Best PhD Programs in Philosophy

What is the best PhD program in philosophy?

In one way of thinking about it, this question doesn’t make much sense. Philosophy is many different things and philosophers can be many different types of people, so the best program will depend on the person in question and the type of philosophy in question.

Nonetheless, our project has been able to gather enough data from 135 programs to provide some guidance on this question, updating previous guidance. Importantly, this post doesn't assume a single metric of comparison, which distinguishes it from unilateral rankings of philosophy programs. It also provides a combination of subjective and objective measures, while rankings typically rely on one or the other.

All of the below is based on data available on the running tally and the linked blog posts, with anonymized “raw” data available on the data page. The only exception is the information on clusters, which comes from a paper currently under review. (See the end of the post for more information on the clusters.) Worth noting is that the past success of these programs may be less predictive than usual, given the unknown impact of COVID-19 on academic institutions.

Below, programs are listed with asterisks to indicate if they show up in multiple sections. One asterisk (*) means that they show up under "highest recommendation," two (**) mean that they show up under "highest diversity," and three (***) mean that they show up under "highest job placement," with the sets listed in order and separated by spaces, excluding the set relevant to the current section.

To start, do current students and recent graduates recommend the program to prospective graduate students?

Highest Recommendation*

15 programs have an average student recommendation of “definitely would recommend” (5/5; Two programs have an average rating of 4.5 when rounded to the tenth, but 4 when rounded to the integer: Harvard University and University of Oxford). The average for all programs is "somewhat likely" to recommend (4.0). They are ordered below by topical cluster and then by average rating (highest first).

The topical clusters are based on recent work with Pablo Contreras Kallens and Dan Hicks to use different sources of data to divide graduate programs into groups (resulting in the clusters Core Analytic, Metaphysics Focus, Ethics Focus, Mind Focus, Philosophy of Science, Pluralist, Historical Focus, and Core Continental). The majority of these programs are in the Core Analytic cluster (dividing all programs into 8 clusters, the largest share end up in this cluster). Of course, this is a rough guide to the overall topical focus of a program, some programs may be less of a good fit for a cluster than others, and many students and advisors in each program are likely to work on other topics. The cluster may nonetheless give a sense of fit for prospective students.

Core Analytic

University of California, Berkeley *** (5)
Australian National University *** (4.9)
University of Massachusetts Amherst *** (4.9)
University of Southern California *** (4.9)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology ** *** (4.8)
Rutgers University *** (4.7)
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill ** *** (4.6)
University of Michigan ** (4.5)

Metaphysics Focus

Saint Louis University ** (4.7)

Ethics Focus

Georgetown University ** (4.5)

Philosophy of Science

Carnegie Mellon University (4.8)
University of California, Irvine (LPS) ** *** (4.7)
University of Cambridge (HPS) ** *** (4.5)
University of Pittsburgh (HPS) *** (4.5)

Historical Focus

University of California, Riverside ** *** (4.7)

Of these, four are in the top 15 for percentage women, excluding non-binary or unknown gender (MIT, UNC, Georgetown, Cambridge HPS), four are in the top 15 for percentage persons of color (Michigan, Saint Louis, Cambridge HPS, Irvine LPS), and one is in the top 15 for percentage first-generation college students (Riverside). (Whenever programs in 15th and later places shared the same rounded value, the later program was also included, so some groups may have more than 15 total programs.) Most of the programs have top 15 placement rates into permanent academic jobs, top 15 placement rates into permanent academic jobs with PhD-granting programs, or top 15 average salary.

