A trip to Middleton Hills – An example of new urbanism

Last weekend, Taryn and I went on a little bike ride in the country; it was quite nice.  Rural Wisconsin is full of lovely….



Winding Roads





Ok, maybe that isn’t entirely fair; the cows really weren’t anywhere near the subdivision.  But, you should still get the point.  On the way back from our bike trip, we stopped by a subdivision in Middleton (a suburb of Madison) called Middleton Hills.  The neighborhood has been lauded as the first example of new urbanism in Wisconsin.  The concept of new urbanism isn’t exactly clear, but I take it to mean that it was constructed with a slightly higher density in order to facilitate a walking culture.  This is supposed to not only decrease traffic, but also facilitate community development by bringing people into common spaces.  I’m a fan of new urbanism, at least as it is theoretically laid out; however, I was curious whether that theory could be an effective guide to a real development in a very car oriented place like the Madison metro area.

Middleton Hills was designed by DPZ, headed by Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk in 1993 and has since then slowly developed.  There are two main aspects of the neighborhood to keep in mind.  First, the design of the neighborhood is in a new urbanist style; this means that houses have small yards, relatively high density (for the suburbs) and a distinct community center (with stores).  However, it is also a very regulated community; the dwellings are all designed in a certain style and every aspect of home and yard design is strictly regulated by a covenant (I recommend looking at the full covenant available at this site – its specificity is a bit startling).  For instance, every home design must be approved by a board to guarantee that it will fit cohesively within the community.  They prefer prairie style homes, so you will see an abundance of these in Middleton Hills.  If you don’t know anything about new urbanism, I recommend looking at the wikipedia article.  For now, I’m just going to start our journey through Middleton Hills…..

outsideshot1As one emerges from the nature preserve adjacent to Middlton Hills, you are treated to an interesting sight.  This part of the Middleton Hills (the north-east side) is full of new and large prairie homes.  That was what impressed me the most; these are very expensive homes, and that lends a certain air to the experience.  It is yuppie, ordered, and clean (to the point of almost being sterile); how you respond to those three adjectives will likely determine how you will feel about Middleton Hills.

low_density1All of the lawns are perfectly manicured (more so than I have every really seen) and every house looks to be in perfect condition.  The little trees and bushes seem to be carefully placed in a very deliberate way; and in fact, their placement is defined in the building plans.  All of this has been approved by the community design board; I didn’t like it; neighborhoods with a great deal of complexity and nature make me feel like there is something alive there.  Large, rich suburbs make me feel a bit uneasy;if I actually lived in such a place, I might start drinking a lot more.  However, we should remember that this is far newer than many of the neighborhoods that might seem more friendly or natural.  The complexity of old neighborhoods takes time, so perhaps Middleton Hills will become less sterile as it ages.  However, I wonder if the extensive controls of buildings and landscaping would allow for this development.  Only time will tell, I suppose.

boulevardAbove is the boulevard; perhaps when the trees grow up it will create a nice place to be but right now it just makes for a large expanse that is void of any life.  It does function as an indication of the main road; it made it easy for us to find the path to the community center but didn’t do much else.  One thing that started to bother me was the lack of people out and about; we had ridden through a good portion of the place without seeing a soul outside of their cars.  This entire construction (higher density, with front porches very close to the sidewalk) is supposed to make more people walk around the community but on such a beautiful Sunday afternoon, the streets were vacant.  That makes it seem like something is very wrong with the neighborhood.

mediumdensityThe closer one gets to the community center, the higher the density becomes.  Here you see duplexes (I think); I actually think these are pretty attractive and I like the idea of increasing density in this way.  However, these are extremely expensive.  I recently found an ad for one of these condos on the Middleton Hills neighborhood association web site and it was posted for $374k.  The problem is the type of condo this is; I’ll post the details below:

6874 Frank Lloyd Wright Ave
3 Bedrooms
2 Bath
2700 Sq.Ft.

Impeccably maintained Middleton Hills condo overlooking pond. Beautiful sunsets right outside the front door! Built 7 years ago, it still looks brand new! Gourmet kitchen w/cherry cabinets, stainless appliances, solid surface counters. Open floor plan w/2 sided fireplace, maple floors, trim & doors, & attached screen porch. Spacious master w/whirlpool & ample closets throughout. Tons of additional storage. 3rd bedroom needs stairs for legal egress. Square footage taken from Middleton Assessor. Owner is licensed realtor. Open Sundays 1-3.

