Tips and Tricks

Well, there are no tricks that I know of. But I do have some tips.

Prepare Early: There are a number of aspects of the application process that require advance planning. The GRE’s, for example, need to be done, at a minimum, a few weeks before your earliest application deadline in order for them to arrive on time—which of course likely means that you need to study even earlier. You need to send official copies of your transcripts to most programs (and if not, then you’ll need to submit a copy). You need to figure out which professors will be writing you letters of recommendation, and give them sufficient time to do so before the letters are due. You need a writing sample, and you shouldn’t just send in a paper you wrote for a class without revising it (perhaps, multiple times) first. You need to figure out how you’re going to pay for application fees and whatnot. If your supplemental materials (e.g., transcripts) arrive past the application deadline, some schools may not consider your application. So, bottom line: plan ahead if you can. It will make the whole process much more pleasant.  

Focus on Fit: If you want to study continental philosophy, don’t apply to a school where there are no continentalists. Make sure there are faculty you are interested in working with at a program before you apply there. That said, if a school looks to balance the interests of their incoming class (e.g., Notre Dame) it might be to your advantage if there are a couple of faculty in your area of interest, but not so many the program is well-known for it amongst prospective students, simply because it may mean you are competing with a smaller number of applicants who share your interests. I suspect there is a high level of variance between programs in this respect.

Get Help: Talk to your professors. Ask their advice. Ask them (i.e., more than one of them) to read over your sample and your statement of purpose and give you comments. Ask your friends for proofreading help (it’s so much easier to catch grammatical, punctuation, and spelling errors in someone else’s writing than it is your own). Ask what graduate schools students from your program have gotten into before (of course, there’s a first for everything, but it might give you a sense of what a reasonable expectation would be).

Work on Your Writing Sample: I can’t emphasize this enough. This is where most of your efforts should be focused. Others have already discussed this at length (see some of the examples on the General Resources page) but it’s important. I would recommend talking to your professors beforehand about which paper they think you should start with, but ultimately you should pick your best work. Then, revise, revise, revise. And get comments from multiple people.

Ask About Fee Waivers: Many schools are able to waive application fees for those who need it. Don’t be afraid to ask about this. And it’s worth mentioning that (at least right now) applying to Vanderbilt is free if you apply on-line.

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