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01/13/2014

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Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa

Where are you getting your information about what programs care about in admissions? In reviewing graduate admissions files, I've never given a second thought to GRE scores. I rarely give a first thought to them.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Jonathan: very interesting. My comments were based on information from a few different sources:

(1) Things I heard through the grapevine when I arrived at the two PhD programs I entered (Syracuse and Arizona). [I don't mean to imply that they focus on GRE scores in their admissions process today]

(2) Things I've read on GradCafe.com (where GRE scores for candidates accepted to good programs were generally *very* high -- though it could be an epiphenomenon).

(3) Things my wife was told by people on admissions committees when she applied to grad programs in another field.

If my impressions/advice are wrong, I'm more than happy to change them!

Justin

I've heard different things from different people, regarding GRE scores. Some places tend to take them seriously, but as far as I can tell, that is largely due to institutional pressure. They can also affect funding: some universities have special university-wide fellowships (more money, less teaching), and GRE scores can be important there. I would imagine departments like to admit students that can get these.

What I haven't heard much evidence for - at least not that I can recall right now - is that philosophers on admissions committees care much about them as evidence of philosophical ability or probability of success in grad school. Of course, if you have really, really high scores that can be impressive, and if you have really, really low scores that can be a red flag. But I would imagine, apart from the institutional considerations I mentioned above, there's a pretty big range of scores which will just be ignored by most people. And even very high or very low scores are probably easily trumped by the writing sample, etc.

But that doesn't mean you shouldn't spend a little time preparing, since (i) you may be more likely to be admitted at a few places, due to institutional pressure, and (ii) you might get some extra money and a lighter teaching load during grad school.

Anthony Carreras

What I've heard about GRE scores is that departments typically use them as an initial screening device. They can get you through the door (or keep you from the door if they are too low), but after that they won't do too much for you (so I've heard from several folks who have served on admissions committees, anyway).

One thing I would add: Don't listen to people who say, "only go to graduate school if you cannot imagine yourself being happy doing anything else." My own view is that no one really fits this description. It's impossible to know, out of all the possible professions out there, that philosophy is the only one you could be happy in. And odds are you probably could be happy doing something else. In fact, I'm sure there are other fields that I could be happy pursuing, but that doesn't make me any less happy to be doing philosophy. My point is - this advice is overly idealistic and sets an unreasonable standard.

jmugg

Many schools have average GRE scores of students admitted on their websites. At least they did 4 or 5 years ago. I recall them being pretty high (usually around the 1400/1600 mark). You need to get a good enough mark on the GRE to get past those using it as a first cut. If you have an amazing writing sample, but your GRE and GPA are crap, you are in trouble.

As far as admissions go, it's a crapshoot. Probably even more so than the job market since there are not two rounds of interviews. Different folks take different things seriously. I know of a prof who does not read cover letters. I know of another who takes the cover letter very seriously.
- See more at: http://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2014/01/advice-for-undergrads.html#comments

Sean

I spoke personally with a member of a Leiter top 20 about his Dept.'s GRE policy and was told that after the first wave of cuts GRE scores are completely ignored. Even during initial screenings, a low score just means you'd best have As in phil courses, strong letters, and a great sample. If you have these and a low score chances are you make it to round 2, after which it is a non-factor how well you know your slope intercept form.

Trevor Hedberg

One factor that undergrads should be made aware of is that your institution of origin seems to play a significant factor in what graduate programs you can get into. Eric Schwitzgebel wrote about this a few years ago: http://schwitzsplinters.blogspot.com/2011/10/sorry-cal-state-students-no-princeton.html

If it's true, then it's very unfortunate because the college that one attends is likely to be heavily influenced by one's geographical location, financial circumstances, and a myriad of other factors that are unrelated to the academic merits of the student.

Jerry Green

In my experience (both applying myself, and in talking to people at various institutions), GRE scores matter only at the very beginning and very end of the process. They're used for screening (as is GPA), but they're also used for funding, since they're one of the few common denominators across disciplines. Students who wouldn't get a spot on the basis of their sample alone might sometimes stay in the running on the basis of scores, since this could mean a free grad student for the department. True story: At one program I was nominated for a university-wide fellowship while simultaneously being only waitlisted rather than accepted by the department.

I can also say, as a former GRE instructor, that its pretty easy to raise your scores. I took the exam once without studying, then a second time a few years later after maybe 4 weeks of prep, and I raised my score about 300 points (on the old scale).

At the end of the day, you don't want any part of your application to look weak. Some programs care about x, some don't. Heck, some committee members care and some don't on the same committee. But everything that can be used against you, will be, so don't risk it.

Jerry Green

A corollary to this whole discussion: Philosophy is an increasing professionalized enterprise. Its not just smart folks reading/writing/thinking about cool stuff. Loving the love of wisdom might not be enough; you have to at least tolerate the academic profession.

David Morrow

I would add another piece of advice:

Throughout your undergraduate career, try to develop a verifiable track record of some skill or interest outside of philosophy. That might be a minor in psychology, a summer internship with a local politician, a part-time job at a non-profit, contributions to some open-source software, or whatever. This will point you toward a credible alternative if you find that you don't want to go to grad school, that you don't get any sufficiently attractive offers from grad schools, or whatever. As an added bonus, if you do stay in philosophy, your "extracurricular" activity is likely to provide some interdisciplinary fertilization for your philosophical thought.

Some might say that you'd be better off devoting that extra energy to philosophy in hopes of getting into a better graduate program. Maybe for some people that's true. For most people, though, I think it's wise to hedge one's bets.

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