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cheesy_cheese

Likelihood of Getting into a PhD Program

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Hi all.

I graduated in August 2019 with a BA in philosophy (GPA 3.85, major GPA 3.87) from a top public college in NYC, as Magna Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa, and Phi Sigma Tau --in all of these instances of receiving honors, my university's philosophy department nominated me. I have applied to 16 PhD programs. I have a stellar/very original/extremely polished writing sample comparing Spinoza and Heidegger, using the latter to interpret the former, and asserting that the former interprets the latter. My GRE scores were 149 Q 152 V and 5.5 AW (the particularly less desirable GRE, can be implicitly explained in my statement of purpose, whereby I explain the fact that I had little to no real education until I was 17 and entered into university, where, I only took 1 math course). My letter writers all know me very well, like me a lot and one of them even teaches at a school I have applied to and is the chair of the department of my undergrad university (so, he is somewhat well-known). My top choices are Columbia, NYU and the CUNY Grad Center because they are close to home.

Now, I have been rejected so far by 5 programs. What is the likelihood that I will actually get in somewhere given what I am bringing to the table?

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It's probably a matter of fit more than anything else. Columbia/NYU/CUNY probably wouldn't have a lot of resources to offer someone interested in Spinoza/Heidegger (if your sample aligns with your interests), so it would be unlikely for them to go for that kind of applicant over someone whose interests they are better equipped to support.

Also, you're competing in a pool where almost everyone was a standout student in their undergraduate programs, so keep that in mind when thinking of what your application looks like relative to others. Even if you have a stellar sample and are a perfect fit for a program, that doesn't guarantee anything, because five more applicants are just as well-prepared and well-fitting as you are. People think admissions is a meritocracy, but it just isn't, there's too many other factors affecting how decisions get made. It's a cruel game.

I am sorry for being harsh. It's just that no one's odds are very good and that having a strong application doesn't always match up with who does or doesn't get admitted.

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18 minutes ago, Olórin said:

It's probably a matter of fit more than anything else. Columbia/NYU/CUNY probably wouldn't have a lot of resources to offer someone interested in Spinoza/Heidegger (if your sample aligns with your interests), so it would be unlikely for them to go for that kind of applicant over someone whose interests they are better equipped to support.

Also, you're competing in a pool where almost everyone was a standout student in their undergraduate programs, so keep that in mind when thinking of what your application looks like relative to others. Even if you have a stellar sample and are a perfect fit for a program, that doesn't guarantee anything, because five more applicants are just as well-prepared and well-fitting as you are. People think admissions is a meritocracy, but it just isn't, there's too many other factors affecting how decisions get made. It's a cruel game.

I am sorry for being harsh. It's just that no one's odds are very good and that having a strong application doesn't always match up with who does or doesn't get admitted.

Actually, while you are right about CUNY, you're not right about Columbia and NYU, but I do see your point. Where I have thus far been rejected has either just had Spinoza people or just had Heidegger people. Columbia and NYU have both, and in a sense, makes these schools actually a perfect fit for me. My concern is more-so with my GRE, actually. It'd be a shame for them to overlook all of my other credentials due to a stupid score --especially considering I couldn't really afford test prep, only took 1 math course in college, and I was a fuck-up in high school and went to poorly funded/criminally dangerous schools my whole life up until college (the poorly-funded/criminally dangerous aspect was something I mention in my statement of purpose. 

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So wait, you argue that Spinoza interprets Heidegger?

Anyway, I'll be frank. Your GRE scores aren't good. It's hard to see how they could be explained away by your having an underprivileged childhood, given that that apparently didn't prevent you from doing very well in college. If you don't get in this year, you should devote considerable attention to studying for the GRE with a view towards re-applying. 

Have a look at the results page, and see who posts GRE scores along with their acceptances to ranked programs - you'll find that you really want to aim for about 165/165. Sounds daunting, but it's doable.