The highest recommended programs of the clusters not listed above are:

Mind Focus

University of Maryland, College Park (4.3)


University of Hawai'i (4.2)

Core Continental

University of Oregon ** (4.3)

Highest Diversity**

Philosophy has recently begun to address its lack of diversity, but most programs still lack diversity among their graduate students relative to PhD programs in other fields. The average across programs is 30% women, 20% persons of color, and 22% first-generation college students. Yet, the following programs appear to be doing better on this issue. Important to know about what follows is that our data are incomplete on race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status since these rely on self-report (gender is initially assigned based on first name). Thus, only programs with at least 5 respondents are included, and these respondents may not be representative of the program as a whole. With that in mind, the cluster with the largest share of these 42 programs is Ethics Focus (“Ethics”; 11/26%), followed by Core Analytic (“Analytic”; 9/21%) and Core Continental (“Continental”; 9/21%).

Multiple Forms of Diversity

Five programs are in the top 15 for two or more forms of diversity: percentage women (Stony Brook, Waterloo, Cambridge HPS, DePaul), percentage persons of color (Stony Brook, Waterloo, Cambridge HPS, U Conn), or percentage first-generation college students (Stony Brook, DePaul, UConn). The numbers listed after the cluster name correspond with the percentage of each type of diversity, in order, with NA for cases in which fewer than 5 respondents provided this information.

Stony Brook University *** (Continental; 41/43/40)
University of Waterloo (Metaphysics; 50/43/NA)
University of Cambridge (HPS) * *** (Science; 47/33/NA)
DePaul University (Continental; 43/0/60)
University of Connecticut (Analytic; 30/33/43)

Gender Diversity

An additional thirteen are in the top 15 for percentage women, listed in terms of percentage.

Vanderbilt University (Ethics; 52/21/20)
University of Oregon (Continental; 49/18/17)
Michigan State University (Ethics; 48/12/NA)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology * *** (Analytic; 45/26/NA)
Institut Jean Nicod (Mind; 44/25/NA)
University of Arkansas (Analytic; 44/NA/NA)
University of Chicago (CHSS) *** (Science; 42/20/NA)
University of Memphis (Continental; 42/31/NA)
Emory University *** (Continental; 41/21/10)
Georgetown University * *** (Ethics; 41/17/13)
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill * *** (Analytic; 41/9/22)
University of Washington (Ethics; 41/8/NA)
York University (Mind; 41/22/NA)

Racial and Ethnic Diversity
An additional twelve are in the top 15 for percentage persons of color, listed in terms of percentage.

Binghamton University (Ethics; 35/54/20)
University of California, Santa Cruz (Historical; 37/50/NA)
Arizona State University *** (Ethics; 34/43/13)
The New School (Continental; 28/43/0)
University at Albany (Analytic; 25/40/NA)
Southern Illinois University (Pluralist; 21/40/NA)
Pennsylvania State University (Continental; 40/38/13)
Stanford University *** (Metaphysics; 31/38/33)
University of California, Irvine (LPS) * *** (Science; 26/38/7)
Saint Louis University * *** (Metaphysics; 20/36/25)
Harvard University *** (Analytic; 29/35/13)
University of Michigan * (Analytic; 37/34/14)

Socioeconomic Diversity
An additional twelve are in the top 15 for percentage first-generation college students.

University of California, Riverside * *** (Historical; 24/21/83)
Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Continental; 26/20/78)
Western University (Ethics; 31/0/60)
University of Cincinnati (Mind; 27/23/57)
Bowling Green State University (Ethics; 33/7/50)
Purdue University (Continental; 22/12/50)
Syracuse University (Analytic; 25/22/45)
University of Utah (Ethics; 24/23/44)
University of Missouri (Analytic; 17/31/43)
McGill University (Pluralist; 33/15/40)
University of California, Irvine (Ethics; 24/24/40)
University of Minnesota Twin Cities (Ethics; 39/22/38)

