Applying to PhD programs: worried you are too ‘weak’ of a candidate?

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In our newest “how can we help you?” thread, Daniel writes:

I am interested in applying to philosophy programs, but I’m worried I’m too weak a candidate. The pluses: I concentrated in political philosophy in undergrad, and I see myself to be an outstanding learner and writer with pretty good samples and a solid idea for a potential dissertation proposal. I also have references who can speak well about my theoretical abilities. Finally, I took one philosophy course–in French!– during my MA, from which I finished with a 3.9. The minuses: I majored in political science, not philosophy. I wasn’t exactly part of any philosophy department, and I ended up taking just 4 philosophy classes and then went on to get an MA in a social sciences program. My undergrad GPA was only about 3.6 overall, with a couple of B+’s in the philosophy classes. I would attribute this in my statement to personal reasons (my sloppier grades correlate with time, not subject) and explain that I’ve grown more capable since my MA. I also have virtually no background in analytic philosophy, but I’m absolutely willing to learn. Can anyone give me realistic prospects on being admitted to a decent program or if I’m in over my head? Needless to say I would be thrilled to study it–I just want to know if it’s seriously worth applying.

Maybe it’s just me, but Daniel sounds to me like he would be a fine candidate for philosophy Phd programs. Actually, maybe it’s not just me! EM submitted the following reply:

I did my undergrad in political science and an MA in political theory. I too had taken only one philosophy course. I was admitted to every philosophy PhD program I applied to (Toronto, UCL, Oxford, Edinburgh). I’m not bragging,just showing it’s possible. However, if your interests still lie in political philosophy, why not do a UK political theory PhD where the philosophy/theory divide is much less important.

It might be good to hear from other people who were in a similar position as Daniel (were you able to get into a good PhD program?), as well as from PhD admissions committee members. Are there things that someone like Daniel can do/should do to be more competitive?

I imagine one thing he might do is to apply this year, and in the meantime take some philosophy grad classes as a non-degree-seeking student. Then, if he has trouble getting into a desirable program this year, he could have more classes (and successes in philosophy) under his belt if/when he applies next year. My spouse did this in a different field a decade or so ago, and it enabled her to get into a top PhD program in her field.

Originally appeared on The Philosophers’ Cocoon Read More

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