Edited by Coconuts&Chloroform

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38 minutes ago, cheesy_cheese said:

Actually, while you are right about CUNY, you're not right about Columbia and NYU, but I do see your point. Where I have thus far been rejected has either just had Spinoza people or just had Heidegger people. Columbia and NYU have both, and in a sense, makes these schools actually a perfect fit for me. My concern is more-so with my GRE, actually. It'd be a shame for them to overlook all of my other credentials due to a stupid score --especially considering I couldn't really afford test prep, only took 1 math course in college, and I was a fuck-up in high school and went to poorly funded/criminally dangerous schools my whole life up until college (the poorly-funded/criminally dangerous aspect was something I mention in my statement of purpose. 

Even if a school has people in your concentration, it might not consider you a good fit. Columbia has a large enough continental contingent, but NYU is very analytical (in addition to being a top-3 program). Unless you demonstrate a solid training in analytical philosophy, you are unlikely to get in (this may even be true for Columbia). I'd imagine you get in somewhere with those grades, solid recommendations and a stellar writing sample, but your lack of analytical background (assuming that your sample is a good gauge of your background) and low GRE scores might shut you out of top programs. The low GRE scores are especially going to be a problem at public universities, where they are often unable to secure funding for applicants below a certain GRE cutoff.

Have hope though! None of us here know enough about your application to be able to say anything definitively. At worst, you may have to do an MA to prove that your grades are not a fluke (which is what the GRE is supposed to do) and that you have an adequate analytical background.

Edited by PolPhil

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56 minutes ago, cheesy_cheese said:

Actually, while you are right about CUNY, you're not right about Columbia and NYU, but I do see your point. Where I have thus far been rejected has either just had Spinoza people or just had Heidegger people. Columbia and NYU have both, and in a sense, makes these schools actually a perfect fit for me. My concern is more-so with my GRE, actually. It'd be a shame for them to overlook all of my other credentials due to a stupid score --especially considering I couldn't really afford test prep, only took 1 math course in college, and I was a fuck-up in high school and went to poorly funded/criminally dangerous schools my whole life up until college (the poorly-funded/criminally dangerous aspect was something I mention in my statement of purpose. 

I am second to Olórin. No one can know the likehood of getting into a PhD program in philosophy based on such an information you provided, because applicants are evaluated mostly by letters and writing sample. And as far as I know, no top program cuts off applicants just based on their GRE. Admission committee are not stupid and they are fully aware that GRE doesn't really show the intelligence of applicants. Letters of recommendation and writing sample are two most important factors in getting admission, and then GPA.

Assuming that your writing sample is really good as you described, it may be that the topic you picked out is not very good for the writing sample. Even if programs like Columbia and NYU have philosophers working on those areas, it is very likely that your writing sample would be read by someone who doesn't know anything about Heidegger and Spinoza. And those are not so favored figures in the analytic tradition, even for the programs like Columbia.  

Edited by exaznable

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1 hour ago, cheesy_cheese said:

Hi all.

I graduated in August 2019 with a BA in philosophy (GPA 3.85, major GPA 3.87) from a top public college in NYC, as Magna Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa, and Phi Sigma Tau --in all of these instances of receiving honors, my university's philosophy department nominated me. I have applied to 16 PhD programs. I have a stellar/very original/extremely polished writing sample comparing Spinoza and Heidegger, using the latter to interpret the former, and asserting that the former interprets the latter. My GRE scores were 149 Q 152 V and 5.5 AW (the particularly less desirable GRE, can be implicitly explained in my statement of purpose, whereby I explain the fact that I had little to no real education until I was 17 and entered into university, where, I only took 1 math course). My letter writers all know me very well, like me a lot and one of them even teaches at a school I have applied to and is the chair of the department of my undergrad university (so, he is somewhat well-known). My top choices are Columbia, NYU and the CUNY Grad Center because they are close to home.

Now, I have been rejected so far by 5 programs. What is the likelihood that I will actually get in somewhere given what I am bringing to the table?

