applying to the graduate program

Standard requirements for admission are an undergraduate degree with a major or minor concentration in philosophy, a strong academic record, particularly in philosophy courses, and a good performance on the Graduate Record Examinations. In addition to the items the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences requires for a complete application - GRE scores, transcripts (for your convenience an unofficial transcript can be uploaded as part of your application although an official transcript will be required if you are accepted into the program), statement of purpose, and application fee - we ask you to include with your application three rather than two letters of recommendation (to be submitted electronically through the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences online application system); letters from philosophers who have taught you will carry more weight than those from people outside the discipline. We also ask you to upload a sample of your philosophical writing. We urge you to choose a paper or part of a paper or thesis that shows you as a philosopher and as a potential graduate student to your best advantage; a focused paper displaying your philosophical understanding, reasoning, and argumentative skills would be a good choice for this purpose. The length of the paper is your choice, but we suggest a maximum of 5000 words.

Your application must be received by January 15, 2014 in order for you to be considered for admission for the academic year 2014-2015. (N.B. This deadline allows applicants to include fall grades. No applications will be accepted after the deadline, so make sure that all of your application materials are uploaded by 11:59 p.m. on January 15th.)

Specific questions about admission to the graduate program in philosophy should be sent to Paul Humphreys. (But please check the Frequently Asked Questions section of this page before doing so.)

You must apply online; the application can be found here.  You will need to register for an account, fill out the application, and submit it electronically.  All materials should be submitted electronically, including the writing sample, which can be uploaded into the Image Now system.  

You should also read the Graduate Admissions Catalog, which is available on the Admissons webpage.


Some Frequently Asked Questions

What are the most important considerations in making admission decisions?

We do not attach decisive importance to any one factor but instead weigh all five sources of information that are required for the application: the writing sample, letters of recommendation, GRE scores, grades in courses (particularly grades in philosophy courses), and statement of purpose. A weakness in one area can be counter-balanced by strength in another: modest GRE scores can be made up for by a fine piece of writing, an ill-chosen writing sample by strong letters and GRE scores or grades. We are trying to form an estimate of how you will do in a demanding graduate philosophy program, and we look at all the evidence available. We are also looking for evidence that you have a deep and genuine interest in doing philosophy; you are unlikely to have the motivation and commitment to carry you through the difficulties of pursuing a philosophical career unless you have such an interest.

What GRE scores and grade point averages are you looking for, and what is your acceptance rate?

In recent years, the average GRE percentiles (not raw scores) and GPA's of those offered admission have been as follows: verbal GRE, 93.5; quantitative GRE, 71.1; analytic GRE, 83.0; undergraduate GPA, 3.81. The program is highly selective in terms of its applicant to acceptance ratio. All offers of admission come with full financial support consisting of tuition remission, health insurance, and a stipend unless the applicant can provide evidence of sufficient external support to complete the Ph.D. degree.

Do you favor applicants with an M.A. degree over those with only a B.A.?

No. We are looking for philosophical talent and that can be evidenced in a wide variety of ways. In the last decade we have admitted students from many different types of backgrounds--from prominent research universities to small liberal arts colleges with small philosophy faculties. Our admissions committee takes into account differences in educational preparation and is looking for both demonstrated achievement and future promise.

Should I apply for the M.A. Program or the Ph.D Program?

Aside from our J.D./M.A. program, we do not have a terminal M.A. program. Ph.D. students normally get an M.A. along the way to a Ph.D., although some students, if their performance falls below expectations, are not allowed to continue past the M.A. You should not apply to our Ph.D. program if your intention is to transfer to another program after receiving the M.A.

English is not my native language. What TOEFL score is required?

