A PhD philosophy professor of mine began every semester with the following story-
“A friend of mine is a ditch-digger; he digs ditches for a living. One day he got bored of digging ditches, so he went to school and got a Bachelor’s in philosophy; then he went right back to digging ditches. He got bored again, so he went back to school and got a Master’s in philosophy. Then he went right back to digging ditches. Finally, he went and got a Ph.D. in philosophy. He then went right back to digging ditches. I asked him, ‘Why would you spend so much time and effort getting a Doctorate in Philosophy if you were just going to dig ditches for a living?’ He responded, ‘So I’d have something to think about while I was digging ditches.’”
The moral of this story is if you want to make a lot of money don’t major in philosophy.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for a professor of philosophy or religious studies is $71,210. While this salary figure is certainly nothing to scoff at or dismiss offhandedly, it is comparatively miniscule when viewed beside the earning power offered by other doctoral programs. Add in the fact that you will have to suffer through years of ignominy as a Teacher’s Assistant and Associate Professor ( all while your epistemological defense of Descartes languishes and your genius goes unrecognized) before you are even qualified to earn the median salary, and it is no wonder my old professor started every semester with the same cautionary anecdote. Additional information regarding the employment of philosophy PhD holders can be found here.
That is not to say that a PhD in philosophy could not provide you with the means for significant earning power; respected academics can supplement their incomes as private advisors, guest speakers, and even as published authors. Admittedly though, work as a private advisor and lecturer are going to be extremely difficult to obtain, and any published works of philosophy are likely to have a readership in the dozens, not thousands.
Before ranking the Top 5 Philosophy PhD Programs, in the interest of clarity, let’s briefly discuss how these programs were ranked. The rankings below were determined (from most important to least important)by the rate of employment for graduates, the institution’s ‘Quality’ rating by the National Research Council, students’ access to additional resources, and the research productivity of university faculty. If you have a different opinion about what factors are most important to you in a graduate program (size? cost? expediency?), I suggest you visit this graduate school ranking website.
Now that you have a better idea of the prospects a PhD in philosophy might qualify you for, let’s take a look at some of the top Philosophy PhD programs:
One of the premiere universities in the country, the Carnegie Mellon philosophy PhD program provides full tuition, along with health benefits and an additional stipend for teaching assistance, to all of its students. Among the Philosophy Department’s many areas of emphasis are Logic and Philosophy of Mathematics, Philosophy of Psychology and Philosophy of the Social Science, and the Philosophy of Science and Methodology and Formal Epistemology. Though Carnegie Mellon explicitly states that “no quantitative thresholds” are placed on candidates (meaning there are minimum scores required to be accepted), admission is extremely competitive.
MIT’s Department of Linguistics and Philosophy is a PhD program only, meaning they do not offer a Master’s program. Interestingly, MIT does not require applicants to submit a GRE score in order to be considered for admission. For those of you who are well qualified enough and interested in expediency, MIT’s philosophy PhD program is only five years long.
Princeton offers four PhD philosophy degree programs – the Standard Program, Logic and the Philosophy of Science Track, Classical Philosophy, and Political Philosophy. Like other elite universities, Princeton’s Department of Philosophy only admits candidates pursuing a Doctorate in Philosophy. Princeton requires students to submit a GRE score and a written work no longer than ten thousand words in order to be considered for acceptance. Aside from the more obvious benefits of attending a university like Princeton, the post-graduation employment statistics of their students are (not surprisingly) astounding.
The University of California – Berkeley has a well-deserved reputation as one of the best countries in the nation, and their philosophy department is no exception. With a focus on Ancient Philosophy, Logic, and the History and Philosophy of Science, Berkeley’ philosophy PhD program is one of the most competitive in the country. As with many top tier universities, Berkeley reviews candidates on a case by case basis. Writing samples submitted for the purposes of admission are expected to be between 15-20 pages (double-spaced). Candidates applying for the Ancient Philosophy and History and Philosophy of Science programs will require special consideration.
Standing tall among these other nationally One of the most intriguing aspects of NYU’s Philosophy Department is that they offer a dual degree Doctor of Philosophy and Juris Doctor. Though reluctant to share many details regarding the PhD application process, NYU says an average GRE score and coming from a lesser known undergraduate school will not exclude a candidate from being accepted, provided other aspects of their application are strong. As a matter of policy, the university is hesitant to discuss how they review candidates, it seems that they place the most emphasis on students’ recommendations (preferably from philosophers or other, related areas of study) and writing samples.
There were not many surprises among the nation’s top PhD philosophy programs, but keep in mind the factors that we used to determine the rankings of these universities may differ from your own personal preferences; we certainly encourage you to research on your own, and ask us if you have questions!
Come back soon for a Top Philosophy PhD Programs – Honorable Mention article! Find more Program Profiles here.