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Anon Grad Student

I think point 2 gets things wrong. Breadth of education IS very important, but there are much reasons to think that being in a small department will actually promote a broad education more than being in a large one. Based on my first- and second-hand experience, large departments tend to balkanize much more than small ones. If your department is small, the faculty and the grad students are much more likely to all talk to each other than if your department is large. In a small department, people have to make an active effort to learn about what everyone else is working on than in a small department, where it's easy to only travel within your subgroup.

Michel X.

I think a lot of this boils down to department culture rather than size. It's absolutely true that one's interests may change, and I think it's right to seek out a fairly broad philosophical education. So, at a minimum, one wants to seek out a department that can accommodate those desiderata, at least to a certain extent.

But the advantages of being somewhere big (or small!) start to diminish pretty quickly if you're alone in trying to get a broad education, or if the faculty or student body is divided, or if they're aloof, or if the student:prof ratio is just too high.

I know that's a bit of a non-answer, but there you have it. I think one would be better off talking to a few grad students about the atmosphere in their program.


A few more things to consider: I think it is false to say smaller schools necessarily have fewer resources; it really depends on the school and the department. In my experience, except for (perhaps) the most prestigious public schools, private schools in the U.S. tend to have more resources (at least measured in things like grad stipends, amount of TA work required, etc.). Grad funding for travel seems to vary more widely, and is something I would ask about at each school.

An important factor that I think may be underestimated by entering grad students but which I have found very important is what the culture is like in the department. Small schools are more likely to foster a close-knit environment (the balkanization effect mentioned in the first post), both philosophically and socially. Because my department is small, students are less socially divided by cohort or area, so many of my closest friends weren't even in coursework at the same time I was nor do we work in the same areas, and this is a type of broadening of one's education that is useful. Unless you are one of the few grad students who really thrives working all alone, this will become quite important, especially after finishing coursework. I am writing my dissertation now, so this consideration is quite live for me.

It is true that there may be fewer opportunities to broaden one's horizon at a small school by working with a number of different faculty, but it depends to some extent on how sure you are of your area(s) of interest (for instance, if you have had broad exposure and have a M.A. degree already, you may be more sure of what areas interest you most than someone who is fresh out of undergrad).

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