There are nearly innumerable factors outside of those you list that could influence the decisions of admissions committees: your knowledge of relevant languages, your teaching experiences, how you come across personality-wise in your statement, the degree to which you engage with contemporary secondary literature in your sample, whether you've completed graduate coursework, what professional engagement you've done, your other original research, how you come across personality-wise in the rec letters, how networked you are, how networked your letter writers are, whether the program already has grad students working in your AOI and how many, whether someone you want to work with might be close to retiring.... you get the idea.

I think there is absolutely no way that any of us can accurately predict how this might go for you, and there is also no way that any of us can reliably tell you what reason there may be for your rejections thus far. 

50 minutes ago, cheesy_cheese said:

Actually, while you are right about CUNY, you're not right about Columbia and NYU, but I do see your point. Where I have thus far been rejected has either just had Spinoza people or just had Heidegger people. Columbia and NYU have both, and in a sense, makes these schools actually a perfect fit for me. My concern is more-so with my GRE, actually. It'd be a shame for them to overlook all of my other credentials due to a stupid score --especially considering I couldn't really afford test prep, only took 1 math course in college, and I was a fuck-up in high school and went to poorly funded/criminally dangerous schools my whole life up until college (the poorly-funded/criminally dangerous aspect was something I mention in my statement of purpose. 

But, re: the fit thing... you don't have any way of knowing whether they want to admit someone to work on Spinoza and Heidegger this year, even if they do have all those specialists. It's depressing, sure, but there's no such thing as a perfect fit. What if there was just one other applicant with the same interests as you and they just happened to be above-and-beyond in some way that you're not? - completely out of your control, but if the department was only making one offer to someone with that AOI this year, that person would be the perfect fit.

I know it's a cliche line from the rec letters I've gotten myself, but there really might simply have been exceptionally high competition at some programs this year.

The same point, I think, applies to the GRE. I think it is reasonable to assume that there are other applicants who also couldn't afford test prep and only took one math course and had a poor educational background prior to college, and it is probably also reasonable to assume that at lease some of those other applicants scored higher than you. This is not to say that you did horribly, or even that the GRE matters all that much. I just am pointing out that there is way too much unknown about the competition, and that, I think, should give us pause when we start to blame any one factor on perceived lack of success, or make predictions.

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21 minutes ago, Glasperlenspieler said:

I wish I could speak this confidently about articles I've published in high quality journals.

This is not my opinion: its what all my advisors and many professors from schools I am applying to who are experts on the topic I have written about have said about it. Perhaps in different phrasing, but still. 

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13 minutes ago, cheesy_cheese said:

This is not my opinion: its what all my advisors and many professors from schools I am applying to who are experts on the topic I have written about have said about it. Perhaps in different phrasing, but still. 

There are a lot of good articles in good journals out there. Philosophy academia is not as predictable or rational of a process as we applicants would like to hope

 

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Honestly, I think the information I'd most need to wager whether or not you'll get into a program this year would be to know some of the other places you're still waiting to hear from. A person with stellar GRE scores, letters of rec, experience in publishing/languages, SoP, and writing sample still can't bank on NYU or Columbia—the pools are so cut-throat, I'd imagine it comes down to which faculty are making bids on students in their areas of specialization, etc. If you applied to just the top 10 PGR schools, for example, I'd chance you low because I'd chance anybody low if they did that. If you found less highly ranked/unranked faculties with Heidegger/Spinoza interests and were clear in your SoP about which of their ideas/papers you're interested in, I think there's a very fair chance one of those schools would be interested, GRE scores be damned.

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30 minutes ago, cheesy_cheese said:

This is not my opinion: its what all my advisors and many professors from schools I am applying to who are experts on the topic I have written about have said about it. Perhaps in different phrasing, but still. 

If you continue in academia you will quickly learn to take the accolades of your teachers with a grain of salt, especially your undergraduate professors.

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1 hour ago, Coconuts&Chloroform said:

So wait, you argue that Spinoza interprets Heidegger?

Anyway, I'll be frank. Your GRE scores aren't good. It's hard to see how they could be explained away by your having an underprivileged childhood, given that that apparently didn't prevent you from doing very well in college. If you don't get in this year, you should devote considerable attention to studying for the GRE with a view towards re-applying. 

