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I'm in a program near the bottom of the PGR in admissions committee. We scored writing samples anonymously to make a first cut (longlist). Then we revealed identities to look at other considerations (letters, statement of purpose etc). I recall a good writing sample though not one of the best, was from someone from Princeton. We discussed the files and someone said "this person will probably not pick us, they'll probably get an offer from a higher-ranked place" (nothing in the statement of purpose indicated they were interested particularly). So we put a few people from lower-ranked programs with an equivalent record ahead of them in our ranking for invitations. So, prestige can also work against one.

Hmmm. . . .

Is it elitism or just using letter writer fame (due often to knowledge of good philosophy), school prestige (due often to educational quality), etc. as evidence of potential in an epistemically difficult position (being on an ad comm)?


Perhaps it's worth reminding the original poster (and others!) that 'elite' undergrad institutions ≠ programs with high PGR ranks. The PGR is a measure of *graduate* program prestige, and that's different from undergraduate program prestige. There's some overlap, to be sure, but not as much as you might otherwise think.

What that means is that there will be quite a few "small", primarily undergraduate schools with more clout in the PhD admissions process than many R1s with PhD programs in the discipline.

In terms of practical advice (from someone not at all involved in PhD admissions!): You can't really control where you did your undergrad and what its reputation is, so I wouldn't sweat it. Instead, I'd concentrate on getting the best possible letters *from faculty intimately familiar with your work*. I don't think there's much point in trying to game the system by submitting letters from 'famous' scholars who don't know you very well. (Besides which, as an undergrad you're probably not a very good judge of your professors' reputations yet!)

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