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How much outside reading did you do before applying?


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I am hoping to apply this next round, but based on a previous thread, it seems like those who apply for graduate school have done a lot of outside reading. I have not done much reading outside my classes, but I am a strong candidate in most other ways (high GPA, good GRE, presumably strong recommendations). I am, however, worried that my AOIs will not come across as contemporary or "cutting-edge."

How much philosophy did you read outside of coursework as an undergraduate? For those who did not do much, do you think this hurt your SOP? Do you think someone who has not done much reading outside coursework should take a gap year?

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For what it's worth, I did no reading related to my AOIs outside of coursework and writing sample (which was basically an extracurricular activity for me). I don't think there's an expectation that you "do" philosophy outside the classroom all the time as an undergraduate. If you've taken enough philosophy courses that should be good enough, and if you take the "right" courses then you should be on the "cutting edge" (e.g. I took multiple seminars on contemporary issues in language and mind). Presumably it could help if you've done a lot of independent reading and can speak on a wide range of issues, but it doesn't seem to me that that's expected. The only extracurricular philosophical reading I've done as an undergraduate is in continental philosophy, which is totally disjoint from what I've professed interest in.

If you're mostly worried that your AOIs will seem out of date, do a little reading on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and see whether there's anything new you can talk about related to your interests. If you can plug into some more contemporary references you should be fine.

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12 hours ago, gughok said:

If you've taken enough philosophy courses that should be good enough, and if you take the "right" courses then you should be on the "cutting edge"

I think this is right, but only on the assumption that it's a fairly research oriented department. If a professor is teaching a seminar on her area of expertise, and she's fairly well respected in the field, you can probably safely assume you have a good overview of what's "cutting edge" on the topic (not that more outside reading wouldn't help). But I do get the sense that not all departments are like this. So if your classes don't include many readings that have been published in the last ten years, you may be at a disadvantage.


That being said, I think PhD programs (at least in theory) prioritize philosophical potential over knowledge of what's cutting edge in your AOI. But given the competitive nature of graduate admissions, it probably doesn't hurt to have both.

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  • 6 months later...

As others have said, don't stress about what you have or haven't read - you're probably fine. One piece of advice that a past applicant shared on the political science forum, though, was really helpful to me in preparing my applications and it might be helpful to you as well. They recommended that one set aside a day or two to read through the current and recent editions of top peer-reviewed journals in their AOI, reading abstracts and occasionally full articles if they are germane to your interests. I did this, and it really helped to familiarize me with the questions being researched in my sub-field as well as the gaps in our current understanding, which in turn helped me narrow down my research interests and write my SOP. I (obviously) haven't been admitted anywhere yet (and I'm not sure if this is applicable outside the social sciences) so take this with a grain of salt, but it might be worth a shot.

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