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Who gets into a top-ranked program?


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What kind of a person gets in to a top ranked philosophy program?

Do you need to have published in a journal? Do you need to have new ideas or just a very strong grasp of old ideas? Do you need to be extroverted and good at making social connections? Do you have to be constantly working and reading? Do you need superb grades or excellent writing ability?

Give me the profile of an attractive candidate for a top-ranked program. Thanks!

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I think it's more about pedigree. Committees will want to feel like they are selecting someone who has been reared by someone who has an important rep. Good grades are good. Getting published may or may not matter, it depends. Most of them don't want you to have very new ideas. Sometimes that might scare them off, as it might show you already have too many ideas of your own. They may want to see you as an empty vessel to fill with their own ideas, so you can be their disciples. However, showing a bit of arrogant self-regard may help you appear more attractive to some.

They also like high standardized test percentiles, because schools love quantifiable things to put in statistics reports and believing that everyone they accept is in the top 2% of smart people.

Cynicism aside, I've talked to numerous profs and chairs at schools and none of them can really give a straight answer as to what a committee actually wants. It's apparently very mysterious. They may consult the I Ching or divine entrails. Nobody really knows.

Common points of emphasis tend to be "strong" GRE scores, good reading skills in foreign languages is never a bad thing to have, and almost everyone talks up having publications and presentations... but still, its a mystery. Having all of these will guarantee nothing, but it may give you a shot.

Edited by fluxkit
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Well, I'm not one of them, but from what I understand here is what you need to have a chance (that is if you are deficient in one of these, you have given them reason to cut you from the selection pool):

Near perfect GRE scores, particularly verbal and writing.

Your writing sample has to be great at demonstrating philosophical ability (can you present the topic, break down the arguments of others, construct your own argument, etc.)

You need to be coming from a well known program. This one is harsh, but I come from a small program that isn't broadly known, and thus my letters of recommendation aren't as persuasive as those from more famous departments, and my transcript and GPA are somewhat suspect.

Finally I would imagine that coming from a well respected MA program is a plus.

My suggestion is to look at the top schools on the philosophical gourmet report and then do a search for those programs using the grad cafe's results search. Some people are kind enough to share their GPA and GRE scores, but it is a bit hit and miss (I just did a search for "Rutgers Philosophy" and didn't see anyone who was accepted was sharing their stats, but some of those whom were rejected did).

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Read the University of Chicago's Philosophy admissions page. There is a fantastically detailed breakdown of the admissions process, and I strongly suspect that the process is very similar to this at most top-end places across the humanities.

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  • 7 months later...

I wonder this all the time..

A lot of people, if they get in, put up CVs either on their personal department pages or personal websites, some of which include undergrad data--if you want to be a creep about it, you can find out a lot ;) --but mainly it does come down to, as the others have said, pedigree, GPA (esp. Philosophy) and high GRE scores (though my academic advisor swears they don't count for as much in admissions as most people think).

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