Graduate School Advice for Philosophy Majors
These reminders are for Philosophy majors (and any other majors) who intend to go on to graduate school in Philosophy. It is directed mostly to students in their last Fall semester who intend to begin graduate school a year hence.
For almost all graduate programs, you will need to prepare for and take the Graduate Record Exam, preferably in your last Fall semester. GRE information is online at www.gre.org.
Some Details: The general test (writing, verbal, and quantitative) costs $130.oo. If your financial aid includes awards based on low income, a fee waiver may be available–check with your financial aide counselor. Old test prep materials speak of a paper version, but that has been discontinued in the US. The HSU Testing Center administers the exam on computer in the SBSS building on campus. Ideally you will take the test in November before you graduate the next May. The handwritten Writing Assessment is also discontinued. You have to use ETS's wordprocessor, and you should orient yourself to it ahead of time. Subject tests are not commonly required and cost $130.oo. The Writing Assessment involves two essays, both geared toward argumentative writing or analysis of arguments, and needs to be prepared carefully. ETS provides a complete list of the topics for the writing tests on its website. Your critical thinking course and your introduction to logic course are good preparation for this section of the test. There is a strict refund policy spelled out on their website. If you want more than four graduate programs to receive your scores, each additional report will cost you $13.oo. Grad school deadlines are creeping earlier, toward December, with most in January and some in February, though a few are still in March or later. You will miss many application deadlines if you postpone the GRE past December.
Test prep programs and practice taking the test have been shown to increase scores. There is no correlation between the price of the prep program and the amount of score increase. Working through practice exams provided free by ETS will help. Written test prep manuals from ARCO publishing or from The Princeton Review (not a part of Princeton University) are comparatively cheap and recent (which means published since the test format changed to include the analytical writing section in October of 2002) copies can be found in used bookstores. The Princeton Review manuals are usually entitled Cracking the GRE or Cracking the System.
A major overhaul of the GRE with new formats and forms is scheduled for implementation in Fall of 2007.
Try to decide what areas of interest you wish to pursue in graduate school. This may feel premature to you; it may in fact be premature. But it will still be helpful if you can articulate your interests as much as possible. This may be helped by discussions with your profs and by exploring ideas about where you might want to go. There are three references which might help.
Look at the American Philosophical Association's A Guide to Graduate Programs in Philosophy, online at www.apaonline.org to determine which schools might fit your interests. (Note that going through the APA's home page to the Guide will work only if you have member's username and password--this link, however, takes you directly to the Guide, at least for now. Copies of previous print editions (which are no longer being published) of this publication are in our Department office and may be checked out. The online guide is not well set up for skimming. You will need to set aside some time to look through it, going back and forth from the list to the particulars about the programs. Most departments have links to their websites under "Contact Information," but departmental websites do not usually include information about how many applicants and how many admissions the department has had, how much financial support was given to how many grad students, and so on. Faster comparisons among highly rated programs can be made using the website below for The Philosophical Gourmet.
The Review of Metaphysics (in the library at B1 .r34)annually issues statistics on enrollments and a list of the dissertation titles of new Ph.D.'s in philosophy, grouped by program and with the name of the faculty advisor for each dissertation–looking at the last few years will show a great deal about how active the program is and in what specialties.
The Philosophical Gourmet Report evaluates graduate programs, with perhaps some biases in favor of analytic philosophy and perhaps some prejudice against continental philosophy. Its website is at www.philosophicalgourmet.com. Major updates are generally done each September or October, with periodic smaller revisions during the year. The author is Brian Leiter of the University of Texas at Austin, with a formidable board of advisors. One section of the site ranks top programs by specialty. That section lists 29 specialties, including, for example, Philosophy of Science, Ancient Greek Philosophy, Feminist Philosophy, Chinese Philosophy, Philosophy of India, and Contemporary Continental Philosophy. If you are interested in studying with particular philosophers, check his material on retirements and recent faculty moves from one program to another. If you cannot decide what areas you want to pursue, consider applying to large programs in which you will have several choices.
With the demise of the APA's paper guide to graduate programs, The Philosophical Gourmet is the discipline's best resource for beginning your research to choose places to apply. Once you have an interest in a program, the APA's Online Guide can tell you essential information about your odds of getting accepted, what financial support you may find, which faculty are working in which areas. There are disagreements in the discipline about the accuracy of the Philosophical Gourmet's rankings. Talk to us about particular areas of interest.
