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I don't know what your chances are, but certainly your publication will help, as Marcus said. Here's what comes to mind about what you can do to increase your chances:
1. Make your writing sample excellent. I'm sure there have been threads on this here, so check them out. Maybe you can get someone in your area whose name will be familiar to the committee to read your writing sample.
2. If you can then get a letter from this person, even better. My impression is that having letters from recognisable names is, unfortunately, important.
3. Highlight any way in which you're 'diverse'. Depending on where exactly you're from, this might be easier or harder, but being from the global South is probably a point in your favour here.
Good luck!

Grad Student

I'm a grad student, so I never served on any admission committee. It sounds to me that if you have a publication in Synthese, which is highly untrivial at this stage, and if your writing sample is excellent (especially if not identical to the published paper, indicating that it was not a one-time fluke), should be enough to let you in any grad school that respects itself. It's quite clear that as a student from the global south, you could only use the resources in the global south, and the fact that you have such achievements nonetheless should only be a point in your favour.

Unfortunately, not all departments respect themselves in the sense above. As a student in a very elite department, I can testify that sometimes people with much less impressive achievements get accepted, probably mainly due to the prestige of their undergrad school.

However, try in as many places as you can. In most places, they will grant you a waiver on the admission fee so it shouldn't be a burden. Chances are that at least one good department will have a place for you.

Also, if you can attend conferences with known professors in your area it might be an opportunity to get them interested in your work, and it might be worth a try to ask your professors to make contact with better-known professors and ask their advice. Maybe one of these better-known professors will ask to see your work and get to know you and be willing to write a letter for you.

Terminal MA

I work at a philosophy department in the US that has a terminal MA program. We often act as a way for foreign students to get into the US system, and once in the US system, it is easier for them to get into top PhD programs.
On our end, the fact that we take chances with students from places in which it is difficult for us to evaluate their credentials, often results in us getting AMAZING students that probably wouldn't need us at all if PhD programs would be a bit less risk-averse.
So, even though you have an MA, getting one from a US program is a way to get into good PhD programs down the line.

academic migrant

You may also consider Australia. It's a good place.

Least Boaster

I'm curious for input from people on phd admissions committees. My own cycle was now a while ago (I'm within a few years, one side or the other, of the tenure line). No one in my cohort, nor anyone else that I knew of, had a single publication I knew of prior to grad school. And while a number of people had a publication or two by the end of the program, Synthese still would have stood out. And I was at a reputable program!

Assuming this was a solo-authored piece, is this really within the fat part of the bell curve these days?!

Daniel Weltman

I agree with (and will slightly expand on) Evan's advice: I would aim to get at least one letter from someone people on the admissions committee have heard of, or at least someone they think is in a position to judge whether you can succeed at a PhD in the US or UK, which would ideally be someone who did their PhD in the US or UK. The more of your letter writers who are like this, the better. And, make salient the ways in which you are "diverse."

Aside from that I think there's not much to do, and also not much to worry about - having a publication in a journal is already is a huge deal. Obviously it's hard to say without seeing your application materials but with good letters your chances are probably as good as anyone's chances (i.e. bad but not hopeless). I'm in the Global South and we've done pretty well placing our students in graduate programs over the years.


I haven't been involved with grad admissions, but I've worked at a university in the Global South. A good number of students there made it into US/UK programs, and generally without having publications, so I think your outlook should be pretty good. My impression is that US departments specifically are not looking too much at institutional prestige in grad admissions. (This is different from hiring decisions, where institutional prestige matters a lot more, as far as I can see.)

Some general advice:
- Make sure your materials are written in impeccable English. If you are not a native speaker, people on admissions may worry about your ability to succeed in an English-speaking environment. Bad grammar in your application materials will amplify this worry.
- Ask your letter writers to explain your grades. Different countries have different grading scales and different levels of grade inflation. If your letter writers say something like "N.N.'s grade are in the top 10% of our field of majors", this will help greatly. (You can send them your transcript, and probably you should send them your other materials too anyway...)

From the UK

In the UK, the publication indicates that you have a very good chance of securing funding (in UK system, it is relatively easy to get an offer so long as someone in the department is willing to supervise; it is much harder to get funding).

A lot would still depend on your PhD proposal (in US terms, we have no coursework requirements in the UK, and all PhD students are immediately 'ABD'). But your publication indicates you definitely could write a good proposal, and you can contact the person you are hoping to supervise you and get them to help edit/advise on the proposal too, so I'd say that you would have a very good chance of getting funding in the UK system.

Just for context, I work in a top UK department, and in recent years we've had PhD students from lots of countries in the Global South, so that won't count against you, especially as you've shown your abilities with the publication in Synthese.

