Thinking About Graduate School in Philosophy?
Does the idea of studying philosophy at the graduate level interest you? If so, here are some things to consider.
Would you like
to teach philosophy?
A. There is some kind of work you can do with enthusiasm, with joy, and that's the type of work you want to be doing in the long run. How sure are you that teaching philosophy is something you can do with genuine enthusiasm, with your whole heart, with joy?
B. There are some hard realities to face as regards the goal of teaching philosophy. These are mentioned here not to discourage anyone, but to promote clear understanding.
C. How does one prepare for graduate school? Of course it's important to get the most out of your undergraduate training. This includes: working hard in all your classes, doing readings beyond those required (simply because you're interested!), taking "extra" classes in philosophy (beyond what's required for the major), and becoming very good at philosophical writing.
In applying for graduate school, you will need to take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). You will also need a sample paper. And you will need two or three letters of recommendation from your undergraduate philosophy teachers. A word is in order about each of these:
D. Your Philosophical Interests. If you want to study at the graduate level, you should be ready to give brief, to-the-point answers to these questions: "What areas of philosophy are you most interested in? What sorts of philosophical issues grab you? Which philosophers do you most like to read?" Remember that different graduate programs have different strengths. In making decisions about admission, the faculty members are looking for students whose interests match the strengths of the program. Thus, many programs demand a brief written statement about your philosophical interests.
E. Locating Good Programs. For information on both PhD and MA programs, go to Resources for Philosophy on this website. Click on "A Ranking of Graduate Programs in Philosophy."
F. MAs and PhDs. If one gets into a doctoral program in philosophy, one typically gets an MA "along the way," after completing two years of course work and some comprehensive exams. But a fair number of graduate programs offer the MA as their highest (terminal) degree. Completing these programs normally includes writing a masters thesis. If you aren't sure whether you want to teach — just want to study philosophy at a more advanced level, or if you feel you need more preparation before applying to a doctoral program, you might want to apply to one of these MA programs. Again, look under Resources for Philosophy, then "A Ranking of Graduate Programs in Philosophy" for a list of top MA programs. Incidentally, SPU philosophy graduates have recently completed (and highly recommend) the following programs: The MA in Philosophy of Religion and Ethics at Talbot School of Theology (Biola University) and the MA in Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin (Milwaukee).
Naturally, if you
are interested in studying philosophy at the graduate level, it would
be a good idea to discuss these matters with your advisor in the near
Stephen Layman, Ph.D.
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