The Package

Here we discuss various aspects of the application package. Note that every school, every program, every professor is different regarding what they see makes a successful candidate. It is not only unfeasible, but probably also unethical, for us to provide a “guide” on how an application package should be put together. Nevertheless, there are tips that we can give — that some people receive routinely from their philosophical educations — that can help with your preparation.

We cover the following topics

  • Personal statement — why do people want to know you? What do they want to know?
  • Writing sample — how to write like a philosopher without hating yourself while doing so
  • Reference letters — how to ask for them and who to ask
  • GPA and GRE — are they interchangeable?
  • Fees — just how expensive are applications? Plus resources that can help you with them.

We are asking professors who’ve served on admission committees (i.e. the people who decide who gets admitted) to answer this questionnaire. Raw answers are currently posted under the respective themes. Once we have more responses, I will write something like a summary.

Responses from survey

In our survey to faculty members, we asked the following question:

What would inspire your confidence in an applicant with non-philosophy background?

  • Strong performance in courses close to philosophy (in linguistics, classics, psychology, and other neighbouring disciplines); a very strong PHL writing sample.
  • Evidence that the applicant can handle philosophy–perhaps that they have taken some courses, have a writing sample on a philosophical topic (done well), have recommendations from philosophers, etc. I would be very nervous about selecting a candidate with a non-philosophy background who has done none of this, as there would be no evidence they could be successful in (or would even want to pursue) philosophy.
  • Again, a well researched, well structured and well written project or letter of purpose, but also evidence that she has been proactive in her interest in academic philosophy, i.e., if she has attended specialized conferences, taken extracurricular courses in the area, etc.
  • Hm. If she has not taken any philosophy courses, she shouldn’t be applying for graduate work. Even if she just wants to do logic and has an extensive background in mathematics.
  • Strong grades (though not necessarily uniformly so), a good writing sample, a coherent personal statement.
  • That they have a genuine understanding of what Philosophy involves. There are a lot of misunderstandings in terms of what applicants take to be ‘philosophy’ and what our department can teach. We don’t do Zizek or Foucault (or lots of other people). Not because they are somehow unworthy, but because those thinkers are studied elsewhere in the University. Show us that you want a Philosophy degree, not Communications or Poli Sci or Literature. We also think that people who are great at writing tend to be great at also writing philosophy, once they get there. A good writing sample that is clearly well-written, even though it is not straightforwardly philosophical, with a brief note of explication (even in the Statement of Interest) is very helpful.
  • A strong writing sample. A research statement which shows that the applicant has some developing knowledge of the area. Evidence of effort to connect with philosophy.
  • A satisfactory exculpation, good GRE scores, letters from trusted faculty, and an exquisite writing sample