So, the homes and condos being sold in Middleton Hills are for the rich.  This is strange to me because this land should be cheap; one should be able to get a very affordable home all the way out in Middleton. However the prices for condos in this neighborhood rival those in downtown Madison, simply because they are constructed in a luxurious way.  One should remember that a central tenant of new urbanism is the need to build complete communities; you need to have places to live for both the person who owns the community store and the person who works behind the counter.


This was the highest density area that I could find in the Middleton Hills development; they look to be more condos, and I am sure they are beautiful and expensive.  I think this absence of modest housing is a huge problem for the community; in a sense it means that this subdivision is not a community at all.  I will get to the “community center” in a moment, but I can preemt this by observing that most of those living here must drive to work every day.  The same goes for those working in the businesses nearby; the prices keep those who work at the nearby grocery store or coffee shop from actully living near their workplace.  The location is also poorly integrated with the mass transit system of the Madison metro area; this means that Middleton Hills is just as car centric as any other suburban area.  And this reliance on the car is one of the things new urbanism is meant to remedy.

starbucks1Here is the “community center”; the supermarket is off to the left (outside of the picture); it is a prairie style strip mall, I suppose.  The idea of having a shopping center close to ones home is that you might walk there.  I got the impression that most people took their car, even if they were just going to get a cup of coffee (and remember this was a near perfect day to be outside).

So, that is the end of the little tour.  I think Middlton Hills fails pretty miserably at being a good example of a well functioning community.  I suppose the architecture is more interesting than most subdivisions, but it lacks the same life that true urbanism provides.  I would be very intersted to see these principles developed in a part of town closer to where people work (and with better mass transit connections); but the current example, located so far from the necesities of life, is almost destined to fail.  In the end Middleton Hills felt almost like a caricature of new urbanism, rather than the real deal.  I’ll certainly return to this visit in some later posts; right now I have to go do something useful for a change.

Cappuccino Review #10 – Michelangelo’s Coffee House

Michelangelo’s Coffee House

114 State St.

This picture was taken from the outdoor seating.
This picture was taken from the outdoor seating.
Madison, WI 53703


For an intro about how and why I am trying the cappuccinos of Madison, go here.

Michelangelo’s is one of the nicer coffee shops on state; the interior is quite warm and friendly with normal tables along with some large recliner chairs if you feel a bit more leisurely. They also feature board games; a plus if you want to spend some time with coffee and scrabble.

I ordered a small dry cappuccino because their smallest size is 12oz. The drink I got

The cappuccino comes in a mug.
The cappuccino comes in a mug.

was filled with course bubbled foam all the way to the top. The cup was also quite a bit more narrow than it should have been, so at the end I experienced the all too common problem of having to lick the foam out of the bottom of the cup; I have no pride. Other than it not being the smoothest I’ve enjoyed, the foam was tasty and nice. The first few sips of the cappuccino were quite good. The coffee was not too complex but it was otherwise well balanced and tasted quite good. However, as the large amount of foam eventually mixed with the liquid of the cappuccino the drink became more milky; that is not what is supposed to happen.  So, here are the numbers (out of 5):

Presentation: 3

Smoothness: 4

Strength: 3

Complexity: 3

Foam: 4

Correctness: 3

Mean: 3.33/5

SD: .52

I would go back to Michelangelo’s because of it’s atmosphere and games but otherwise if I’m on state I’m still going to walk toward campus and get my cappuccino at Steep and Brew. So, this is it for my State St. reviews; they were generally pretty decent though they certainly don’t match up to the offerings of downtown or the near east side.

Cappuccino Review #9 – Steep and Brew

Steep & Brew

544 State Street

As with most coffee shops on State, Steep & Brew has outdoor seating
As with most coffee shops on State, Steep & Brew has outdoor seating.
Madison, WI 53703


For an intro about how and why I am trying the cappuccinos of Madison, go here

I am partial to certain coffee shops in Madison, sometimes without a whole lot of justification. Steep & Brew is one of those places; if I’m on State St. and want a cappuccino then I’ll be headed there. It might be because it was the first coffee shop I went to when I initially visited Madison. A friend who I was with ordered an espresso and didn’t quite know what this tiny cup he got was all about; I think he expected something like a latte. We were very young.

But actually since I’ve been here so much I know that Steep & Brew does serve a good cappuccino and has a great college town study atmosphere. It is the perfect place to go and get some work done, with plenty of tables so that there is almost always a place to sit. My best cappuccino experiences here have been during the weekday mornings but I went for this review on a weekday afternoon; so, keep that in mind.

