Graduate Application Frequently Asked Questions
For specific admissions-related questions not answered here, please contact Kevin Zollman, Director of Graduate Studies.
My undergraduate degree is in mathematics (or physics, etc.); do I have the enough philosophical background? Alternatively: My undergraduate degree is in philosophy; do I have enough mathematical/scientific background?
Our department greatly values cross-disciplinary research that uses a range of tools to address philosophical and foundational questions. We are well aware of the difficulties involving in doing such research, and the challenges of gaining expertise in more than one domain. Most students come to our program with either a background in philosophy and interest/ability in math and the sciences, or vice versa. When we review applications, we try to assess overall promise, and the ability of students to carry out the type of research that is supported in our department.
What kind of research is supported in your department?
The best way to answer that question is through review of our department web pages, and the individual faculty web pages in particular. Faculty publications and previous Ph.D./M.S./M.A. theses can both provide a sense of the type of work that goes on in the department
What financial support is available to students?
Individual students are provided with financial assistance packages in their offer letters. Individual offers to students may vary. As a general rule, Master's students are provided with a scholarship that covers one-half of CMU's yearly tuition. Master's student are often hired as graders which pays approximately $4,000 per semester. Employment as a grader is not guaranteed.
PhD students are provided with a scholarship that covers 100% of CMU tuition and a nine-month stipend of $20,000. This support is guaranteed for five years, conditional on satisfactory progress in the program. In addition, students can act as instructors or research assistants over the summer, but this money is not guaranteed. Additional years may be provided, at the department's discretion, if circumstances warrant.
How competitive is admission to the Ph.D. program?
Admission is competitive. We have a small Ph.D. program, and only accept highly qualified candidates. That being said, we do not have any minimum admissions requirements, cutoffs, or other quantitative thresholds (see next question).
Are there minimum admissions requirements (e.g., minimum GRE or GPA threshold)?
No, there are not. All admissions decisions are made only after multiple people have read the full application, and we use all of the information in the application to make our decisions. Admissions decisions are based on judgments about the full profile of the applicant, and not just a few numbers. Please be advised that admitted students with a TOEFL combined score below 84 or overall IELTS score below 7 may have significant difficulty obtaining a visa.
Are international applicants treated differently than U.S. applicants?
We treat all applicants the same, regardless of their country of origin. Unlike some graduate programs, there are no restrictions on the number (or country of origin) of international applicants that we can admit, and admitted international students receive the same financial support package as U.S. students.
Who makes the admissions decisions? Should I contact individual faculty with whom I might want to study?
Graduate admissions is done by the Philosophy faculty as a whole. Each individual faculty member is only one vote of many (in contrast with many graduate programs in the sciences, where applicants are admitted by particular faculty to work in particular labs). You should feel free to contact individual faculty members to learn more about their research, but no one person can guarantee admission to the graduate program.
I am applying to the Ph.D. program, but am also interested in the M.S. (or M.A.) program. If I say that I am interested in being considered for the M.S/M.A. program, does that affect my chances of being admitted to the Ph.D. program?
NO, absolutely not. The Ph.D. admissions decisions are made entirely independently from any admissions decisions about the M.S. and M.A. programs. In particular, when we are making our Ph.D. admissions decisions, we pay no attention to whether the applicant is interested in being considered for the M.S. or M.A. program.
When are admissions decisions usually made? When do admitted students have to decide?
We aim to make all graduate admissions decisions by mid-March, but please be advised that we cannot respond to queries about the current status of the admissions process. We ask admitted students to decide whether to accept our offer by April 15th; most philosophy graduate programs use a similar date.
What constraints are there on my writing sample? Are there particular things I should avoid or make sure to do?
The writing sample provides us with significant insight into your ability to conduct sustained, original, challenging thought. We thus encourage you to submit your best work, regardless of the particular subject matter or format. We have historically had a wide range of material submitted for the writing sample, including philosophical papers on many different topics, problem sets (when the answers show original thought), and computer science "lab" reports. Whatever you choose to submit, please remember that this is your best opportunity to show your ability to tackle hard challenges.
What kind of information should I include in the Personal research statement?
As a general guideline, the Personal research statement should answer three questions: (1) What areas/problems do you want to study/research? (2) Why those areas/problems? and (3) Why do you think that CMU is the right place for you to study/research them? You should not be concerned if your answers are relatively high-level; many successful students start graduate school with only general ideas about exactly what issues they want to pursue.
Please note that the Personal research statement should (in general) be forward-looking, not backwards-looking. This is your opportunity to explain what you want to do at CMU, why you want to do it, and why you think that we are the right place for you. As such, it should focus on what you will do, not what you have done. In particular, the Personal research statement is not the appropriate place to explain why you think that you are qualified to pursue graduate study; that is the purpose of the rest of your application.
How does the online recommendation system work?
When you fill out your application, you provide the email addresses for your recommenders. For each recommender, there will be a button to send an email message (to that recommender) with information about how to submit the online recommendation. Please note that letters of recommendation are due at the same time as the full application. Even if you will not be submitting until close to the deadline, we strongly encourage you to send the recommendation request email as soon as possible.
One of my recommenders wants to submit a paper recommendation. What should I do?
We strongly prefer recommendations through the online recommendation system, but we recognize that this may pose a challenge for some recommenders. An acceptable alternative is for the recommender to email his or her recommendation (from an official email account, such as his or her University account) directly to the Director of Graduate Studies. If neither of these options is possible, please contact the Director of Graduate Studies for instructions.
Can you accept a paper application?
Yes, but only in exceptional circumstances. If your situation requires that you submit a paper application rather than online, please contact the Director of Graduate Studies.
I am from a non-English-speaking country, but I studied in an English-speaking country. Do I still have to take the TOEFL exam?
Carnegie Mellon requires the TOEFL or IELTS exam for all non-native English speaking applicants, regardless of where they have done their education. It can only be waived in exceptional circumstances (e.g., living in an English-speaking country since early childhood). If you believe you qualify for a waiver, please contact the Director of Graduate Studies.
I am applying from a country in which it is very difficult to take the GREs. Can I have that requirement waived?
In exceptional circumstances, we will waive the GRE requirement when taking it would impose a significant burden on the applicant. This waiver may put you at a disadvantage when compared with students who have taken the GREs. Please contact the Director of Graduate Studies to request a GRE waiver.