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Applying to Philosophy Graduate Programs

A guide for undergraduate students seeking to apply to graduate schools.


Although individual programs vary in terms of what they require from applicants, there are common materials that many programs solicit. These include:

  • Application Form
  • Writing Sample
  • Statement of Purpose
  • GRE Scores
  • Transcripts
  • Letters of Recommendation
  • Application Fee
  • CV/Resume
  • TOEFL Scores

Application Form

Most programs require filling out a basic form as a part of your application package. This is usually submitted online through either the department or graduate website, and is mostly information for the school's administration (e.g. contact information, demographic information).

Applications are generally due in early January, although some departments have deadlines as early as November and some as late as February. Be sure to check deadlines for programs you are considering, and start gathering the required materials well in advance!

Writing Sample

When selecting a piece for your writing sample, there are a few things to consider:

  1. Is this some of my best work?
    • Consult your advisor or the professor for whom you wrote your paper. Do they feel the work represents your abilities as a writer and thinker? Do you?
  2. Does the paper match the required length?
    • Check the requirements page of the program to which you intend to apply. Many programs will specify a word/page length minimum, maximum, or range for acceptable submissions. Be sure to follow these guidelines! Some programs automatically toss out applications with writing samples that do not match the required criteria.
    • ~15 pages is a common acceptable length for a writing sample. Consider having two or three versions of the paper of varying lengths to submit to programs with different requirements
  3. Is the paper readable by a non-specialist?
    • Especially if your writing sample was written for a specific class, it may rely on terms, ideas, authors, etc. that your reader may not be familiar with. Your paper should be readable and understandable by anyone with a general background in philosophy, not just an expert in that field.

Statement of Purpose

Writing your statement of purpose can be more difficult than you might think. It should capture some sense of who you are, what philosophical areas you work on, and why you work on those areas. Although you can take a "list" approach ("I am this person, I work on these things, I work on them because...") a more impactful and memorable statement will have a more narrative character, that is, will tell the reader how and why philosophy is something you wish to pursue at the graduate level.

The American Philosophical Association (APA) has some advice on what to consider when writing your statement.

Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) Scores

About the Test

The Graduate Record Examinations General Test "features question types that closely reflect the kind of thinking you'll do in graduate or business school."

According to the GRE website, these are:

  • Verbal Reasoning — Measures your ability to analyze and evaluate written material and synthesize information obtained from it, analyze relationships among component parts of sentences and recognize relationships among words and concepts.
  • Quantitative Reasoning — Measures problem-solving ability using basic concepts of arithmetic, algebra, geometry and data analysis.
  • Analytical Writing — Measures critical thinking and analytical writing skills, specifically your ability to articulate and support complex ideas clearly and effectively.

The GRE website notes that you may retake the test as many times as you like and send only your highest scores to the program to which you are applying.

GRE Practice Materials

There are official practice materials for the GRE offered on their website.

Emory University also has multiple resources to assist with test preparation, several of which are available online through the Emory catalog. The titles below are a sampling of these:

Taking the Test

Once you feel you are ready to take the test, you can find the nearest location to take it on the GRE website.

Be sure to consult the official list of policies and procedures so you are prepared for the test on test day. Make sure especially that you bring a valid form of ID.

Sending Your Scores

Once you have taken the test, your scores will be posted online on the ETS website.

In addition to the option of filling out a form at the test itself, you may send additional scores via the GRE website. See this page for more details.


There are two types of school transcripts you may need to send as part of your application package, unofficial and official. General information about ordering transcripts at Emory can be viewed here.

If you are an alumnus of Emory University from 2000 to the present, or a current student, you can request transcripts through OPUS. Note that if you have attended other institutions of higher education other than Emory, you may have to send transcripts from those institutions as well.

Letters of Recommendation

It is common to have two to three letters of recommendation written by individuals familiar with your work as part of your application package. You may want to discuss with your letter-writer what kind of academic profile you are putting forth for yourself.

Some individuals you could consider soliciting letter from include:

  • Advisors
  • Professors
  • Thesis Directors

Note that many if not most departments will require letter to be submitted digitally, either through an application portal or by email.

Application Fee

Applying for graduate schools can get expensive, especially if you are applying at a large number of departments. In addition to whatever costs you may accrue from test-related expenses and/or sending transcripts (note that Emory University does not charge for sending transcripts unless FedEx service is requested), application fees are quite common.

Fortunately, there are ways to offset some of the cost of application fees. Some universities may offer application fee waivers if you meet certain conditions (e.g. for certain programs or submitting your application early). Such waivers may be listed on the school's website, but others require getting in contact with the department itself.

Curriculum Vitae (CV)

Although as an undergraduate student you may not yet have much to list on your academic CV, you may still have relevant experience and skills to show off. Consider adding the following to your CV:

  • Publications
  • Thesis work, especially if it is in philosophy
  • Honors program participation
  • Presentations given at student/school events
  • Grants, scholarships, or other forms of funding received
  • Academic accolades
  • Membership in profession organizations, fraternities/sororities
  • Language skills, translations
  • Volunteering
  • Job experiences (especially in relevant areas, e.g. teaching or tutoring)

Emory Library also has a number of resources to help you write your CV. A sampling is given below:

Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) Scores

If you are an international student, you may need to submit TOEFL scores in addition to the above materials.

General information can be found here and you can register for the test here.

Be sure to check what program requirements there are (if any) regarding TOEFL scores; many departments will list a minimum/recommended score for applicants.