Have a look at the results page, and see who posts GRE scores along with their acceptances to ranked programs - you'll find that you really want to aim for about 165/165. Sounds daunting, but it's doable.

 

 

Edited by cheesy_cheese

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4 hours ago, cheesy_cheese said:

Hi all.

I graduated in August 2019 with a BA in philosophy (GPA 3.85, major GPA 3.87) from a top public college in NYC, as Magna Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa, and Phi Sigma Tau --in all of these instances of receiving honors, my university's philosophy department nominated me. I have applied to 16 PhD programs. I have a stellar/very original/extremely polished writing sample comparing Spinoza and Heidegger, using the latter to interpret the former, and asserting that the former interprets the latter. My GRE scores were 149 Q 152 V and 5.5 AW (the particularly less desirable GRE, can be implicitly explained in my statement of purpose, whereby I explain the fact that I had little to no real education until I was 17 and entered into university, where, I only took 1 math course). My letter writers all know me very well, like me a lot and one of them even teaches at a school I have applied to and is the chair of the department of my undergrad university (so, he is somewhat well-known). My top choices are Columbia, NYU and the CUNY Grad Center because they are close to home.

Now, I have been rejected so far by 5 programs. What is the likelihood that I will actually get in somewhere given what I am bringing to the table?

Hi Cheesy_cheese,

A few things I'd like to echo from previous comments:

  1. Your application as you've described is not noteworthy with respect to GPA and honours. As is often repeated on this board, people with higher GPAs and more distinguished awards will be rejected and people with lower GPAs and no awards will be admitted to the schools you've applied to. These are not predictors of success, though a deeply low GPA could be a defeater (a good discussion of this is found on Eric Schwitzgebel's blog The Splintered Mind, both in the body and comments--https://schwitzsplinters.blogspot.com/2019/06/applying-to-phd-programs-in-philosophy.html).
     
  2. What I've said with GPA and honours is similar to the received wisdom on GRE scores. To my understanding (from faculty posts on DailyNous, Leiter's blog, and Schwitzgebel's blog), GRE scores play a wide ranging role across the discipline. They may be ignored, or may be a determining factor for one or a few of the people on the admissions committee the year you've applied. You can't really know expect for the cases where the department refuses to accept scores (the best case scenario!). If you take a look through the results pages for the schools you've applied to, you'll get some sense of the scores being admitted and rejected and might notice a few trends (these trends are compiled somewhat here: https://imgur.com/a/ihoGS, but, of course, the sample on GradCafe isn't a good one).

    The mean admitted scores will vary, but some departments will tell you what they are if you ask. I once e-mailed UCLA about this and received the following: “Most students we admit receive verbal scores in the 90th percentile or higher, but many do have lower scores. The median score for quantitative is in the 70th percentile and the median score for writing is 5, but overall, scores in the quantitative and writing sections range very widely amongst our admitted students”--so at UCLA we're talking about V162/159/5 for the typical admitted applicant, though with a range in each figure.

    Some departments are different. Take NYU's website:
    "How important is this-or-that aspect of the application? What's the average successful GRE score?
    Weaker GREs or grades do not decisively exclude a candidate. Coming from a lesser-known school is not much of a handicap, if other parts of the application are strong. Letters from philosophers (or faculty in affiliated departments) are much more useful to us than any other sort of letter. Finally, the writing sample is what you have most control over. As a matter of policy, we cannot go into further details about what makes an application successful, or how to improve your application."

    Given you can't be sure what the faculty reviewing your application will care about, it's best to improve your application as much as you can in the places that are within your control. The GRE is a very good example of this (though, obviously, there are barriers to retaking and having success on the GRE). I would encourage you to consider retaking the GRE if it is viable for you, as your scores in both Verbal and Quant are so low as to be an outlier. You'll see a range of Quant scores depending on the school, but your Verbal score is well below the mean score for GRE test takers applying to programs in Philosophy (this includes both MA and PhD programs). That number is 159 (found here: https://www.ets.org/s/gre/pdf/gre_guide_table4.pdf).
     
