Philosophy Graduate Schools

The Present State of Rankings in Philosophy

Currently, there are no rankings of graduate programs and departments in philosophy that are not controversial.  On this site we will explore why this is the case, and offer options for prospective graduate students and academics seeking information about philosophy programs and departments.  Below is a statement on rankings from the American Philosophical Association, the largest organization of professional philosophers in the United states.  The statement is located on the APA’s site, here.

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The following statement was prepared by the committee on the status and future of the  profession (Peter French, chair) and approved by the board of officers at its 2003 meeting. This statement was updated at the 2009 board of officers meeting. 

The American Philosophical Association does not rank departments of philosophy and their graduate and/or undergraduate programs nor does it sponsor or endorse any rankings of philosophy departments or programs that are compiled by others.

The American Philosophical Association recognizes that there is often a need for comparative information about departments and programs. It therefore encourages students and administrators seeking such information not to rely on any single source but rather to check a wide variety of sources and to consider each source critically. General information can be found in the APA’s Guide to Graduate Programs in Philosophy. The APA also encourages people seeking comparative information about departments and programs to use the links on the APA website to examine the graduate programs offered by various departments, and to consult with chairpersons or graduate directors.

Information on Graduate Programs in a World without Rankings

This section contains links to sites helpful to prospective graduate students in philosophy.  But first a word about why we should have reservations about rankings of the overall quality of philosophy departments.

Why not use rankings? 

Rankings of the quality of academic departments, those that claim to say which programs are the best overall, can be problematic.  In addition to the difficulties faced by other disciplines in determining ordinal rankings of quality–for example, agreeing on variables and how much they should weigh–philosophy faces two related issues that make accurate and fair ranking of departments and graduate programs especially problematic.  First, the notion of what counts as good philosophy, or philosophy at all, is highly contested.  This is not unique to the 21st century–it was there at the start, for example, among the Greeks in the West.  Second, the number of specializations in philosophy is very high, and many involve methods and content that differ significantly from those of others.  How much does the specialist in philosophy of mathematics share with the expert in Medieval philosophy?  Differences of this sort pervade the discipline.  If we think about just these two factors, we can see that finding a common standard by which to rank departments would be extremely difficult.  In addition, rankings by specialty area face the same problem: even within specializations, there can be very different ways of understanding the nature of philosophy.  Finally, as do other disciplines, philosophy has fashions and ideologies that elevate certain areas of study over others in different periods.  Scholars in those areas who produce overall rankings carry their tastes and their influence into the data, which are distorted as a result.

There is a ranking available that compares the research productivity of faculty in philosophy, but there is debate about the accuracy of these rankings, and only the top ten schools are listed.  Interestingly, the list is quite different from the PGR’s top ten at the time of the report, which is now several years old.  Differences such as these are another reason to be cautious about ordinal rankings.  See, Noelle McAfee, Ranking Philosophy Programs.

The Alternatives

Without rankings, how can students figure out which programs they should pursue?  Prospective graduate students should consider a range of factors in choosing a graduate program.  Among them:

  • Are there experts on the faculty in the areas that you may be interested in studying? (Faculty CVs and lists of publications etc., conferences and other events hosted by the department, area-specific awards.)
  • Do members of the faculty regularly publish in the areas you wish to study? (Again, faculty CVs etc.)
  • What is the job placement record of the program, including the nature of employment, the type of school, the location, number of years from PhD?
  • What is the attrition rate of the program, that is, how many students actually finish?  (This is a factor often neglected in assessment of programs.  It’s great to get into a well-known program, but not so great if only 30% of the students complete it.)
  • The teaching and mentoring quality of the faculty (awards, availability, faculty-student ratios, etc.).
  • School location.  (For example, the school may be part of a consortium–allowing students to increase their options in terms of courses and additional mentors–at nearby schools there will be talks and study groups independent from a student’s own program.)
  • Financial support (tuition waivers, assistantships/fellowships, work study, financial aid, funding for language study).
  • Does the program have a terminal masters degree?  Are those students funded?  How many, if any, MA students are admitted to the PhD program each year?
  • The graduate curriculum or the courses actually taught in the department.  Catalogs may list many courses not regularly taught.  Look at semester schedules to see what has actually been taught in the last year or two.
  • The program requirements for the degree (exams, papers, language requirements, courses, etc.)
  • Average number of years to complete degree.  (See link below.)
  • Teaching and research opportunities for graduate students.
  • The research interests of the graduate students currently in the program (titles of dissertations, articles, projects, groups).
  • The experience of students in the program in general: is it a congenial place for everyone, including women and members of underrepresented groups in philosophy?  Do people (faculty, students, staff) work well together?
  • Look for an organization of graduate students in the department that you can contact to learn more about the program.

Most of these factors are uncontroversially relevant to judgments about philosophy programs.  But they are generally invisible in overall or reputational rankings of programs.  So where do prospective students find this information?

First, the bad news: much of this information is not readily available in one location on the web.  Prospective students will need to speak with mentors about their interests and abilities, and spend time themselves doing research on the web (see next).

Second, the good news.  Members of the philosophy profession have recognized that there has been insufficient information available on line on graduate programs, and are beginning to remedy the situation.  Currently, for example, some are collecting job placement data for publication on the internet (preliminary results are linked below).  There is a nascent but enthusiastic movement to create Wikis for various area specializations (links below).   The Wiki sites have a wide range of information on departments that will help concentrate the information prospective graduate students need about programs.

And more good news:  department web sites have markedly improved over the last decade.  You can now find all sorts of information on the better ones, including, for example, placement records, interests of the graduate students in the program (students often have their own pages now), conference programs, etc..

Available resources currently include:

[PhilWiki is on Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/philwiki.net    On July 13, 2015, the page posted this notice:  “Fall Plan: Students will start sending out applications to grad programs in late November/early December, so the plan for PhilWiki.net is to complete the full list of faculty and specialties for U.S. Ph.D. Programs in Philosophy (http://philwiki.net/index.php/Us) sometime in September. An accompanying PDF will also be created that can be distributed to, say, directors of undergraduate advising in philosophy departments.”]

  • Grad Schools.com   Hundreds of graduate programs listed with short descriptions and links to request more information.
  • “Job Placement 2011-2014: Comparing Placement Rank to PGR Rank” (Updated 9/17/2014),

  • PhilJobs (APA)  Tracking the Appointments of Philosophers  (A new Feature of PhilJobs).
  • PhilPapers   A searchable database for the publications of philosophers.