desire to pursue the PhD.
THank you so much.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

@ Anon Apr 20: It's hard for me to know. One thing that sometimes works, if you live near a school with a PhD program in philosophy, is to see if you can convince a professor to let you audit (or even take) a graduate level philosophy course. The answer might well be know. But if you can get your foot in the door with a "yes", then work your butt off to be one of the top students in the class! 2 or 3 performances like that can work as a good stepping-stone.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the helpful material. Are there any good examples of writing samples?

Anonymous said...

Hi Dr. Schwitzgebel, thanks so much for this guide. I applied last year, and all of my top choices rejected me. Last year I was very high on the waitlist at one mid-range program, and they said it was very likely that I would be admitted. However, I decided to withdraw from that waitlist so that I could try one more time to get into my top few choices.

I do like the program that almost accepted me, so I am applying there again. I am not sure whether I should mention that I was on their waitlist last year; I thought that it might be helpful to signal that a previous committee thought I was a strong candidate, but on the other hand, I am worried that they will interpret it as evidence that I'm not very interested in the program. Do you have any idea how I should weigh those risks? N.B. I feel fairly good about my chances of getting in again, so I am inclined to be risk-averse. Thank you.