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Is it even worth it for me to apply this cycle (Fall 2021)?


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Hi there! So this is somewhat a specific question for me and my qualifications (if anyone would be kind enough to give input on that), but also a more general question considering the current circumstances of Covid applications.

It's been my dream for many years to pursue a PhD in philosophy but unfortunately I feel that I'm not the most competitive applicant, especially now that times are tough and I suspect there will be fewer graduate admissions this year due to the pandemic.

Here's a bit about my academic history:

- I did not do very well in high school, so I went to an average university for my freshman year and continued my not-so-great track record with a low GPA. I took 3 PHIL courses my freshman year (2016-17) and did well in 2 of them but badly in one.

- I then dropped out of that school and took a year off studying, then went back to my home state and enrolled in a local community college, where I finally got re-focused on my academic pursuits, got a 4.0 and earned my associate's degree (no PHIL courses there).

- Then I transferred to a good state school (University of Washington Seattle) to finish my BA. I double majored in Philosophy and Political Science and got a 3.92 cumulative GPA and 3.99 Philosophy GPA. I graduated Spring 2020 with departmental honors in PHIL but no other awards or recognition.

I know I have one or two professors who will write good letters of recommendation for me, but I'm not sure about a third because I switched schools so many times and didn't get the chance to really get to know many of them (especially because I double majored and tried to do it in the quickest time possible, so I had to also focus on completing my Political Science requirements). Also, I know that UW is considered a good school in my state and for STEM/Computer Science majors, but the Philosophy department is pretty small and not so prestigious. My writing sample so far is good, but not great, and it's not in my area of interest. I still have time to improve it, but I don't know if that will even matter considering my other downfalls.

Basically I'm worried that despite my great GPA for the past few years, my freshman year failures and my lack of any outstanding accomplishments will ruin my chances of getting into any MA or PhD program. I'm interested in studying Ethics and Political Philosophy, but I haven't taken many courses in those areas (not many offered at UW). Still, I've done research on where I want to go that might be within reason, and I've come up with University of Colorado Boulder. A bonus point for that school is that I took a couple classes with a professor at my freshman year college in which we read a book by a CU professor that really resonated with me. That professor still teaches there in Ethics & Political Philosophy, so I could write that into my letter of intent. But I know that they too will be receiving hundreds of applications and only accepting a few.

So my questions are: I'm not in the best financial situation (unemployed due to Covid), so is it worth it to spend money and time on applications this cycle, or should I wait another year? Or perhaps just accept defeat due to the competitiveness of academic philosophy and pursue another career? If I do apply, would it be advisable to apply to only CU, UW since it's local, and maybe one other school? I know that most people recommend applying to up to 10 or more schools, but I don't feel that I'm ready for that at all, financially or otherwise. Are there any schools you might recommend to me to apply to that may be easier for me to get into (I'm aiming for a PhD, but I would be absolutely happy to start with an MA too)? And finally, what are your thoughts on how Covid is impacting this year's admissions?

Thank you to all who respond!

Edited by kirad16
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Hi Kirad, 

I'm probably not the best person to give advice here, but if you really want to study philosophy and feel like you might not have the application to get into a Ph.D. program, you should definitely apply to M.A. programs. Getting into a terminal M.A. program is easier than a Ph.D. program, and it can be a great place to kick start your studies. Look into funded M.A. programs and you might find a place that has your interests. 

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I generally agree with the commenters above. You won't get into a PhD program worth going to. Unless you're very wealthy, it's a bad move to go to a PhD program outside of the top-50ish, regardless of what kind of prof you'd like to be afterwards. That being said, you have a strong application for MA programs, and I'd bet that you'd even get funding. Given COVID, an MA might a safe option, giving you time to re-evaluate after two years and see if you're still interested in a PhD. It sounds like your exposure to philosophy has been limited, and it's important to realize that graduate and professional work in philosophy is very different than undergraduate work. An MA will give you a taste of that.

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I am currently in the process of applying, so I certainly don't have much experience, but I think you should know that UC Boulder is reducing the size of their cohort this cycle, making it all the more competitive (check: https://frederick-choo.weebly.com/gre-philosophy-2021-admission.html and https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1yb_yciijFGEp5roVKYJ40U4eiREo3ZQTeSQkEjGMSsg/edit#gid=1857768419 for more info about programs, updated regularly). In light of that, it might be better to focus on applying elsewhere (but that's up to you, ultimately!), and I concur with @Potato Cactus @PolPhil and @PhilCoffee about applying to (funded) MA programs. Here is a list of funded or partially funded MAs in the US and Canada: https://fundedphilma.weebly.com/

Good luck, my friend, and don't give up hope!

Edited by somethingwitty
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Cal State Long Beach is a partially funded MA, and they've placed a student at CU. So has Oklahoma State, Western Michigan, and University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, all of which are funded or partially funded--and that's just from my very brief look at the graduate students page. I would go there and look at the grad students' information and see where those who have MAs are coming from, and then look into those programs and see if any interest you! 

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I echo what other commenters have said, especially PolPhil. A few extra comments:

1) Applicants aren't expected to have done other interesting things beside a solid major, so that's not something to be worried about. One question is whether you were able to take a wide variety of courses at UW, even if they weren't quite your interests. But, especially if you can address the early academic instability in your statement, the GPA is nothing to worry about.

2) Writing sample writing sample writing sample. Like almost every other applicant, your competitiveness will mainly be determined by the quality of your sample. Because you think yours is somewhat lacking, others' advice to focus on MA programs is sound.

3) I wouldn't fixate on any one program (in this case CU Boulder, but this is a general claim too). Your reasons for being interested in that program don't seem too deep, and there are presumably many places where you could pursue those interests (and of course your interests might change). 

4) If you're uncertain, don't do it. But MAs are s good option if you're passionate, and also you can explore fee waivers. Some of them need to be requested a while in advance, though, so watch out for those separate deadlines.

Edited by Marcus_Aurelius
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  • 1 month later...
On 10/11/2020 at 6:59 AM, somethingwitty said:

Cal State Long Beach is a partially funded MA, and they've placed a student at CU. So has Oklahoma State, Western Michigan, and University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, all of which are funded or partially funded--and that's just from my very brief look at the graduate students page. I would go there and look at the grad students' information and see where those who have MAs are coming from, and then look into those programs and see if any interest you! 

If you have questions about CSULB, I'd be happy to answer them! 

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  • 1 month later...

Hi Kirad16,

I am a professor at Texas Tech University, and I hope you will consider applying to our MA program! We have applicants from a number of backgrounds - those who didn't major in philosophy, those who took time off, those who need to bolster their application, those who want a little more experience before they commit to a PhD program, those who have a weakness in their application to overcome... You can read more about our program here:

https://www.depts.ttu.edu/philosophy/ 

You can also see our placement here: https://www.depts.ttu.edu/philosophy/degrees/placement.php

We offer funded MA spots and the cost of living here in Lubbock is quite low.

Additionally, Dr. Justin Tosi, one of our faculty, works on issues in PPE, so you could study things in your area of interest. If you have any questions about our program, please feel free to email me directly: amy.flowerree@ttu.edu (or anyone else reading this in a similar position!).

Very best,

Amy

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