Highest Job Placement***

Placement success can be measured in multiple ways. Included here is permanent academic placement rate, permanent academic placement rate into PhD-granting programs, and average salary. The average values for these across programs are 43%, 12%, and $69,719, respectively. For the first two, only 2012-2020 graduates are included, and data were updated by our own team over the past 18 months (see the blog posts for more detailed information on each program, including when a program was updated). Permanent academic placement rate is the total number of 2012-2020 graduates currently in a permanent academic position divided by the total number of such graduates in some form of academic position or with unknown position (but not those in nonacademic positions). Worth noting is that salary information is self-reported and may not be representative, and that those in nonacademic positions are included in average salary (and tend to have significantly higher salaries). The cluster with the largest share of these 32 programs (removing the one with unknown cluster) is Core Analytic (“Analytic”; 13/41%), followed by Ethics Focus (“Ethics”), Philosophy of Science (“Science”), and Historical Focus (“Historical”), with 4 programs each (13%).

All Around Placement
Three programs have top 15 permanent academic placement, top 15 permanent academic placement into PhD granting programs, and top 15 average salary. The numbers listed after the cluster name correspond with the each type of placement value, in order.

University of California, Irvine (LPS) * ** (Science; 92%/62%/$105,111)
Harvard University ** (Analytic; 71%/38%/$79,611)
Yale University (Historical; 68%/34%/$90,900)

Top Academic Placement
Four additional programs have top 15 permanent academic placement and top 15 permanent academic placement into PhD-granting programs. "Unknown" means that cluster is unknown due to insufficient data; "NA" means that fewer than 5 respondents provided salary information.

University of Southern California * (Analytic; 77%/40%/$62,667)
University of Pittsburgh (HPS) * (Science; 75%/50%/$71,091)
University of Sydney (Unknown; 67%/54%/NA)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology * ** (Analytic; 61%/39%/$68,357)

Elite Placement
Two additional programs have top 15 percentage permanent academic placement into PhD granting programs and top 15 average salary.

University of California, Berkeley * (Analytic; 59%/38%/$91,933)
University of Arizona (Ethics; 56%/31%/$87,917)

Permanent Academic Placement

Eight more have top 15 percentage permanent academic placement.

Catholic University of America (Continental; 83%/8%/NA)
Stanford University ** (Metaphysics; 71%/26%/$66,429)
Baylor University (Analytic; 65%/3%/$62,679)
Arizona State University ** (Ethics; 63%/13%/NA)
University of California, Riverside * ** (Historical; 63%/13%/$71,667)
University of Virginia (Metaphysics; 63%/13%/$51,167)
Northwestern University (Historical; 62%/8%/$75,408)
Emory University ** (Continental; 61%/0%/$72,222)

Permanent Academic Placement into PhD Granting Programs

Six more have top 15 percentage permanent academic placement into PhD-granting programs.

University of Cambridge (HPS) * (Science; 58%/53%/NA)
New York University (Analytic; 58%/37%/$76,500)
Princeton University (Analytic; 57%/34%/$77,900)
University of Chicago (CHSS) ** (Science; 50%/30%/NA)
Rutgers University * (Analytic; 57%/29%/$70,643)
University of California, Los Angeles (Analytic; 55%/29%/$75,000)

Highest Salary

Finally, eleven more have top 15 average salary.

Duke University (Mind; 53%/0%/$104,620)
University of Chicago (Historical; 46%/24%/$102,955)
University of Calgary (Ethics; 33%/0%/$93,096)
Australian National University * (Analytic; 44%/23%/$88,255)
Cornell University (Analytic; 50%/18%/$86,302)
Columbia University (Pluralist; 54%/26%/$84,444)
University of Massachusetts Amherst * (Analytic; 43%/0%/$83,000)
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill * ** (Analytic; 58%/19%/$82,786)
Stony Brook University ** (Continental; 50%/3%/$81,643)
Georgetown University * ** (Ethics; 60%/9%/$79,400)

The above covers 64 of the 135 programs reviewed over the past 18 months. In 2017 APDA reviewed the same programs with approximately the same three sets of criteria. How much overlap is there between these?