I ordered a small cappuccino; their smalls are actual 6oz cappuccinos, so I didn’t have

The Steep and Brew cappuccino
The Steep and Brew cappuccino

to adjust my order. I got a nice looking drink in a proper cappuccino cup. The foam was smooth though there were some course bubbles. The first sip was of a classic cappuccino nature; the balance of the coffee to milk was almost perfect. The coffee was not as complex as some others, but otherwise a very pleasant espresso. It did however have a bit of a bitter bite that detracted slightly from the overall flavor; I notice that the cappuccinos in the morning don’t have this problem, so take that for what it’s worth. Overall the cappuccino was very good; the numbers are below(out of 5):

Presentation: 4

Smoothness: 4

Strength: 5

Complexity: 3

Foam: 4

Correctness: 5

Mean: 4.17/5

SD:  .75

Taryn had a Chai latte and noted that this was ok, though perhaps a little weak. So, to wrap it up, Steep and Brew has a very good cappuccino though it doesn’t match Mother Fool’s or Bradury’s.

Philosophy admissions advice – part 4 – I’ve sent off my applications; now what?

You wait. I recommend that you forget you ever applied to graduate school. If you get in somewhere, they will call you up or send you an email in late February – mid March. You don’t have to impulsively check their website or anything; if they admit you then they will let you know. If you insist on being obsessive about the entire process (like I was) then there is an entire community of like minded philosophy grad school hopefuls out there with whom you can share your misery.

The most common thing people obsess about is when there is admissions activity. In order to put this information in the public domain (schools don’t just announce to the entire world when they have contacted people) there is a admissions results page at a site called thegradcafe.com. Here people post when there are informed by schools that they have been accepted or rejected. Many people reason that if there are rejections posted, and you haven’t gotten one, then maybe the school will let you know very soon that you have been accepted. Conversely, if there are acceptances posted and you are still sitting with nothing, then you are shit out of luck. However, things are rarely so simple; often times schools send out rejections in waves, so even if you haven’t been rejected yet, yours might be coming in a few days (this happened to me at several schools). Some schools also don’t seem to inform everyone that they have been admitted in one day and at many schools being high on a waitlist gives you a very good chance of being admitted; so, one should not necessarily despair until a rejection is official. That said, I found that schools typically admitted and waitlisted people all at once and took their sweet time letting rejects know.  So, if you haven’t heard anything then you are probably out of luck.

There is also a livejournal site called whogotin, with a special section for philosophy. It seems that philosophy students use this site a lot more than all other subjects, so during the peak of admissions activity there is constant activity here. Whereas thegradcafe simply has a list of activity, whogotin is a discussion forum; so, things become a bit more interesting. It is probably best to just visit the site to get a good idea of what it is all about; you will certainly see what happens when otherwise reasonable people are stressed to the point where madness begins to set in.

On the more practical side, schools will start letting you know about your admissions status around from mid- February until about mid-March. If you haven’t heard from a school by the middle of March then this generally means you have been rejected but, of course, there are always some stragglers. You then have until April 15th to let them know if you are going to accept their admissions and funding offer; most people visit the schools they have been admitted to and many schools will help cover the costs of such a trip. However, things might get hairy if you have been admitted to a school but wait-listed at a school you would rather attend; this seems to be a common phenomenon and means that you might have to stay home sitting by your phone on the 15th in case you get a call with an offer from the more desirable school. It is also a good idea to be in contact with all the schools involved, so that everyone is aware of what is going on. And for the love of God, if you do get accepted to a school such that others you have been accepted at are no longer viable options for you, then withdraw from those other schools as soon as possible. Remember that REAL people are sitting on the waitlists at other schools biting their fingernails.

This is all I have to say about grad school admissions.  I hope it helps someone, though perhaps it won’t.  Oh well.

Cappuccino Review #8 – Peet’s Coffee and Tea

Peet’s Coffee and Tea

800 Langdon St – Memorial Union
Peet's in Memorial Union on the UW campus
Peet's in Memorial Union on the UW campus.
Madison, WI 53706


For an intro about how and why I am trying the cappuccinos of Madison, go here.

