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Grad School FAQ

The first question you must ask yourself is whether this is really something you want to do. Are you are good at philosophy, do you enjoy it, have you been encouraged by your professors to go on, are you truly able to commit yourself to more schooling? Graduate programs are fiercely competitive and you will typically spend another one to two years for an MA (or master's degree) and six to seven years for a PhD (also called a doctorate) with absolutely no guarantees of employment at the end.

If you’ve answered the first question in the affirmative, then you will have to figure out what schools and programs you should apply to. Ask yourself what kinds of philosophy, what historical epochs, what sorts of questions and figures you want to study and then contact faculty in our department who teach in those areas for advice. If you want to continue in Continental Philosophy, or in the history of philosophy (ancient philosophy, for example, or German idealism), or in feminism, or social and political philosophy or Asian philosophy, talk to the professors who teach in those areas here at DePaul and get a list of graduate programs suited to your interests.

Since DePaul’s philosophy department is generally oriented toward Continental Philosophy, the history of philosophy, and social and political philosophy, you may want to investigate the following programs where these areas are taught: Boston College, Boston University, University of California at Berkeley (especially the rhetoric program), Emory University (both in philosophy and comparative literature), Fordham University, Johns Hopkins University (especially the Humanities Center), Louvain University in Belgium, Loyola University, McGill University, Memphis University, University of New Mexico, the New School for Social Research in NYC, Miami University of Ohio (for an MA degree), Northwestern University, University of Oregon, University of Ottawa, Penn State University, Stony Brook University of New York, the State University of New York at Binghampton, the State University of New York at Buffalo (both in philosophy and in comparative literature), the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Toronto, Vanderbilt University, Villanova University, and York University. (This list is, of course, by no means exhaustive.)

You want to go through the whole application process only once in your life, so you should probably apply to several schools—at least five, probably between seven and ten—in order to maximize your chances for success. This can be a rather costly process, but it is often worth the effort and expense.

If you are not absolutely certain that you would like to study philosophy for the next six or seven years but would like to test the waters somewhere for a year or two, then an MA (or master's) program is perhaps right for you. If you do well in an MA program it is sometimes possible to be accepted into a PhD program afterwards, either at the same institution or another one. An MA can thus be a good way to spend a year or two deciding whether you really want to continue on in philosophy. (Universities with good MA programs include: Miami University of Ohio, Brock University, Northern Illinois University, and Boston College.) You must be aware, however, that there are rarely any funding opportunities for students seeking an MA. You will thus have to pay tuition and living expenses out of your own pocket. You must also bear in mind that very few teaching positions are available to someone with only an MA. A PhD is today almost always required, even for teaching in two-year colleges. Getting an MA can thus be an extremely gratifying experience and a good way to spend a couple of years, but if your ultimate goal is teaching in a college or university you will eventually need more than an MA. Most of you applying to graduate school right after your BA will thus want to apply to a PhD (or doctorate) program or, as it is sometimes called, a joint MA/PhD program (this is a program whether the expectation is that you will get a PhD and where you automatically pick up an MA along the way). [Note: You may be asked on the application whether you are applying to the MA or the PhD program: if it is your intention to go to the PhD, then you should always check the PhD box.]

Again, beyond certain scholarships, funding opportunities for MA students are almost non-existent. For PhD students or students in MA/PhD programs, there are two main possibilities for funding.

  1. Universities sometimes offer part of whole tuition “remission” or tuition “waivers.” That means that you can take classes and pay only part or no tuition at all. Sometimes this tuition remission will come with no obligations on your part; sometimes you will be required to run a discussion group or grade papers in exchange for the tuition dollars you receive from the university.
  2. Universities also sometimes offer part or full tuition remission in addition to a graduate stipend (sometimes called a “fellowship” or an “assistantship”). These can run anywhere from 8,000 to $20,000 a year and are sometimes renewed on a yearly basis or else guaranteed for four to five years on the condition that you are making adequate progress through the program. In exchange for the tuition remission and the stipend or assistantship, you will typically be expected to grade papers for a professor, run a discussion group, or teach an undergraduate class of your own.If your goal is to teach at the college or university level after earning your PhD, this is obviously what you should be aiming for. When you consider that tuition often runs $20,000 a year, getting a full tuition remission plus a graduate stipend often puts the total value of your award over $100,000 over the course of 4 or 5 years. It is thus extremely important that you put together a strong application in order to be considered for one of these graduate assistantships of fellowships. 

