How important is the GRE?

•March 11, 2011 • 1 Comment

There’s a discussion of interest on Leiter Reports here.

It depends on the school, but a good rule of thumb is to treat every portion of the application like it’s important. There is a lot of disagreement about how useful the GRE is, but without knowing exactly who takes it seriously and who doesn’t, and who will be on an admissions committee in a given year and who won’t, as an applicant, it’s probably wise to treat it seriously any way. Much of what you read in other sources will tell you that poor GRE scores can be made up for with a particularly fantastic writing sample. This is probably true of many programs, and some schools like MIT and Cornell don’t require you to submit your scores at all, but for example, in talking with the other prospective students at one of the programs I was admitted to, I learned that none of us had a combined verbal and quantitative score below 1300. When it comes to funding that is sometimes offered by graduate schools, rather than the individual departments, I suspect GRE scores play an even larger role since this is the easiest way to compare students across disciplines.

If you want to study for the GRE, there are several resources available free on-line:

Study tools, here.
More study tools, here.
Practice tests, here.  
More practice tests, here.
Sample questions from ETS, here.
Test preparation tips from ETS, here.

Some people may know all the material you’re tested on during the GRE, but still do poorly on the exam. The best thing I did was to treat the whole thing like a game. It helped me stay calm, which helped my score.

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Should you apply to graduate school?

•March 11, 2011 • Leave a Comment

This is a conversation that should take place with your professors who know you well. I may have an overly optimistic and naive view of things, but I think if you love philosophy, your professors think you’d do well, and you like the idea of teaching undergraduates who will very rarely have as much interest as you, and if the fact that you will very likely make significantly less money over the course of your career than you otherwise could doesn’t put you off,  then it seems like a pretty sweet deal.

There is some candid information on the subject from Dr. Michael Huemer, here.

While I think this information is useful, and probably much more realistic in some ways than my own view, let me say a brief word about what he says regarding affirmative action for women and minorities. First, this paper, by Dr. Jennifer Saul, on implicit bias and women in philosophy, I think gives us good reason to doubt that affirmative action does anything more right now than help counter some of the disadvantages women and people of color face in the field. Second, I can’t speak to the way every institution operates, but generally my experience with affirmative action employers is that if two candidates are considered equal in all other respects preference is given to female applicant, or applicant of color. I don’t think this amounts to much, because very rarely are two candidates considered equal in all other respects. Others’ experience may be different, but that’s been mine. Third, looking through some of the stories on this blog, about what it’s like being a woman in philosophy, I think lends more credence to the notion that there are some very real barriers to women’s success in the field (and I strongly suspect this is also the case for people of color). I don’t want this to discourage anyone from applying, I just know that my first time applying several of my professors told me I was bound to do well because I am female, and I felt that much worse about it when I didn’t.