Graduate Study in Philosophy

See below for some advice for students interested in graduate study in philosophy.  There are approximately 120 American universities that offer the PhD in philosophy, and an additional 20 to 30 noteworthy programs that offer a Master's degree only.

Thoughts from CC Faculty

Historically, American philosophy departments have been predominantly devoted to analytic philosophy, with a smaller number focused on continental philosophy.  From its beginnings, Colorado College embraced continental philosophy, while also addressing analytic and American approaches.  In the past, those students strongly interested in continental philosophy sometimes found themselves at a disadvantage when applying to graduate philosophy programs.  Today, however, a number of programs address both the analytic and the continental traditions; and many younger scholars draw on both traditions in their scholarship and teaching.

Graduate departments also vary considerably with respect to how much attention is paid to the history of western philosophy, and whether non-western philosophy is represented at all. By contrast, Colorado College has strongly emphasized history of western philosophy, pioneered work in environmental philosophy, and embraced diverse, critical, and non-western approaches to philosophy.  Many graduate programs have curricula that are not especially historical or broad in these ways. But with the growing need to think globally, to address the long-term environmental crisis, and to confront the challenges of diversity and inequality within the western world, a CC undergraduate preparation may prove advantageous - in the right program.

Finally, it is sadly true that philosophy in America has been one of the disciplines least open to diversity - whether by gender, race, ethnicity, or nationality.  As with so many institutional forms of domination, change is coming.  But applicants might want to investigate how supportive the climate in a particular programs is.

Consequently, when considering graduate school in philosophy, it is vital to study the available programs. One of the best ways to learn about graduate programs is to check each department's website and note how it presents itself, paying attention to the research areas of faculty, to what courses have recently been offered at the graduate level, and to the titles of recent dissertations completed within the program.

Talk with your professors about the (sometimes questionable) reliability of various online "rankings," about the best ways of learning more about graduate study in philosophy, and about specific programs. Keep in mind also that philosophy is a highly competitive academic discipline. Nevertheless, graduate school can be a great opportunity to pursue important philosophical questions and develop a critical, erudite mind, in part by being surrounded by faculty and other students developing stimulating philosophical investigations.

Funding is often available to admitted students and provided by the graduate school itself: this can take the form of a tuition waiver, teaching assistantship, or other fellowship support.  Given the very, very competitive market for faculty positions, think hard about the financing of graduate studies. Taking on loans for graduate school is not wise!

Application deadlines tend to fall in January for Fall Semester admission, and most schools require the following materials to be submitted:

  • GRE scores
  • Undergraduate transcripts
  • Writing samples
  • Letters of recommendation (usually three)
  • Personal statement of purpose

If you choose to apply, make use of your faculty mentors as you craft your personal statements and writing samples.  BUT give them plenty of time - don't drop requests for letters and help at the last minute!


APA Guide to Graduate Study

The American Philosophical Association's online Guide to Graduate Programs in Philosophy is the place to begin study of which programs to consider apply to.  It compiles data on all philosophy graduate programs in the United States and Canada.  As its authors say:

The Grad Guide is a useful starting point for prospective graduate students and job candidates, but the APA recommends additional consultation with advisers and people directly involved with programs of interest. Further, as all information in the guide is self-reported by representatives of the institutions, readers should examine the data closely to ensure that any comparisons are made in a fair and reasonable manner.

See the Guide HERE.

You can search for programs by specialization and location HERE.

Graduate Application Guides


So-called "rankings" are quite problematic; however, reviewing them can provide some useful information, if read critically.

Carolyn Dicey Jennings, "The Best PhD Programs in Philosophy," Daly Nous, 9 July 2020.  Perhaps one of the more nuanced attempts to "rank" programs.

Brian Leiter and Berit Brogaard, "The Philosophical Gourmet Report: A Ranking of Graduate Programs in Philosophy in the English-Speaking World."  An influential, but controversial guide - sometimes accused of biases against continental philosophy and the history of philosophy, among other foci.

"Statement on Rankings of Departments," American Philosophical Association.  A statement surely stimulated by the controversies surrounding the Philosophical Gourmet's analyses.


The following are opinionated approaches to the questions, "Should I apply to graduate school in philosophy?" and "If so, where?"

Eric Schwitzgebel, "Applying to Ph.D. Programs in Philosophy: Full Text," a seven part post on the blog, The Splintered Mind, September-October 2007.  (Note: Schwitzgebel has been a colloquium speaker at CC.)

Trever Hedberg, "Should You Go to Graduate School in Philosophy? (Revisited)," blog post on The Philosopher's Cocoon, 29 June 2017.  Partly a commentary on and a friendly critique of Schwitzgebel.

 T. Allan Hillman, "Advice about Applying to PhD Programs in Philosophy," Philosophy Department, University of Mississippi (pdf download).  A VERY comprehensive discussion of process of applying.

Report an issue - Last updated: 09/20/2021