Issues with Graduate Admissions

“Ph.D. programs are one of the few parts of higher education where admissions decisions are made without admissions professionals.” So begins Inside Higher Ed’discussion of Inside Graduate Admissions: Merit, Diversity and Faculty Gatekeeping by Julie Posselt (Michigan). Posselt observed ten different U.S. departments as they narrowed down their pool of PhD program applicants, including at least one philosophy department (unnamed). Among the findings reported by IHE:

  • “Many of the professors sound insecure about their programs even though they are among the very best.”
  • There is “a priority on GRE scores that extends beyond what most departments would admit.”
  • “Faculty members effectively practice affirmative action for all applicants who are not from East Asia,” when it comes to GRE scores.
  • Faculty, especially those who see themselves as producing academics like them, are “risk averse in ways that limit the diversity of those admitted.”
  • “White males ‘dominated’ the admissions committees.”
  • GPAs, especially of students from elite undergraduate institutions, are thought of as “a lousy signal.”
  • There are “a lot of inferences about the quality of someone’s work and their ability based on where [that is, which school] they come from.”
  • Many faculty consider minority “race and ethnicity as a slight tip among otherwise equal candidates who had advanced to a finalist round.”
  • There is a concern about foreign students, particularly Chinese students, “inflating test scores through cheating” on language competency exams.

Do Posselt’s observations ring true? What issues specific to philosophy PhD admissions should we be paying attention to? What strategies have your committees employed to address them? Would intervention from admissions experts help or hurt? Discussion welcome.



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