Applying to Graduate Programs in Philosophy

Graduate Programs in Philosophy

The APA Guide to Graduate Programs in Philosophy - The American Philosophical Association's guide to Master's and PhD programs in the US and Canada. - Philosophy Wikis for Prospective & Current Graduate Students. Contains unranked descriptions of PhD programs in a number of specialty areas.

The Pluralist's Guide to Philosophy - Guide to programs in American philosophy, continental philosophy, critical philosophy of race and ethnicity, feminist philosophy, and GLBT Studies.

Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy - List of self-descriptions of philosophy departments interested in, supportive of, or specializing in continental philosophy.

A User's Guide to Philosophy without Rankings - Reflection and resources concerning the controversy over commonly used program ranking reports, maintained by Prof. Mitchell Aboulafia (Manhattan College).

I. The Application Packet

A Standard Graduate School Application Will Include:

(i)   An application form specific to the school.  Many of these are now on-line. 

(ii)  Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores.

(iii)  Letters of Recommendation from three professors.

(iv) A written statement of purpose/statement of intent from the student.

(v)  A writing sample of around ten pages.

(vi)  Transcripts of study from your undergraduate institution (or institutions if you attended more than one). 

(vii) Most graduate programs now charge an application fee of between $25 and $100.

II. Timeline for the Application

Spring of the year before you are applying

  • Start Early: The earlier you begin thinking about graduate school and preparing your materials, the better.
  • Deadlines: Deadlines for graduate programs in philosophy stretch from the late Fall (Mid-November) to Mid-Spring each academic year, depending on the program you are applying to.  It is highly recommended that you have your materials submitted on or before the earliest deadline that a school lists.


  • GRE: You should take the GRE as early as you can in the fall, this ensures that your scores will be delivered in a timely fashion and, should you and your advisor feel that it is necessary, that you will have time to retake the exam prior to application deadlines.
  • Letters: At the latest, ask for letters from your letter writers at the beginning of the fall semester.  Ask early and ask often, sending reminders at the beginning and middle of every month until the letters are sent off is not a bad idea.


  • Transcripts: You should order these as early as possible, mid-fall semester at the latest.

November through February

  • Complete Application: You need to get your application in on time.  All of the materials that you must personally send (usually, the application form, statement of purpose, and writing sample) need to be mailed at least a week before the deadline, and you need to check with departments you are applying to in order to confirm that your letters, GRE scores and transcripts (which usually get mailed separately by those responsible for them) have all arrived. 

III. Contents of the Application

(i)  An application form specific to the school.  Many of these are now on-line. 

These are usually generic and straightforward.  However, you need to make sure that filling out this form qualifies your for consideration for (a) any stipends or scholarships that are offered by the Department to which you are applying, and (b) any stipends or scholarships offered by the University to which you are applying.  Often there are additional forms for these sorts of financial awards, and you can found out about them on Department websites or by contacting Directors of Graduate Studies directly.

(ii)  Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores. 

This is an important part of your application because it is the only component that allows schools to compare you directly with other graduate applicants.  Using preparation software, books, and/or classes usually does help to improve GRE scores, so do as much of this as you can.  Philosophy programs generally look at the analytical and verbal portions of this test more carefully than the quantitative, but good scores in all three areas is ideal.

(iii)  Letters of Recommendation from three professors.

Recommendation letters carry weight.  Good letters can sometimes offset a less than ideal GPA or GRE score.  Ask faculty whom you know and whom you are confident know  and have a high opinion of you, your work and your abilities.  Consult with your letter writers often and provide them with as much helpful information as you can.  Remind them of courses you have taken with them, papers you have written, activities you have engaged in, etc.  It is also good to give each of your letter writers a (unofficial) copy of your transcript and a list of the schools you are applying to.  Make sure that you provide your letter writers with clear and explicit instructions about what is to be done with each letter for each University you are applying to.  Remind you letter writers politely but often until they submit their letters.

(iv)  A written statement of purpose/statement of intent from the student.

Your statement of purpose should (a) present you and your interests in and commitment to philosophy, (b) present your research interests and substantiate your ability to do research in philosophy, (c) present your teaching interests and, as much as possible, substantiate your ability to teach philosophy, and (d) indicate particular reasons why you are interested in the specific Department you are applying to (this last part will be different for different schools).The statement of purpose should be between one and two pages long.  A thoughtful statement of purpose, demonstrating maturity, commitment to philosophy and seriousness about research and teaching, can help you stand out from other applicants. 

(v)  A writing sample of around ten pages.

This is the most concrete proof of your philosophical ability that you will include in your application packet.  The most important thing is that your writing sample be well written, accessible (don't assume your reader is an expert on the subject), and of high philosophical quality.  In addition, if you already know what area of philosophy you would like to specialize in, try to have a writing sample that addresses something in that area.  Page limits differ from department to department, but ten pages is generally a safe length (don't send something very long, 20+ pages, unless it is asked for).  Work with your advisor to determine which of your papers might be a good writing sample, and to revise that paper.

(vi) Transcripts of study from your undergraduate institution (or institutions if you attended more than one). 

(vii) Most graduate programs now charge an application fee of between $25 and $100.

Page last modified August 21, 2022