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.