This semester saw the opening of a coffee shop in Memorial Union (the UW main student union) called Peet’s. The shop is next to der Rathskeller (the performance area and bar) but the part right by Peet’s has been remodeled and now sports comfortable coffee shop style seating. Peet’s is a chain of coffee shops, and this is the exact feel you get upon walking into the Memorial Union location. Well, actually the climate was more akin to the part of a school cafeteria that they try to dress up as if it were an independent store; the workers looked just like union employees except with ‘Peet’s’ on their aprons. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, but just be prepared for it if you go.

Before I ordered I inquired about the size of the small cappuccino. It is 12oz. Ok, this is pretty normal, so I asked for a small dry cappuccino. What happened next actually impressed me quite a bit. The barista (she seemed new) made the cappuccino in the 12oz cup and, as it should have been, the drink didn’t come even close to the top. I get the impression that most baristas are told to fill the cup to the top (why would anyone want a half full drink?!), and she was no different.  So, the puzzled barista asked the other barista there what she should do about this half-full cappuccino. The other barista told her to ask me. This may seem incredibly simple but I sure appreciated it. I told her that the drink looked good and I actually got a well proportioned cappuccino. It is probably worth noting that they only have paper cups regardless of whether you are taking your drink to go or not. I assume this is because almost all of their customers are taking their drinks to go and dishes add another unwanted dimension to their business (the seating area is also out of sight of the store front, so they are also probably worried about theft). So, I sort of understand the lack of real cups.

The foam was just ok; it was mostly course and not very smooth. The coffee itself was

I hope you like paper.
I hope you like paper.

uninteresting, though not bad. One redeeming factor is that the cappuccino was certainly strong enough; it was not a glorified latte that is so common in chain coffee shops. In fact the drink bordered on being a bit too strong and overly bitter, though I’m not usually one to complain about that. It is perhaps fitting that I was actually reminded of Starbucks; I suppose most large chains are similar in this way. Taryn just had their drip coffee and said it was quite good; when she ordered it they had to prepare a new batch, so that probably contributed to its deliciousness. Taryn’s friend Rachael had the chai latte and said it was a little weak and that the foam had the consistency of “dish soap”….so there you have it. The numbers for the cappuccino are below:

Presentation: 2

Smoothness: 2

Strength: 3

Complexity: 2

Foam: 3

Correctness: 4

Mean: 2.67/5

SD: .82

So, if you are on the east end of the UW campus and want a cappuccino what should you do?  I would say walk a few more blocks to state street…..though I guess it all depends on how lazy you are.  But, if you just want some drip coffee then maybe Peet’s is a good bet.

Philosophy admissions advice – part 3 – What makes a good application?

I don’t think my application did any miracles for me, so I’ll send you to Eric Schwitzgebel of UC Riverside who has composed a very helpful guide to philosophy graduate school applications. David Brink from UCSD has also prepared a similar (though shorter) guide. I’ll just throw in a few more suggestions, but the two above sources and your letter writers are probably a better bet…

  1. Do well on the GRE. I’m talking above a 1250 combined verbal and quantitative and ideally well above that. Bad scores will not completely doom your chances (I was just shy of 1200 and I got into a good program) but they will get you thrown out at many programs.  Also, I have heard that at many lower ranked departments, funding is only given to students who have high GRE scores. So, if you don’t do well, try again, and STUDY. That said, doing extremely well won’t help you nearly as much as putting more time into your writing sample.

  2. Make sure you make your writing sample very readable. This means that it should be well organized and clear; that is the best advice I got from my letter writers. People on admissions committees have to read a ton of these papers, so you should tell them everything you are doing o n the first page. Then divide the sample into different sections, so that they can jump to the meat of your argument before they decide to read it more carefully. Also, the paper has to be pretty much perfect; they are looking for any reason to throw your application out, so don’t give them one.

  3. Have a 2nd writing sample (probably in one of your area of interests outside of the area you wrote your main sample about) ready to send if it is requested.  I don’t think that it needs to be as good as your first sample, but certainly a revised A paper an undergrad course would be helpful.  In late February I got an email from Maryland asking me for a paper in philosophy of mind (my writing sample was in metaethics); I am lucky that I had something I could send.

  4. If your home department has a grad program, try to get into a philosophy grad course and get a letter from the instructor. I wasn’t able to do this and it probably would have helped; several people told me that this would be a very good idea.

Philosophy admissions advice – part 2 – Where to? Can I get in?

