An M.A. student writes:
I'm a second-year master's student, and I'll be applying to PhD programs this December. I know that this is the time when you get asked questions concerning the application process because students are trying to get ready, so I figured I would ask away in benefit of both myself and all the other PhD hopefuls. So, here I go:
(1) How much does an MA in Philosophy help or hurt an applicant?
(2) What's the order of importance in your department concerning the writing sample, letters of recommendation, statement of purpose, GRE scores, cv, and institution where applicant is from?
I know that a lot of us would benefit from any information that faculty would be willing to share, especially given the highly competitive nature of the whole process. This blog is a great resource tool for us applicants, and we greatly appreciate it.
On (1), it seems to me the only way an MA can hurt is if the student has done poorly in the MA program (thus revealing that they aren't cut out for PhD study), or if the MA program is quite poor--but anyone applying from any of the PGR-noted programs needn't worry about the latter.
The second question is harder, and answers may vary as between individual philosophers, as well as institutions. As a general rule-of-thumb, I'd offer this: GRE scores are probably least important, constituting a kind of floor (if they are too low, the school may be a bit nervous), but that's it--no one is being admitted to PhD programs based on their GRE scores. GPA, and the institution the GPA is from, along with the letters of recommendation (esp. when they are from philosophers that the program knows), are very powerful screening devices, and will determine which applicants have their writing samples read carefully. The statement of purpose can do more to disqualify than qualify a candidate for admission: admissions committees to read it to see whether the student's interests are actually a good fit. If they're not, an otherwise strong application can go by the wayside.
Comments are open; signed comments preferred. I'd encourage philosophers to post to say that my comments, above, describe accurately their own admissions practices; or that my comments misdescribe their admissions practices, but are probably true of many other departments; or to say that I've misdescribed not only their admissions practices but admissions practices generally! Philosophers outside the U.S. (the admissions processes I know best, needless to say) are also invited to comment on pertinent differences in their practices.