MOVING TO FRONT FROM 2/26/13, SINCE IT IS THAT TIME OF YEAR! (And see this related thread from 2011.)
A prospective PhD student writes:
I had a question for you about choosing a graduate program in philosophy, once one has received offers. I thought this might foster a good discussion on your blog, but of course I would like to get your input as well. If you do post this on your blog for discussion, I would like to remain anonymous.
I've received two offers thus far that are competing for my top choice of program. The first is a top-10 program at a top-quality research institution (which will of course manifest itself with the nebulous "prestige" factor, generous funding, light teaching load, better travel opportunities, etc) with strengths broadly similar to mine, while the second is a top-25 program at a strong research institution (second-tier, perhaps) and is an undisputed leader in a couple of pretty specialized fields that are of interest to me. Moreover, the second program is reputed to have a very productive learning environment and great student/faculty relations (jury is out on the first program until I visit soon). In terms of job placement, the former of course has a strong placement record, while the latter has a strong placement record for those who remain within its specialization and work with the program's top philosophers. Given that my interests may change during graduate school (as I hear they often do), what additional considerations should I be making, and can you offer any advice?
My own advice was that if the financial aid packages were comparable (a really key question, in my view), and if the student was fairly confident about his interests, then going to the "top 25" program would make good sense (esp. since it wasn't clear to me the "top 10" program was actually as good in some of the areas the student was interested in--to protect anonymity, I can't disclose those; just to be clear, Chicago is not one of the programs the student is considering). If others have thoughts on this kind of question, comments are open. Signed comments will be preferred, though students may post anonymously, but must include a valid e-mail address, that will not appear.