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Applying to Graduate School in Philosophy

Many Wesleyan undergraduates have gone on to pursue careers in philosophy and related fields.  For those considering advancing to graduate school in philosophy, completing the major is a solid but not sufficient foundation.  Interested students should consult with an advisor -- the earlier the better -- about how best to prepare for further work in the discipline and attend the department's meeting for prospective applicants around the middle of the fall semester each year.  In addition to helping to sort through the decision itself, faculty can provide advice about which courses are likely to serve as foundations in graduate work, and how students might best develop a multi-semester working relationship with a faculty mentor who might advise a senior thesis project (optional) and/or write strong letters of recommendation.

A strong graduate school application should demonstrate breadth and depth in the study of philosophy.  Fulfilling the department's major requirements will typically enable students to demonstrate their familiarity with a variety of philosophical traditions and fields.  However, given that the practice of philosophy in most professional programs today requires some familiarity with the style and methods of the analytic tradition, students planning on graduate study would be well-advised to take courses in the department that acquaint them with the arguments and technical vocabulary of analytic philosophy.

A typical graduate school application consists of the following:

  • coursework and grades in philosophy
  • GREs (not always required)
  • letters of recommendation (typically 3)
  • personal statement
  • writing sample

The most important of these components -- particularly at the later stages of the evaluation process -- is your writing sample, which should reflect your best philosophical work.  Letters of recommendation should be sought primarily from faculty in the philosophy department or in cognate fields who are acquainted well enough with your work to provide an assessment of your ability to succeed in graduate school.

Those students arriving late to the study of philosophy who are nevertheless interested in applying to graduate school may consider pursuing a terminal MA in philosophy or (in the U.K.) a BPhil before applying to a doctoral program.

Students are well-advised not to take out substantial loans to fund a PhD in philosophy.  Most doctoral programs and some terminal MA programs offer financial aid packages, which usually take the form of fellowships or TAships (or a combination of both).