First, probably the best thing you could do to get into graduate school is to get an undergraduate Fulbright fellowship or some other award. If you are just a sophomore or junior you might want to seriously consider this. Admission committees are always influenced by the decisions of other committees. In addition, the university you are applying to will know that you have gained certain language skills that will be important for graduate school and that you have already proven yourself capable of independent research. (You should also look into the Jacob Javitts Fellowship, a very generous award administered by the U.S. government that basically pays your way to graduate school. Telling a university that you bring your own funding with you will almost always help you to get in the door.) Second, you need to start thinking about the application process a full year in advance in order to put together a good application. Though requirements differ somewhat from school to school, here’s basically what you will need for an application:

  1. A completed University Graduate Application Form. Many of these are now done online, though some are still done by hand. You will need to contact these schools well in advance of the deadline in order to receive the application. Make sure you fill out all questions and print or type neatly, without any grammatical or spelling errors. Any hint of sloppiness or carelessness may well get you excluded straightaway from the applicant pool, which could have close to two hundred applicants for five or six fellowship spots.
  2. Official transcripts of all previous academic work. You will need to be organized in order to get these on time as well.
  3. Graduate Record Examination (GRE), which includes a verbal section, a quantitative or math section, and an analytic writing section. None of us like to perpetuate a system where so much depends on standardized tests, but the fact is that many schools (and DePaul is not among them) make their first and major cut on the basis of the GRE scores alone. You would be well advised, therefore, to take a Kaplan class or, since the exam is now done on computers, purchase a computer program with practice exams and tips on how to take the exam. Again, we hate to recommend this but upping your verbal score by, say, 100 points might well be the difference between getting no funding at all and getting a five year fellowship worth $100,000. This is one very concrete way in which you can improve your chances of gaining admission and, perhaps, a fellowship to the department you wish.
  4. Two or more letters of recommendation from teachers familiar with your work. Obviously, you will want to go to professors who will not only write you a letter but who will write you a good letter. If a professor says that he or she does not know your work all that well or that, while impressed by some aspects of your work, the fact that you were often late or absent during a particular class did not overly impress them, then you may want to ask someone else. If you are applying to a program in philosophy, it would make sense to have at least one of your letter writers be in philosophy. Make sure to give a recommender a good four to six weeks lead time to write you a letter. To help a professor write a good letter you need to give them lots of information—your major(s), GPA, interests, awards, languages, foreign student experience, etc. In other words, if there is something that sets you apart from most candidates and that you think your recommender should know about or mention, then you must tell your letter writer about it. Finally, you will almost always be asked whether you waive your right to see the letter once it has been written. We strongly recommend that you waive this right, since it assures confidentially and assures the universities to whom the letter is being sent that the recommender is speaking honestly and openly about the candidate’s abilities.
  5. A statement of intent indicating why you desire to pursue graduate work in that particular program, including your areas of proposed research. These letters should be specific, tailored to each application. You should thus do a bit of research into the places to which you are applying. You might want to list people with whom you would want to work and why. This statement of intent is extremely important so you should work hard on producing a good statement and then run it by one or two professors for advice. Oftentimes, such letters make the mistake of including too much about an applicant’s “hopes,” “dreams,” and “desires,” and not enough about the applicant’s specific interests and what has prepared him or her to pursue those interests at a graduate level. Relevant details thus might include the classes you’ve already taken at DePaul, the topics you’ve written on, the subject of your thesis, your involvement in the Philosophy Circle, the languages you’ve studied or are proficient in, the study abroad programs you’ve participated in, the fellowships you’ve been awarded, and so on..
  6. A writing sample (usually 10-15 pages, e.g., a term paper, seminar paper, or portion of a senior thesis). Try to select writing that best represents your talents, abilities, and interests. (If you have expressed an interest in working in German idealism, for example, a paper on Kant’s Second Critique or Hegel’s Philosophy of Right would be perfectly appropriate, a particularly good paper on Plato’s Theaetetus would be somewhat less appropriate though perhaps still a possibility, while a paper on Taoism or Artificial Intelligence, however good, will probably be considered inappropriate.) If you are absolutely torn between two pieces of writing for a particular place where you believe both are perfectly appropriate or where you think they show two different sides of your talents and interests, then you might want to go ahead and send both. It is unlikely that both will get read, but it’s also unlikely that you will be disqualified for sending too much. 
Deadlines vary according to the program, but we recommend that you have everything—letters or recommendation, writing sample, GRE’s, etc.—by the end of November, early December. (Don’t forget that DePaul has a December break and that many faculty leave town at that time. You need to get your letters before the break if at all possible.) Most programs have a deadline in early January.

You are fortunate to be in a department and university with a strong graduate program in philosophy of its own. You should take advantage of this by seeking the advice of professors who regularly sit on the Graduate Admissions Committee and of graduate students who have been through the process and produced successful applications.If you have been chosen for a fellowship, or if you are being considered for one, you may receive sometime in February or March an e-mail or a phone call  from the Graduate Director or some other faculty member from the program to which you have applied. Make sure you express your enthusiasm about their program on the phone or via e-mail and show yourself to be a lively but polite conversationlist; it’s not impossible that they are gauging your level of interest and trying to see if you are the kind of student they would like to work with. Once a university has made you an offer you have until April 15th to tell them whether or not you are accepting it. You should thus wait until you hear from all the schools you have applied to, especially those at the top of your list, before making any decisions. Ideally, you will have received two or three offers by early April, at which point you may want to visit the universities that have offered you funding. You will also want to consult with your professors about your various options should this happy problem arise. (And you will certainly want to thank your letter writers and anyone else who helped you with your application for contributing to your success.) Remember that putting in an extra ten to twenty to thirty hours to produce a first-rate application may well mean the difference between getting into a program with full funding and not getting in at all. The stakes are thus very high, so look at the application process as something of a full-time job for a few weeks.

Good luck.