How to Pick a Philosophy Undergraduate Program

Smiling university student in blue top at seminar
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Are you thinking about possibly majoring in philosophy and are scouting for some of the best programs in the U.S.? Chances are that, if you are after a major in philosophy, you have been exposed to it in some way before applying to college; maybe a family member or a friend studied philosophy and you think that the subject may well suit your interests; or, perhaps you are just exploring the opportunity of getting a philosophy undergraduate degree. Well, here are some tips for you.

Get What You Want

Considering that your exposure to philosophical thinking is limited, it is unlikely you are in a position to sort out programs because of the type of philosophical discourse that best suits you. But, there are some basic considerations that can guide you in your choice.

Career Prospects. Do you have any career prospects? Would you see yourself being an academic or are you drawn more towards a career in – say – finance, medicine, or law? While some schools have excellent undergraduate philosophy programs, they may not be able to assist you in launching a career in finance, medicine or law (based on your philosophy degree) as well as other institutions. It is certainly important to be open minded about your future; still, if you believe that some career options may well suit you, pick a school that is likely to keep those options well lit. Grad School in Philosophy? if you plan to become an academic, then you are onto a long (and exciting!) journey, during which you have to apply to graduate programs in philosophy.

Now, some schools have an excellent record in sending their students to graduate schools.; you may want to check that out and ask the department chair about it. Professors. The quality and specialties of the professors in the department may also make a difference. Granted you have a limited exposure to philosophy (or no exposure at all), but you may have an idea about your interests. Are you into natural sciences as well? Some departments have an excellent philosophy of science programs, sometimes with a focus on certain specific sciences – e.g. philosophy of physics or philosophy of biology or philosophy of the social sciences. Are you into mathematics or logic or computer science? Look for programs including faculties that actively engage with issues in the philosophy of mathematics or logic. Are you into religion? Some schools have a great philosophy of religion courses, others have none. The same goes for ethics, environmental ethics, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, philosophy of law, philosophy of economics, legal philosophy, history of philosophy …

Department size.

Several departments have a sufficiently large number of faculties to appropriately cover a vast number of philosophy branches. Those departments may grant you more freedom in exploring your interests and keeping open your options. While I would not recommend choosing a department solely on the basis of its size, it is certainly a detail to factor in.

Overall Experience. This is banal, but it is too often overlooked. Choose a school based not only on a department but on the overall student experience that is offered to you. You will be a graduate of the institution, not just the program: not only you will be taking courses in other departments, but you will be leaving and breathing the air of your overall institution. So, while it is critical that the philosophy department is well suiting, you should be convinced also of the overall experience that is offered to you.

Some Schools

It is relatively safe to assert that there are plenty of philosophy departments that are suitable to launch you onto a career in philosophy. Just take a quick look at the CVs of philosophy professors from the best institutions and you will notice that several ones obtained their degree abroad or such colleges as Haverford, Drew, and Tulane.

Having said this, here is an article on the schools that have been particularly strong in terms of their faculty and graduate program.

Some schools also maintain a public record of their undergraduates who launched an academic career in philosophy; here find the record for Amherst College; here for Swarthmore College

Finally, one of the few other places on the net to offer reliable advice on this difficult matter is Brian Leiter’s blog.