(I'd rather not post my name/e-mail in public, but I'd be happy to talk to the OP about UK PhD applications if Marcus was able/willing to privately share contact info)

Peter Finocchiaro

I’m never quite sure what counts as the Global South. Nevertheless, I agree with most of what has already been said. I would seriously consider applying to MA programs in addition to PhD programs. Also, I would seriously consider informing your letter writers of the professional norms followed by the people who will be on the admissions committees. There are resources that discuss this in greater detail, but try to do what you can to ensure your letters contain unambiguous recommendations supported by personal anecdotes written in clear English.

Aspiring Philosopher

Hello, everyone! I am the OP of the original post. Firstly, I would just like to express my sincerest thanks for your very helpful and encouraging responses to my query. As someone who is not privy to how admissions committees view applications from non-Western academic background, these pieces of advice will undoubtedly guide and help in crafting my application.

For more context, I am from the Philippines, located in Southeast Asia. As I mentioned in my post, I have a BA and MA in Philosophy in our national state university. I have a single authored publication in Synthese based on a chapter of my MA thesis (though I would say is only average). My research interests are General Philosophy of Science and Epistemology.

I hope you don’t mind me asking follow up questions to the helpful commenters.

@Evan and @Daniel Weltman: You mentioned ‘diversity’. Would you advise that I emphasize this in my application letter? I don’t know if this is misplaced, but I’m just worried that admission committees may view such as too much use of the ‘diversity card’, and so may actually work to my disadvantage. Again, thank you for pointing this out to me.

@Evan, @Grad Student, @Daniel Weltman, @Tammo, and @Peter Finocchiaro: In the matter of recommendation letter. What exactly are the norms for choosing letter recommenders? Please correct me, but my impression is that admission committees only take seriously your recommendation letter if it’s from a former teacher or supervisor. My worry then stems from the fact that my former teachers whom I am considering as my would be letter recommenders would be virtually unknown (on offense intended) to admission people in the UK/US since they only publish locally. But what I got from your responses is that it seems within the norms if your letter recommenders are not your former teachers (say, someone I just met in a conference). Incidentally, I will be participating in a summer course in CEU Hungary this July where my would be teachers are actually quite internationally recognizable. Would you suggest I ask some of them if they can write me a recommendation letter even though our encounter will be very brief? I appreciate your thoughts on this.

@Terminal MA and @Peter Finocchiaro. Thanks for the advice to get another MA. I would seriously consider this if not for financial constraints. Are MA scholarships in the US for foreigners commonplace?

@From the UK. Thank you for your ‘insider’ perspective. It greatly minimized some of my worries. And I especially appreciate your willingness to connect to me. I would very much like to connect and ask you some advice for my application in the UK. I do not know how to personally contact you here, but I will try to email Prof. Marcus if it is possible for me to get your email. Or perhaps I’ll just mention my email here in case you don’t have any problems contacting me first:

Again, thanks everyone! And thanks Prof. Marcus for posting my query here!

Peter Finocchiaro

Personally, I'm not sure what the norms are for who you choose. I encourage students to choose faculty who are engaged with the "international community". It sounds like maybe your teachers/advisors don't satisfy that criterion. Asking someone from the CEU Hungary course is not a bad idea, especially if you are able to cultivate a relationship with them outside of the course itself.

I could be wrong, but I don't think most MA scholarships in the US are sensitive to nationality. At any rate, I have had several students who have received the typical funding packages (working as a TA and having tuition covered and a stipend provided).

Daniel Weltman

Re: diversity - I wouldn't say you need to emphasize it. You just need to mention it in sufficient detail to highlight the ways in which you are diverse. Anyone inclined to get annoyed at overplaying the "diversity card" is probably going to be prejudiced against you already, so the harm there is already done.

Re: letters - anyone familiar enough with you to write a letter can write a letter. The more familiar the better, but this is one consideration among others. In this case if you have e.g. 2 letters from people very familiar with you, it would definitely be worth it to (if possible) get a letter from someone less familiar with you but more likely to be known to the admissions committee members. Your summer course instructor(s) would be excellent choices.


I think generally speaking, your letter writers should be your former teachers. In fact, it would look odd if your letter writers were mostly from a university you didn't attend. If you want to get one letter from someone more internationally recognizable, that's fine. But the risk here is that they may not be able to say much about your work, and in that case such a letter would not help you much. I also think the admissions committees will understand that if you did your degrees in the Philippines, your letter writers will be people who work there. So, if I were you, I would try not to stress about this. (The fact that you're attending a summer course in itself is great, and you could mention that in your application, by the way.)

newly tt

If your letter writers work locally but have PhDs from the kind of programs you want to attend, that might help with the worry about obscurity. It also means they can offer informal endorsements of your application to department members and that they will be more likely to write a letter such depts can properly parse.

If this advice isn't helpful to OP, it may be helpful to students in similar positions.

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