An anonymous early-career reader submitted the following post:
Three Tips for Departments Interested in Economically Diverse Graduate Students
- Departments interested in having a socioeconomically diverse graduate student population should work with the APA to develop a thorough guide to admissions and send it out to every Philosophy department they can reach. Sharp undergrads from poor backgrounds are far more likely to be at a state school close to home. These departments are much more likely to be outside the mainstream of philosophy and be unable to offer helpful advice to applicants. For example, I thought (wrongly) that the GRE mattered. I spent hours with my mom quizzing me on vocabulary and spent hundreds on test prep materials. When I scored in the 99th percentile I was thrilled and thought surely some programs would be impressed. I wish I had known that all those resources would have been better spent elsewhere. By the way, as an undergrad at a state school, I found the PGR very useful, as I didn’t have access to faculty that were plugged in to the culture of the profession in the same way that faculty at top research departments would be. Hopefully this guide would be true to the process and not mindless platitudes.
- Graduate schools should either abandon the GRE (since many ad comms will bend over backwards to say it doesn't matter in decisions), or at least not require an official score report until an applicant is provisionally admitted. That's an enormous expense for underprivileged applicants. I happen to think, however, that the GRE is the one level playing field for poor undergraduates. Underprivileged students will be far less likely to have letters from famous philosophers, extensive feedback on their writing, or inflated grades. The one uncorrupted component of the process might well be the GRE. Maybe the quantitative section shouldn’t be taken too seriously, but the verbal section really should count for a lot. I know many faculty are keen to prioritize their own “expert” judgments over objective metrics, but surely we understand that this is one of the ways in which bias in favor of privileged applicants operates.
- Admissions should omit the institutional affiliation and the names of the letter writers until the later rounds of the process. This way, at least, reasonable applicants from state schools can survive, and no one can squeak in based on pedigree alone. Now, here is an admittedly radical suggestion: reserve a spot for an applicant coming from a less prestigious school. I guarantee that there are enough excellent applicants that a good program could get a phenomenal student coming from a state school. Many state school students go to terminal MA programs as they aren’t able to get into a PhD the first time around. My own impression is that the well regarded MA programs are a goldmine of excellent applicants, many from non-prestigious backgrounds. It does seem odd to me that the US has not adopted the standard of the UK in making an MA a prerequisite for a PhD.