  3. Though you have positive feedback on your writing sample, the testimonia of your letter-writers and some other members of the discipline are not good indicators of whether the sample will determine your admission to a program--no part of your application can do this, despite what people say about the importance of your writing sample. As you'll see through browsing this board, applicants' experiences vary from place to place with the same sample: you could be admitted to Yale and rejected at Virginia with the same sample and (in theory) great fit at both places. Remember that you're at least three steps removed from the decision-making process: (1) your sample is reputed to be good, whether or not it may be; (2) it may actually be strong, but not be read that way by the committee members that reviews it; (3) it may be strong and liked by the faculty that read it, but your application dies at the committee level by way of extraneous factors (e.g. the department isn't taking people with your interests at the moment).
     
  4. On your letter writers: it is good that your writers know you well. If you are shutout this season, you should debrief with them to consider how to improve your application in the future. As you'll see mentioned elsewhere on the board, and in this thread, the social capital of your letter writers seems to play a role in the application process. It would not be unusual to enroll in an MA program in order to meet and impress scholars whose students have frequently been admitted to the programs you're interested in attended or who are generally well-reputed in the subdisciplines you are working in. If you consult some of the research on who gets in where, you'll see that there is a positive correlation between attending high-ranked philosophy department for your undergraduate degree and being admitted to a high-ranked department for your PhD. As your preferred departments are all ranked at the very top of the field, you should be aware of how pedigree will work for or against you--this is just a (reprehensible) reality of our discipline.

    Briefly on your comment about one letter-writer being chair of your undergrad department: this doesn't help your case, and is more likely to work against you. Being chair of a department is honourable just insofar as one takes on a large administrative burden that typically works against one's ability to keep up with research activities, it is not something that should suggest to you that the person is better suited to impress readers of the letters they write. Instead, you should look for people who are full or distinguished professors.
Edited by Mischief

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On 2/29/2020 at 12:47 PM, Coconuts&Chloroform said:

So wait, you argue that Spinoza interprets Heidegger?

Anyway, I'll be frank. Your GRE scores aren't good. It's hard to see how they could be explained away by your having an underprivileged childhood, given that that apparently didn't prevent you from doing very well in college. If you don't get in this year, you should devote considerable attention to studying for the GRE with a view towards re-applying. 

Have a look at the results page, and see who posts GRE scores along with their acceptances to ranked programs - you'll find that you really want to aim for about 165/165. Sounds daunting, but it's doable.

In my opinion, the applicant should aim for at least 16X Verbal; 15X Quantitative. My friend with a 162/155 got into a lot of places (UT, UNC, USC, Rutgers, Northwestern, Davis). 

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Posted (edited)

Here is the basic math that you need to calculate to get in:

1 - P(likelihood that you will be rejected)

You can find likelihood via admissions websites. Some places the acceptance rate is 2%, others are like 6%. I think the average is something like 4%.

In other words, 1 - (96%) = 4%.

How many places you apply to changes these odds though. Apply to two places, you subtract the product of their probabilities:

1 - [P(rejected @ school 1) x P(rejected @ school 2)] = 1 - .9216 = 7.84%

If you apply to 18 places, then you are multiplying the probabilities 18 times (if they are all the same probability, for the sake of simplification, it is just to the 18th power). So, the odds that you will be accepted somewhere: 1 - [p(rejected)^18] = 52.0397%

Everything else will be hard or impossible for us to tell you whether you are higher than average chances of getting in. So, this calculation above is adequate.

But you can adjust the odds based on your GRE and the median acceptance at that school. Same for GPA. Looking up what their FAQs say about GRE and GPA for each school will tell you a lot. Looking up the GRE and GPA averages for philosophy majors (google search) will also inform you.

Edited by Duns Eith

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A slight correction: You need to account that some people will be rejected by programs you applied to, but also will be accepted by some other programs you applied.

But the moral still stands: The higher the number of programs you apply to, the higher your chance of admission is.

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I would be interested to hear what ended up happening with your application! Were you eventually accepted into a program? If not, have you spoken with your letter writers or anyone else about what you might improve on in the future? 

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