When I first started looking at graduate schools, I was directed to the Philosophical Gourmet Report. The report ranks PhD programs in philosophy based on the quality of each department’s faculty. Although, the scores for each department are formed by surveys distributed to a large number of professional philosophers, it is important to remember that the ranking is basically one of reputation among philosophers in the Anglo-American analytical philosophical community. It is not a rank of the graduate experience, teaching quality, or job placement after graduation (though it certainly makes sense that job placement would be highly correlated with faculty reputation). That said, it is certainly a good place to start your search for a suitable graduate program and it is great supplement to the opinions of faculty in your BA philosophy department.

During most of the application process, I paid way too much attention to the Gourmet Report and because of this I applied to some highly ranked programs that would not have been a good fit for me. If I had done things differently I could have found several programs that were ranked lower but who’s placement records and specialties might have served me well. I think a better strategy would have been to look more carefully at the faculty and their research, along with the types of courses offered. I have also heard quite a bit about some very highly ranked programs (featuring highly regarded faculty) where the graduate program is not given too much thought and therefore students are not given the benefit of being in the same department with such amazing scholars. So, simply put, rank is only one dimension. Also, note that departments that center around so called LEMMing philosophy (language, epistemology, metaphysics, and mind) tend to do better on the Gourmet Report; this isn’t a rule (and there is great debate about how the rankings treat departments not specializing in these areas) but if you are more interested in ethics or phenomenology (to give two examples) you might want to pay even less attention to the overall rankings and concentrate on rankings in those subject areas.

Another question that I still haven’t answered for myself is how much the location of a department should influence ones decision. There is a tendency for people to downplay the location factor. In fact, even bringing this up as an aspect of ones decision is considered a sign of not being serious about graduate study. I agree that one needs to be extremely flexible when going into philosophy; you need to apply to a wide variety of programs to have a good chance of going to any of them and upon graduation there is even more flexibility required because of the shortage of tenure track jobs. However, it seems that one’s living situation greatly affects the quality of one’s work, not to mention quality of one’s life; don’t forget that you will be spending about 6 years of your life in this location. This factor became most salient for me when I started to consider two schools rather similar in the Gourmet Report rankings but that exhibited extreme differences in the quality of their location. UC – Riverside (I will pick on them because they are the only department not to get back to me about my status – it is May already, and I would think I am at least entitled to a proper rejection….) is ranked 30th in the country for philosophy. They have a very interesting department and their group of ‘continental’ philosophers in a largely ‘analytical’ department is especially noteworthy; however, everyone I have talked to who has been to Riverside, CA has said it is a shit-hole. It basically has all the smog, traffic and gang violence of LA without any of the benefits of a major city. If you know anything about me, a car oriented desert is my version of hell. So, when I was considering whether I would accept my offer from the U of Maryland, which is also ranked 30th but located near Washington D.C, the location of Riverside meant that I didn’t even inquire as to my status with them. I figured I would be pretty miserable living there and, given my very broad philosophical interests, the individual strengths of Riverside probably wouldn’t overcome this fact. I did look at individual strengths of the department and Maryland still seemed like a good choice, but location had pretty much decided it for me before this comparison. Of course, location preferences are different for everyone; some people might prefer Riverside, CA over the Washington D.C area. But what sort of place you can stand and how much it matters to you is a personal decision and don’t let anyone make you feel guilty about that.

Next you need to ask yourself where you can realistically be accepted. You have to realize how competitive this entire game is; you might think you know (I thought I did when I applied) but you probably don’t. Here is some inside info, that might give you an idea. Maryland is ranked 30th in the nation, so it is by no means an elite program. It had only 4 open spots for its fall class and received over 150 applications (top programs can get about 300); of those who were accepted, one person had a BA in philosophy from an ivy league school and the other two had MAs. Now, there are a few people who get accepted to many top programs (so there certainly is a pattern to admissions) but most of us have to apply to many schools expecting rejection from most with the hopes of getting one or two acceptances. It is also my impression that many people are either rejected from every place they apply to or do not get adequate funding (probably from a school rather low on their list); so, if you are the average applicant (especially if you don’t come from an elite school, or one that doesn’t have a ranked PhD program in philosophy) you will have to fight your hardest to even get one acceptance. In order to find out what range you should apply to, ask your philosophy professors (perhaps with a copy of the Philosophical Gourmet report in hand). This will be more helpful if you are at a school that has a PhD program in philosophy because then your professors will have an idea of the sort of applicants that they typically admit. Also, try to get several opinions about your chances. One of my letter writers was far more optimistic about where I should apply to than another; if I had not listened to the less optimistic one I would likely not be going to graduate school next year. However, everyone I talked to told me to apply to as many places as I could afford and I think this is great advice. I applied to 17 places and I don’t think that was too many. Yes, I know, that is a crazy number but I get the impression that it is pretty typical.

