Pre-PhD Program Coursework


A student writes in with a question:

I’m a student in my first semester at a terminal masters program, and as an undergraduate I mostly took courses outside of value theory. Would it help my application to a PhD program if I branched out and took a wide range of classes or should I double down and stick with the fields I enjoy?

More generally, to what extent does the breadth of an applicant’s coursework matter to PhD program admissions committees? What does an ideal pre-PhD curriculum look like? If given the choice, should MA students go for depth or breadth?

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Kenny
6 years ago

I don’t know that I have general advice, but some PhD programs are happy to admit students with only a little philosophy coursework, as long as they did well in it and seem to have shown that their other academic interests would serve them in pursuing philosophy. Thus, I would think that a variety of different undergraduate educations in philosophy could also be good, provided that the student is doing well.

However, I think that many PhD programs see the value of a terminal masters as providing the kind of breadth in philosophy that these other students I mention above lack – someone coming in with a terminal masters may be expected to already have breadth and be ready to jump into more depth. Additionally, the particular pattern of avoiding classes in value theory is one that might be seen as a sign that the student won’t want to fill the distribution requirements that most PhD programs have. So I would think that in this particular case it’s important to get the breadth that a PhD program will expect, even if there is a particular focus on top of that.Report

Anon MA prof
Anon MA prof
6 years ago

Loosely related… In the hopes of giving our MA students sound advice on cover letters and writing samples, a colleague of mine and I emailed some friends from various PhD granting institutions to ask about continuity. We were specifically interested in whether or not it was a plus, a minus, or neutral to have a writing sample in an area that matched with the proposed area of PhD study described in the letter. For the most part, folks at PhD granting institution saw it as a plus if there was cohesion. This is a bit of a leap, but it makes me think that many people on admissions committees at top programs value focus.Report

anon prof at grad program
anon prof at grad program
6 years ago

Here are my thoughts, given my own experiences. I did not major in philosophy for my BA, but I did do an MA at one of the “highly regarded” MA programs mentioned on certain sites. I used the MA program to gain breadth (since I only took a few philosophy courses in college) but also to work over a year on my writing sample for PhD admissions. I gained admission to a top-5 PhD program after the MA and now have a job at a PhD program. In my view, students should use the MA for breadth, esp if they don’t have a BA in philosophy, but importantly also work on their writing sample (and take advantage of feedback from faculty over at least 6 months). This means that if one is in a 2-year MA program one should settle on a topic in the first semester or two and then work on it continually until submitting it with applications in the fall of year 2. My experience was that people read my writing sample in detail and had a thing or two to say about it, at least at the top PhD programs where I visited and was offered admission.Report

MA Applicant
MA Applicant
6 years ago

At: anon prof at grad program: If you don’t mind sharing, I would love to hear more about your experience in the MA program (in private correspondence of course). I come from a Fine Arts undergraduate background and am currently trying to transition into analytic philosophy via a terminal MA program with research interests in metaphysics and philosophy of science. Is there an email address or alternative contact I can reach you at? Feel free to shoot me an email over here (dummy address): [email protected]Report