In the case of student recommendation, 9 programs that were in the top 15 in 2017 are still in the top 15 today: University of California, Berkeley; Australian National University; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Rutgers University; University of Michigan; Georgetown University; University of California, Irvine (LPS); University of Pittsburgh (HPS); and University of California, Riverside. 6 programs are new to the top 15 (replacing Harvard, Wisconsin, Yale, Oxford, Colorado, and Baylor): University of Massachusetts Amherst; University of Southern California; University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Saint Louis University; Carnegie Mellon University; University of Cambridge (HPS).

In the case of diversity, 12 of the 17 programs listed as top 15 for percentage women were also "top 15" in 2017: Vanderbilt University; University of Waterloo; University of Oregon; Michigan State University; University of Cambridge (HPS); Massachusetts Institute of Technology; DePaul University; University of Memphis; University of Chicago (CHSS); University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Stony Brook University; University of Washington. 5 new to the list include Institut Jean Nicod, University of Arkansas, Georgetown University, Emory University, and York University (replacing Arizona State, Temple, University of York, Kingston University, and University of New Mexico).

In the case of placement, only 5 of the top 15 for permanent academic placement from this year were in the top 15 in 2017: University of California, Irvine (LPS); University of Pittsburgh (HPS); Baylor University; University of California, Riverside; and University of Virginia. 10 are new: Catholic University of America, University of Southern California, Stanford University, Harvard University, Yale University, University of Sydney, Arizona State University, Northwestern University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Emory University (replacing Cincinnati, U Florida, Rutgers, Tennessee, Indiana, Oregon, Georgetown, Princeton, and UNC).

Do any of these lists line up with the top 15 programs listed in the Philosophical Gourmet Report (a reputational survey of faculty at a select number of programs as judged by select faculty)? The top 15 listed for the PGR worldwide in 2017/2018 were, in order: NYU, Oxford, Rutgers, Princeton, Michigan, Pittsburgh, Yale, MIT, USC, Columbia, Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley, UCLA, and Toronto. Most of these show up in at least one of the lists above, with the exception of Oxford and Toronto. Contrasting our top 15 student recommendations with the top 15 PGR, those missing from the PGR include, in order: Australian National University; University of Massachusetts, Amherst; University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Saint Louis University; Georgetown; Carnegie Mellon University; University of California, Irvine (LPS); University of Cambridge (HPS); and University of California, Riverside. Of course, these lists are tracking different qualities in graduate programs, so we should not be surprised by any lack in overlap. A distinction of our project is to focus on the student perspective and student outcomes, rather than judgments about faculty by other faculty. Similar things may be said of other rankings, such as the QS ranking, which is based on "academic reputation, employer reputation and research impact".

Finally, some of you may want to know a little more about the clusters, and why a program is in one or the other of them. The clusters are based on the areas of specialization of graduates of a program as well as keywords selected by both past graduates and current students that they think best describe their program. Various statistical techniques were then used to determine natural clusters of programs based on this data (paper under review). One might understand programs in a cluster as being more likely to represent some areas of philosophy (+) and less likely to represent others (-)

  • Core Analytic is + Philosophy of Mind & Epistemology but - Continental & Historical Philosophy
  • Metaphysics Focus is + Metaphysics & Logic but - Ethics, German Philosophy & Phenomenology
  • Ethics Focus is + Applied Ethics but - Historical Philosophy, Philosophy of Language & Metaphysics
  • Mind Focus is + Naturalist/Empirical & Cognitive Science but - Historical Philosophy, Metaphysics & Epistemology
  • Philosophy of Science is + Decision Theory, Social Science & Philosophy of Science but - Ethics & Philosophy of Mind
  • Pluralist is + Education, Pragmatism & Aesthetics but - Epistemology, Contemporary Philosophy & Philosophy of Mind
  • Historical Focus is + Early Modern & German Philosophy but - Metaphysics, Logic & Meta-Ethics
  • Core Continental is + Phenomenology & Continental but - Analytic, Metaphysics & Logic

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