My (perhaps) worthless advice for applying to philosphy PhD programs – part 1

I’m going to attempt to summarize the knowledge I have extracted from my PhD admissions experience. Just so you know my perspective, I was admitted to the University of Maryland – College Park with full funding for 5 years. That said, this was my only offer (not counting another wait-list that I withdrew from just before the deadline) and it only came after I had been on the wait-list for almost a month. Keep in mind that I consider myself rather lucky; I applied to a large group of schools and was only accepted at one, but many people were rejected by every school. From what I can gather, complete shutouts of applicants is quite common. So as you think about whether you want to apply to philosophy PhD programs, remember that the application process will probably be one of the largest undertakings you have completed so far in your life.

In the next few entries I’ll cover some topics that I had questions about when I started applying; I assume that these questions are pretty universal. I am by no means an authority (on anything), but the application process has certainly had an effect on me, and I think there is something I can add to the general knowledge base.  I’ll start out, in this entry, with the question of whether you should go to philosophy grad school at all.

Should I go – Is it really so bad?

It is common for professors of philosophy to tell those inquiring about grad school that if they could see themselves doing anything else other than philosophy then they should do that instead.  In fact, when I asked one of my professors for a letter of recommendation he attempted to convince me NOT to go into philosophy; I also had some interests in psychology and he thought that the prospects in that field were far better (after I had convinced him that I really did want to do philosophy he explained that he gave this “public service announcement” to every student who wanted a recommendation). I think that much of the pessimism about pursuing a career in philosophy is well grounded; the baseline job market for philosophers (not counting any momentary depressions due to the economy) is quite dismal (though the statistics on this are apparently a bit ambiguous) and most philosophy PhDs have to be ready to move to pretty much any location if they hope to secure a job as a professor. On top of this, fewer universities have serious research philosophy departments (those in which professors do more research than teaching) than those that have a great deal of science research, and therefore, most obtaining a PhD in philosophy should expect to teach far more than their counterparts in the sciences. But do these issues mean that students should only treat philosophy as a last resort – a profession they should only consider if nothing else could be fulfilling?

I think that this ‘last resort’ standard makes the prospective philosophy grad feel unwarranted desperation. Philosophers should have a wide variety of interests and abilities; how else are they supposed to write intelligently about the many topics with which philosophy interfaces? So, it seems odd that good philosophy students would have such narrow interests so that any other career would be totally unfulfilling. These sorts of thoughts came especially clear for me when I sat with no offers pretty late in the admissions season. I had to start thinking about ‘plan-b’, otherwise I would have no idea what to do if I was rejected from every place; I came up with several careers that might be interesting to do outside of philosophy. Of course, I might have hated these possible careers, but that is exactly the problem; it is extremely difficult to know your suitability for a career before starting it. So, why should one give up a potential career that seems interesting simply because they might like doing something else as well? If one can come out of the grad school experience without seriously harming other life goals (this is probably the key) then this doesn’t seem to be such a bad option.  Of course, given the job market, you should probably be able to accept grad school as having some sort of intrinsic goods.  Even if upon graduation you had to find a job outside of philosophy, you should be able to look at grad school itself as being a fulfilling experience.  If you can’t do this, then perhaps it would be best to find some other career.  And, if your goals are mostly monetary in nature then philosophy graduate school is almost certainly not for you.

I also recommend talking to philosophy grad students about their experiences in order to gauge whether professional philosophy is all it is cracked up to be. Do they seem happy with their lives? Do they end up with jobs? This will vary greatly based on the school; it seems that at some places students are extremely stressed and might do something else with their lives if given the chance, but at other places the students seem to be well rounded and happy individuals. This also seems to be the case of philosophy professors themselves; I’m not sure how the proportion of happy/unhappy people in philosophy compares with other professions but it doesn’t seem to be too different. I think that expectations probably play a large role as well; don’t expect to be a philosophical superstar making lots of money at a flashy institution, because you almost certainly won’t be.  However, take all this with a grain of salt, because I havn’t actually experienced grad school yet.  Talking to some grad students who have been there for a few years is probably a far better way of figuring whether you should go into philosophy.