An undergraduate student in Britain writes:
Unlike some other forms of graduate study (e.g., law school), it is very difficult for prospective applicants to discern how likely they are to gain admission to any particular graduate program. This uncertainty encourages applying to a greater number of graduate programs.
For example, a very cautious applicant might consider applying to every single program they would be happy to attend, were it the only program to admit them. Obviously, there are limits to this from the applicant's end, e.g., admissions fees and the practical limits of putting together that many applications. But, my questions are these:
1. Is there any way of getting a better sense of one's chances at admission? Is it out of line to ask the professors who will be writing the letters of recommendation?
2. Is there a point at which a professor would be offended by the number of letters sought? I don't know how the letter writing process works from the inside, so I don't know if the effort is mostly up-front with fairly low marginal effort (so that the number isn't terribly important), or if each additional letter does take a great deal of time.
My thoughts: 1. You should ask your undergraduate teachers where they think you should be applying and you can try asking them about where they think you may have a good chance (they may be somewhat reluctant to be too candid on this score, since it could also be interpreted as revealing how strongly they will recommend you, but I don't see anything wrong with raising the general issue, i.e., "Where should I be applying and which programs do you think I could realistically regard as safeties, which as reaches?" or something like that). If your undergraduate department has sent many students on to graduate study, you might inquire whether they have any statistics on how those students fared, organized perhaps by test scores, GPA, area of philosophy and the like. 2. In general, I think additional letters do not involve great costs.
Comments are open; please post only once, and be patient.