How to Choose the Best Philosophy Graduate Program

Factors to Consider

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Choosing a Philosophy Grad Program. Danita Delimont / Getty Images

The choice of a philosophy graduate program can be extremely difficult. In the U.S.A. alone, there are over one hundred of well-established departments granting graduate degrees (M.A., M.Phil., or Ph.D.) Needless to say, Canada, the U.K., Australia, France, Spain, Holland, Belgium, Germany, and a few other countries have graduate programs that are well-regarded too. How to decide where is most suitable to study?

Length of the Degree and Financial Aid

One of the first important characteristics of a graduate degree is its length. When it comes to Ph.D. degrees, U.S. departments have longer curricula (roughly between four and seven years) and usually offer multi-year financial aid packages; other countries have different systems, and it is most common to find three-year Ph.D. programs (most U.K., French, German, and Spanish institutions are of this sort), some of which offer financial aid.

The financial aid aspect can be decisive to most students. The situation of fresh philosophy Ph.D. graduate is quite different from Law School or Medical School graduates. Even when successfully securing an academic job upon completion of the degree, a fresh philosophy Ph.D. would struggle to pay a hundred thousand dollars in loans. For this reason, unless of exceptionally favorable economic conditions, it is recommendable to embark on a graduate program in philosophy only if proper financial aid is secured.

Placement Record

One of the first important characteristics of a graduate degree is its placement record. What sorts of jobs have the graduates from the program secured over the last few years?

It is important to keep in mind that placement records can improve or weaken on the basis of the changes in reputation of the faculty members of the department and, to a smaller degree, of the institution.

For instance, philosophy departments at New York University and Rutgers University have significantly transformed their reputation over the last ten to fifteen years, and in the past few hiring seasons, their graduates were among the most sought out on the market.


It is, however, important to choose a program that suits the interest of the prospective student. In some cases, relatively more peripheral programs can still constitute the best choice. For instance, for a student interested in phenomenology and religion, University of Louvain, Belgium, offers an excellent program; or, Ohio State University offers an excellent choice for philosophy of mathematics. It is essential to end up in a place where the perspective student can intellectually engage on her/his research areas with at least one faculty member – even better if there is a small group of faculties who are interested.

Working Conditions

Finally, enrolling into a graduate program means oftentimes to relocate: a new country, a new city, a new apartment, new colleagues await the perspective candidate. It is vital to consider whether the working conditions are suiting for you: can you really thrive in that environment.

Some Departments

So, which are the hottest departments? This is a million dollar questions. On the score of what we said above, much depends on the interests and preferences of the applicant. Having said this, it is relatively safe to assert that some departments have had a greater impact than others in disseminating philosophical ideas, influencing citizens in other academic and non-academic institutions. In no particular order, we shall recall Harvard University, Princeton University, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, University of Pittsburgh, M.I.T., University of Pennsylvania, U.C.L.A., Stanford University, U.C. Berkeley, Columbia University, University of Chicago, Brown University, University of Texas at Austin, Indiana University, Cornell University, Yale University, University of Maryland, University of Wisconsin Madison, University of Notre Dame, Duke University, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Ohio State University, University of Rochester, U.C.

Irvine, University of Southern California, Syracuse University, Tufts University, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Rice University, Rutgers University, New York University, City University of New York.

The Rankings

A number of rankings of philosophy departments and graduate programs have been compiled over the past few years. The most influential is probably the Philosophical Gourmet Report, edited by professor Brian Leiter of University of Chicago. The report, based on the evaluation of three hundred faculty members, contains also a number of useful additional resources for prospective students.

More recently, the Pluralist’s Guide to Philosophy Program has aimed at offering an alternative perspective on the strength of the various philosophy departments. This guide has the merit of focusing on a number of areas of research that are not given center stage in Leiter’s guide; o the other hand, the placement record of most of those institutions is not as impressive as the top-ranked institutions in Leiter’s report.

Another ranking that deserves some attention is the Hartmann Report, edited by graduate student John Hartmann.