You can do different levels of research on programs beyond The APA Guide to Graduate Programs and The Philosophical Gourmet, from Website reviews to looking up articles and books written by faculty, to going to visit. One way to begin all this is to find a working philosopher in whom you are interested and contact that person directly about graduate work--ask where she or he would recommend you look. It is possible to go to the wrong place (and we have had graduates who chose badly); some research is highly recommended.
Select three Philosophy profs for whom you have done the most and best work while here at HSU. Meet with them to discuss whether they are willing to write a letter for you. Also, discuss your selections for graduate schools. Ask their opinions about which of your papers is most suitable for your writing sample; draft and get feedback on your personal statement of goals. They can write a stronger letter if you supply them with an informal written summary of what you have done while enrolled here–papers you wrote for them, what you are proud of, evidence you will do well and will stick through to the end.
Write off for application packets and additional information about your selected schools. Make a note of application deadlines where you will see or remember them. If you are applying for financial assistance, that may require an earlier deadline (check their web pages). Check whether any of our former majors are at any of the schools and contact them.
Be realistic about where you apply. Make sure you apply to some places likely to accept you. Discuss what is realistic with your profs. On the other hand, do consider applying to one or a couple of places of exceptional interest to you even if you think your odds are not great. The worst that can happen is that they turn you down and you've spent the application fee on daydreams, --and you might get in. Different schools, and different faculty admission committees at those schools, will weigh grades, GRE scores, writing samples, an HSU degree, particular strengths, and letters of reference differently. Enthusiastic letters and an interesting, smart writing sample may get you in though your grades and scores are not as high as some others admitted into the same programs.
You will need to give your chosen profs enough time to write their letters before deadlines for each school. This means you should request letters, in most cases, early in December. Check again (and then again, in some cases) to be sure they get mailed.
"Should I apply directly to a Ph.D. program or to a Masters program first?"
It depends, and it may be that you should consider both options. There are at least two arguments for applying directly to a Ph.D. program: (1) This department has had considerable success in placing our students into well-regarded Ph.D programs; (2) Applying directly to a Ph.D. program, if you are admitted, will usually get you the Ph.D. degree faster. On the other hand, there are advantages to applying to Masters programs at schools that also have Ph.D programs, namely that (a) it is generally easier to get into a Masters program, and (b) many such schools will offer to move you from the Masters to the Ph.D program after the first year or two years if you do well. There are also advantages to applying to programs that offer only Masters degrees (called a terminal Master's), most importantly that you will be in classes with students whose background and extent of knowledge are more similar to your own, avoiding possible intimidation by mouthy Ph.D. students in their third or fourth years. (That is, some students find the terminal Master's environment more nurturing and conducive to learning).
(It may be possible to piece together applications later, depending on the particular schools.)(It may be possible to piece together applications later, depending on the particular schools.)
- During September and October: start looking over programs, request materials, do research.
- Mid-September to Mid-November: arrange to take the GRE and work through practice tests and test preparation materials; by the time you take the GRE, decide to whom you will apply so you can have scores sent. (You can pay for more score reports later.)
- November: confer with faculty who will write letters for you. Draft and revise a personal statement and a writing sample. Provide faculty with written reminders about your interests and accomplishments, especially in their courses. Send in applications this month or next.
- December. Have all applications in. Check that letters from faculty got mailed.
Other questions to consider: Should you go to grad school? Several factors are relevant: do you want to? Have you done well here? Are you good at finishing what you start? Interestingly, some things may not be as relevant as you think; the financial costs of graduate school are usually subsidized by Ph.D. programs who give their graduate students waivers of fees and a stipend for working as a teaching assistant. The amount of subsidy varies; see the APA Guide for more information about particular programs. Our recent graduates working toward the Ph.D. are typically getting enough that they do not quite have to take a vow of poverty.
Will you find a job? The job market for people with new Ph.D.s is allegedly getting better, but we have been told this for some time. The number of openings advertised in the fall has been going up some over the last three years. It is hard to assess the claim that the job market is going to get much better until trends become more clear. There are some reasons to suppose things may improve. Universities expanded significantly when the Boomers hit college in the late 60's and the 70's, and many of those professors are retiring now or are nearing retirement. Further, a few programs are expanding as the Boomers' kids swell college enrollments. The Chronicle of Higher Education has reported on an increase in hiring in languages and literature, and in math. Some of this same increase is likely to occur in philosophy, tempered by changes in General Education requirements and budget cuts in state systems and private schools.
Fall 06 (drafted by John Powell and Jim Derden, with many helpful comments by other faculty)