PhD Admissions

University of Chicago Campus
University of Chicago Campus

How to Apply

There is only one application round each year; completed PhD applications are due on December 15. The Application for Admission and Financial Aid, with instructions, deadlines, and department-specific information, is administered through the divisional Office of the Dean of Students and is available online.

Questions pertaining to admissions and aid should be directed to humanitiesadmissions@uchicago.edu or (773) 702-1552. All correspondence and materials sent in support of applications should be mailed to:

The University of Chicago
Division of the Humanities
Walker, Suite 111
1115 East 58th Street
Chicago, IL 60637

Application Facts (Selected)

  • The Department of Philosophy receives around 250 graduate applications per year from highly qualified applicants.
  • We offer admission with the same full five-year fellowship support package to about 10-14 applicants per year. We do not have a “waiting list”; fellowship offers that are declined are not re-offered to another applicant.
  • All faculty are intensively involved in the selection process (a four-phase process involving an admission committee and a full faculty vetting of the 30-40 most qualified candidates).
  • The Department of Philosophy does not admit students who seek only a master’s degree, but, like all humanities departments here, we customarily refer a select group of qualified applicants to the University's Master of Arts Program in the Humanities (MAPH). (See below in this section for details.)
  • Applicants will be notified of the results of their application for admission, at the latest, in early March.

Eligibility for the PhD Program

  • A bachelors degree (or equivalent) is required to matriculate in our PhD program, although students needn't have finished that degree at the time of application.
  • Some applicants may already have (or are working toward) master’s degree in Philosophy; note, however, that this is neither an asset nor a liability in the application process.
  • Some applicants may be (or may have been) undergraduate majors in Philosophy; other applicants should have significant background in philosophy (evinced by having at least taken a number of philosophy courses).
  • Overall, what we care about is the applicant's aptitude for philosophy and readiness for graduate-level work
  • Scholars with a PhD in Philosophy from another program are not eligible to apply.

The Required Elements of the Application

In addition to the standard Division of Humanities forms and application fee, a complete application to the Department of Philosophy will include:

  • A one-page, single-spaced personal statement outlining your philosophical interests and goals, and your reasons for wanting to pursue them at the University of Chicago;
  • Up-to-date transcripts of all your post-secondary school education;
  • Official Graduate Record Examination scores (verbal, quantitative, and analytic writing sent by ETS);
  • Recent TOEFL or IELTS scores for students whose native language is not English (our Office of International Affairs sets our policies in order to ensure that we admit students whose language skills will allow them to take full advantage of the academic resources here and to ensure that we are in compliance with federal regulations regarding international students);
  • Three or four confidential letters of recommendation from people who are in a position to comment on your philosophical background and ability; and
  • A recent sample of your philosophical written work.

All of the above should be in English, or accompanied by English translations. It is particularly important for non-native speakers to demonstrate their competence to read, write, and participate in class discussions in English. Your writing sample and personal statement must be written by you, in English.

In some years, a few of the final candidates for PhD admissions spots may have a brief, exploratory Skype interview with departmental faculty members.

Advice about the Required Elements of the Application

A. The Writing Sample

All of the components of your application are important and will receive careful scrutiny by our graduate admissions committee. The single most important credential in your application, however, is your writing sample, for it provides the best direct indicator of your ability to do first-rate graduate work in philosophy. The rest of the application provides the broader context within which we evaluate the writing sample, but note that we are unlikely to admit an applicant if one of the other components of their application raises ground for concern regarding their ability to succeed in graduate school.

Selecting a Writing Sample:

  • Your writing sample should provide the best possible demonstration of your philosophical writing and reasoning abilities. In general, the more perspicuous the overall structure of your writing sample is—the more clearly it displays how each of its parts contributes to the argument of the whole—the better it will serve as a credential for admission to our graduate program.
  • Most often, a writing sample is a term paper written for a philosophy course—one that reflects your interests, that you put a lot of work into, that you did well on, and, above all, that you're proud of. Nonetheless, you should also consider selecting a sample that is devoted to a topic that is not overly esoteric, for your writing sample must be understood and positively evaluated by a wide range of members of our faculty.
  • As for the length of the writing sample, a paper of around 20 pages is plenty; we're interested in quality, not quantity. An 8-10 page paper, by contrast, is almost always too short to give much of an indication of how a person thinks. If you are excerpting a writing sample from a longer course term paper, you may want to add some paragraphs (1) at the beginning of the paper to provide an overview of the paper’s philosophical interest or (2) at the end of paper to explain clearly what you have accomplished and why it is original.
  • Sometimes, students want to submit a senior thesis (or even a MA thesis) running 50 or more pages. And, if that's your best work, then that is what you should send. But you should then also give us some guidance as to what part or parts of it (totaling 20-25 pages, say) we should examine carefully (or, at least, look at first).  
  • It may be that you have more than one major philosophical interest. If so, it might be appropriate to submit up to two writing samples along with a cover note providing some guidance to the readers.

B. Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation are important, but letters from faculty members who are not professors of philosophy will in general not be of much assistance to us in our efforts to assess your credentials as a candidate for our PhD program. Ideally, your application should contain at least three letters from professional philosophers. Any further letters from other teachers of yours included in your application dossier should therefore always be in addition to, not instead of, letters from philosophers. What we look for from the writers of your letters of recommendation is a candid and detailed evaluation of your philosophical abilities and accomplishments and an informed prognosis of your likelihood of succeeding in a top-notch philosophy PhD program. Far more important than the recommender’s professional stature or philosophical fame is the degree to which he or she knows you well and can provide a vivid portrait of your philosophical personality and a detailed account of your philosophical work to date.

C. The Personal Statement

The personal statement is not, strictly speaking, an admissions credential and it is not the place to cram in additional evidence of your philosophical ability. It should focus succinctly on facts about the philosophical work you have done to date, your primary philosophical interests and goals going forward in the future, and your reasons for thinking that the University of Chicago might be a good place to pursue them. In addition, if there is anything unusual about your philosophical trajectory or academic career that you think we should know, your personal statement is the place to provide that information. In particular, if there are significant portions of time during which you have not been enrolled as a student, we would appreciate a brief indication of what you were doing during those times.

D. Transcripts

We cannot enroll you without up-to-date transcripts of all your post-secondary school education: no such transcript may be omitted from your application. If you are applying from another country and you anticipate that we might have difficulty deciphering your transcript(s), then any additional guidance with which you, or especially your recommenders, can provide us in interpreting your transcript will be appreciated. Please contact Michael Beetley in the Humanities Dean of Students Office if you have any questions about transcripts.

E. GRE Exams and GPAs

We require official documentation of your general Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores with your application, but we do not require (or take into account) any subject tests. For those who have taken multiple GREs: our policy is to look at an applicant's best scores for each section of the test and to throw out the lower scores. Note to applicants: Over the years, we have found that undergraduate grades, especially those in philosophy courses, are a somewhat better indication of philosophical potential than GRE scores. The average GPA in philosophy for our recent admitted students has been about 3.9 (out of 4). The analogous GRE averages are 710 verbal, 740 quantitative, and 5.5 analytic writing.

F. TOEFL Exam

In evaluating the GRE scores of applicants, we make allowance that these examinations are more difficult for non-native speakers of English. For this reason, it is all the more imperative that non-native speakers of English take the TOEFL exam, if they are not in a position to supply us with academic transcripts from an English-language college or university located in an anglophone country. The University has information regarding what counts as acceptable TOEFL scores for consideration for admission.

Hearing Back from Us about Your Application

While curiosity is natural, as a general rule, please do not inquire about admissions decisions in February. There are a number of reasons why we won't be able to let you know the decision prior to the second week in March, most of which are out of our control (please be patient!). Of course, if you have some special reason for concern about your application, please feel free to contact us.

Master of Arts Program in the Humanities (MAPH) Referrals

We refer some promising applicants who have genuine potential for success in graduate school but whom we are not able to admit to our PhD program to the MAPH program, which is a standalone Masters in Humanities program run through the Division of Humanities here. So if you are not admitted to our PhD program, you may be contacted by MAPH about your possible interest in enrolling in that program. (Note: if you already have an MA or a PhD in Philosophy, then you are not eligible for this program.)

Enrolling in MAPH, taking numerous graduate philosophy courses, and concentrating on philosophical academic work is an excellent option for students who are not admitted to a prestigious philosophy PhD program in their first attempt. We look for students whose intellectual interests and future applications to PhD programs would benefit from the intensive and rigorous one-year MAPH program.

If you are admitted to the MAPH program, we strongly urge you to visit our campus in order to learn more about the opportunities for students in the MAPH program and to meet the MAPH administrators, the MAPH Philosophy preceptors, and selected departmental faculty members.

Campus Visits

Prospective graduate students who have been notified that they have been admitted to our PhD program are strongly encouraged at that point to make a campus visit before they accept our offer of admission. A campus visit serves its real purpose best if you learn things about the department that you couldn’t find out reliably merely through word of mouth or simply by perusing the departmental website—things such as the real character of the intellectual atmosphere of the graduate program, the accessibility of the faculty, the nature and depth of philosophical discussion in seminars and workshops, the sort of quality and care which goes into dissertation supervision, and the extent to which graduate students in the program are excited by the education which they are receiving. Since these are not things that are easily gleaned in a brief and superficial visit, you should also consider being selective in the number of PhD programs you visit.

If you are admitted to the PhD program, we will contact you, possibly as soon as early February, to inform you of our offer of admission and the timing for our visiting week, which usually occurs during the first week of our Spring Quarter. For your visit at UChicago, we will (1) schedule individual appointments for you with numerous faculty members and (2) arrange a number of activities for you together with some of our current graduate students and other prospective students in your cohort. Finally, we will encourage you to attend some seminars and workshops. We will pay for (or heavily subsidize) your transportation to Chicago and arrange for you to stay with one of our current PhD students.

Note: Prospective students are also discouraged from making a campus visit prior to their having been officially admitted to our PhD program. It is simply not feasible for faculty to meet personally with the many individuals interested in our department. While your application is under consideration, you should feel free to peruse our detailed website and to contact one or more current PhD students whose interests overlap with yours to find out more about whether our graduate program fits your interests. Our students are happy to answer your questions.