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You're not going to get the same experience, I don't think. But to compensate a little, I would highly recommend talking to grad students who are very far along or, better yet, asking to be put in touch with recent alumni. They may have forgotten what it was like to be an early grad student (so you should talk to early grad students too!), but they tend to have a better sense how one PhD program compares with another.

Helen De Cruz

I second Marcus' advice. Have a look at Carolyn Dicey Jennings' reports on placement, which also have qualitative data on how happy students are with the programme. While placement is important, it also seems to me that things like emotional support, or support for you if you intend to pursue a non-academic career, is important. So you can have a programme that looks like it's got low placement but that still have significant and good non-academic placement (CDJ has some data and observations on this too). If you can, try to schedule some Skype calls or Zoom meetings (note: there are concerns with Zoom's privacy and security settings) with grad students from the programme. Not first-year students, but people in their third year or beyond. Try to speak to as many as you can and see if they're happy and how involved their supervisors are.


Yep, I agree with both posts about grad students. They are more likely to be honest with you I think, and they are probably the best shot you have at determining whether you will be happy at said program.

Also, I am sorry but I have to say this. Are you sure you want to start a PhD in philosophy right now? I am at a large private R2 and my spouse is a high level administrator and we are hemorrhaging money. I don't think we will get new hires (that aren't grant or research funded) for YEARS, and it may never be the same. You think the market is bad now? I'm not sure it will get back to the levels it is at now for many years if ever...

Now, on the other hand, if you are very young and really want to take a shot, what you need to look at is the school's financial situation, especially their endowment. I would be looking primarily at R1 privates with fat endowments (although Cornell just announced raise and hiring freezes along with pay cuts of all the top admins, and asked others to voluntarily take pay cuts). If the school looks like they are in good position to weather this storm and pay your stipend for 5+ years, and if you won't go into debt in grad school, then it might be as good of an option as any right now. But, be prepared to not secure an academic position. Sorry to be that guy...


IMO, campus visits are a luxury, and one that's not offered equally to all prospectives. Waitlisted students, for instance, often don't get a chance to visit the campus in-person, and have to gather their information by other means. International students, too.

And those events tend to be attended primarily by students still early in the program, and their outlook on the program can be very different from students further along.

So, like rutabagas and Helen said: email current students at various stages of the program, and email recent alums.

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