In a couple of months, philosophy graduate programs all around the country will begin evaluating graduate applications. Judging from my experience, in a not insubstantial number of cases, one of the chief factors influencing admissions will be the supposed “quality” of the undergraduate institution, i.e. whether the applicant went to an Ivy League school or an elite private college. The best undergraduates from Harvard and Yale (for the most part themselves graduates of expensive private schools or all-white suburban public high schools) will receive multiple offers of admission from the best programs. If you’re the valedictorian of a mid-rank state school with a not very distinguished philosophy department, you’re going to have a great deal of trouble getting into a leading philosophy program. Everyone must have very good writing samples, but your writing sample needs to be significantly better than the writing samples of the graduate students from ‘name’ institutions.
I’ve always wondered whether this is a sensible system. Does having the class background that facilitates admission to an Ivy League school really correlate well with future success as a philosopher? Some research should be done on this topic. In the meantime, I thought I would list some of the undergraduate institutions some of the leading young philosophers in the world have attended. Here are the undergraduate institutions of philosophers in the middle-40s or younger employed in philosophy departments ranked in the ‘top ten’ in the United States in the latest PGR, who attended US undergraduate institutions, and whose information is either available on the web or known to me personally: Harvard, Gordon College, SUNY Stony Brook, Minnesota State-Mankato, Notre Dame, Oberlin, Calvin College, Brown, Princeton, Cornell, Westminster College, John Carroll University, Harvard, Tulane, Bethel College, UC Santa Cruz, Reed, Yale, Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Duke, Williams, Bucknell, Swarthmore
This is as unscientific as it gets; many philosophers inexplicably don’t have their CVs available on the web. We do see a lot of the expected names cropping up here on this list. But we also see a lot of not so expected names popping up. This I think is something for us to keep in mind when graduate admissions season rolls around again…