Advice for Undergraduates Interested in Graduate School
Junior and senior philosophy majors often ask for advice about applying to graduate school. Although every student is different, the philosophy faculty believes students should keep the following general points in mind.
1) There are very different costs for different types of graduate degree programs. Unlike professional degree programs (medicine, law, business), getting a graduate degree in philosophy should not end up costing you a great deal of money, or end up saddling you with enormous debt. Any decent graduate program in philosophy will offer some kind of tuition waiver as well as a stipend to the students it admits. The major cost associated with a graduate degree in philosophy will be your time, energy, and the other opportunities you will forego during a productive time in your life.
2) If you are interested in pursuing a graduate degree in philosophy, you should seriously consider obtaining a Masters degree in philosophy before applying to PhD programs. An MA gives you the opportunity to study philosophy at a professional level, tests your aptitude for graduate research and writing, makes you a more competitive applicant for PhD programs, and only takes two years. This last point is important. If you end up not liking academic philosophy as much as you had expected, it is much better to make this discovery during a two-year program than in the midst of a grueling five, six, or even seven year commitment to a PhD program.
3) Please be aware that, at this point in time, the job market in philosophy is absolutely terrible. There are very few philosophy jobs at universities and colleges across the country, and there are a great number of extremely well-qualified applicants who have earned a PhD in philosophy from a good school and who cannot find a philosophy job. We do not, of course, wish to discourage you from pursuing philosophy. In particular, if you are a very talented student who might be admitted to a top-flight program, you may well have an opportunity to find future employment. Nevertheless, you need to have a clear, realistic sense of your chances.
4) Still interested? Make an appointment to get advice from a professor who does the kind of philosophy you find most interesting. Also, consider consulting the advice we offer our own MA students about applying to PhD programs. You will find this under the “Graduate Program” menu tab in the “Graduate Handbook”.