The University requires a minimum TOEFL score of 600. In philosophy, perhaps more than in some other subjects, it is necessary to have a mastery of English in order to participate intelligently in seminar discussions, write good papers, and lead discussion sections and grade papers as a Teaching Assistant. Even if you want to specialize in a technical subject like logic, it is necessary to do much work in areas that will require an understanding of the subtleties of the English language. For these reasons, we would like to see a higher score than the minimum and will in no case recommend admission for anyone who scores below 600. We do understand, however, that applicants for whom English is a foreign language cannot be expected to do as well on the verbal part of the GRE test as native speakers do. Indeed, we understand that international students, whether English-speaking or not, who are unused to standardized tests like the GRE's and have not been coached in strategies for taking them as have many American students, cannot be expected to do as well on them as some American students do. We make the appropriate allowances for this.

What is the timetable for admissions decisions?

Usually by March 1 offers of admission have gone out to the top applicants. Around the same time notification will be sent to those on the waiting list and those to whom offers will not be made. This timetable is not rigid and depends in part upon the number of applications received. A candidate nominated for a Jefferson Fellowship will be notified by mid-February and should expect to attend an on-Grounds interview weekend in late February. Between March 1 and April 15, the situation is fluid. Across the country, the strongest applicants, at least as perceived by philosophy departments, will have received a number of offers from which they must choose. There is a national deadline of April 15 for offers to be accepted and as that date approaches offers are accepted or declined, at which point further offers are made using the waiting list. If you are on the waiting list, keep the Graduate Admissions Director informed of your interest or change of situation, preferably by e-mail, but please be patient. Often there is no movement on the waiting list until close to April 15. If you receive an offer from us, although we understand that many of you have choices, it is a disservice to those on the waiting list to hold on to an offer that you do not intend to accept.

Can visits to the University be arranged?

Applicants who have been accepted in the first round of admissions offers are invited to come to the University for a weekend in March to meet faculty, already enrolled graduate students, and other admitted applicants. At present, we can subsidize travel expenses of most of the top applicants up to $500. Any applicant is welcome to visit the department at any time on his or her own and will usually be able to talk to the admissions director, other faculty members, and graduate students, as well as see the facilities of the department and the University. It is best to advise the admissions director in advance of such a visit.

How long does it take to get a Ph.D.?

The program can in principle be completed in four years, and some students have managed this. But we consider five years to be standard: any student good enough to be admitted should be capable of completing the program in five years of full-time work. (Obviously, leaves of absence or other special circumstances could extend the number of calendar years it takes to get the degree.) Beyond five years, there is no presumption of eligibility for financial aid. Students with an M.A. in philosophy from another institution are expected to complete the requirements and finish the program one year earlier than those who enter without an M.A.

What help is given to graduates and graduate students seeking teaching jobs?

The department has a Placement Director and Placement Committee to assist graduates in finding academic employment. Placement services include departmental compilation and mailing of student dossiers, committee review of dossiers and letters of recommendation, regular advising and placement meetings to prepare prospective job candidates, departmental representation at major philosophical conventions, mock job interviews, and financial assistance to help defray the costs of job-hunting and presenting papers at conferences. Graduate students also receive assistance in the preparation of papers for presentation and publication.

Graduate teaching is taken very seriously in the department, and almost all graduate students will either serve as teaching assistants, teach small courses of their own design, or both during their time in the program. Teaching assistants serve as discussion leaders and graders for sections of (primarily introductory) lecture courses. Graduate students may also submit to the faculty proposals for teaching small courses of their own design, either during the normal academic year or the summer. This way of acquiring pedagogical experience has proven to be a significant advantage for our job seekers.

What is your record in placing graduates with Ph.D.'s in teaching jobs?

We believe that the success of our graduates in finding academic positions reflects the excellent philosophical preparation they receive in our Ph.D. program. Objective data about the placement performance of philosophy programs is available at Philosophy News. We believe that this data is a more reliable predictor of how well a program will prepare a philosopher for an academic career than are rankings based on subjective opinions of the perceived quality of a Ph.D. program.

Click here to see our placement record since 1994.

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