Philosophy PhD Programs: Villanova University and Katholieke Universiteit Leuven

In this blog post I provide some detailed, up-to-date information about two philosophy PhD programs. This week's picks are Villanova University and Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. These programs were chosen randomly, using an app called "Pickster." (Next week's picks are listed at the bottom of this post.) I updated this information myself, using the program's placement page and what I could find online. I aim to construct these posts with an eye to what can be seen about the programs from the APDA data set alone. This information has come from several sources, including current students and graduates. Prospective graduate students should look at the websites for the programs, linked above, for more complete information. The running tally includes select numbers from all of the programs covered so far.


  • Villanova is a mid-size program, whereas KU Leuven is probably the largest covered by APDA
  • KU Leuven does not have a placement page, and it was difficult to gather data on its graduates
  • Given that, while Villanova's academic placement rate is around average, KU Leuven falls far below average
  • Yet, the program ratings from graduates are about the same, and about average
  • Both programs have a focus on History and Traditions, and both are known for having strength in Continental philosophy

Overall placement, 2012-present
Villanova appears to have had 45 graduates in this period, whereas KU Leuven appears to have had nearly three times as many: 130. Villanova placed 17 of these graduates into tenure-track or other permanent academic positions (38%), with none of them in programs that offer a PhD in philosophy. KU Leuven placed 23 into permanent academic positions (18%), with 8 in philosophy programs with a PhD (6%). Of Villanova's other graduates, 1 has a postdoctoral fellowship, 14 are in other temporary academic positions, 9 are in nonacademic positions, and 4 have no or unknown placement. Of KU Leuven's other philosophy graduates, 30 are in postdoctoral or fellowship positions, 25 have other temporary academic placements, 21 are in nonacademic positions, and 31 have no or unknown placement. The average salary of Villanova graduates was $56,900 and 92% preferred an academic job. The average salary of KU Leuven graduates was $33,746 and 90% preferred an academic job.

Note that the overall proportion of 2012-2016 graduates from the 135 programs tracked by APDA in permanent academic positions is 36%, with 11% in PhD granting programs. The current database values for all 2012 and later graduates are 37% and 12%, respectively, with an overall average salary of $71,879.

Areas of Specialization, by Category
Including all past and current students in the APDA database, 4% of Villanova students are in LEMM, 20% are in Value Theory, 75% are in History and Traditions, and 1% Science, Logic and Math. 20% of KU Leuven students are in LEMM, 31% are in Value Theory, 41% are in History and Traditions, and 8% are in Science, Logic and Math. For Villanova, the majority of graduates 2012 onward placed into permanent academic positions were in History and Traditions (82%), as were the plurality of those from KU Leuven (39%).

Note that the current database values for all past graduates and current students are 27% in LEMM, 34% in Value Theory, 24% in History and Traditions, and 15% in Science, Logic, and Math.

Including all past graduates and current students, 30% of those from Villanova are women (29% of past students and 33% of current students), whereas 26% of KU Leuven students are women (27% of current students, 26% of past graduates).

29% is the overall proportion reported by APDA in 2017. Current database values are 31% for all past graduates and current students, 37% for current students, and 28% for past graduates.

Including all past graduates and current students, 13% of those who answered questions about race and ethnicity from Villanova identified as something other than White, non-Hispanic. Similarly, this number is 20% for KU Leuven.

13% is the overall proportion reported by APDA in 2017. The current percentage in the database is 15%.

13% of Villanova students were first generation, spanning the lower middle to middle classes. 78% of KU Leuven students report being first generation, spanning the lower to upper middle classes.

The percentage of all survey respondents who are first generation college students is 23.3% (CI: 20.7% to 26.0%), compared to 31% for all United States doctoral degree recipients in 2015.

KU Leuven students provided the following public comment on how philosophy could be more inclusive:

No idea!

Program Rating

In response to the question: "How likely would you be to recommend the program from which you obtained or will obtain your PhD to prospective philosophy students?" past and current Villanova students selected "somewhat likely," on average (4.1, n=19), whereas KU Leuven students selected "somewhat likely" (4.0, n=11). Neither Villanova nor KU Leuven have a moderate or higher correlation between graduation year and program rating. Of 65 programs with at least 10 survey participants who are past graduates, 15 had moderate negative correlations between these values, 6 had moderate positive correlations, and there is a slight negative overall correlation of -.07.

"Somewhat likely," 4.0, is the average rating reported in 2017. The current database overall average is the same, with an average of 3.7 for teaching, 4.0 for research, and 3.8 for financial support.

In response to: "Rate your satisfaction with the advice and preparation this program provides to its graduate students for undergraduate teaching," Villanova students selected "very satisfied" (4.7, n=10) and KU Leuven students selected "satisfied" (3.7, n=10).

In response to: "Rate your satisfaction with the advice and preparation this program provides to its graduate students for academic research," Villanova students selected "satisfied" (4.0, n=10) and KU Leuven students selected "neutral" (3.2, n=10).

In response to: "Rate your satisfaction with the financial support this program provides for its graduate students," Villanova students selected between "neutral" and "satisfied" (3.5, n=10) and KU Leuven students selected "neutral" (3.4, n=1).

Public Comments

Villanova students provided public comments on the program overall:

It was a collegial program with supportive faculty.
It has changed dramatically. It was an excellent PhD program in Continental Philosophy, now it is more of a hodge-podge of various philosophical disciplines. So it has weakened what I took to be its greatest strength.
Strong mentorship program - both for teaching and research. Generous travel funding. Faculty deeply invested in grad student success. One of the top programs in the US for Continental Philosophy
The program is characterized by leading-edge researchers, commitment to mentoring graduate students and to professional development.
The program is unique in emphasizing the history of philosophy alongside continental philosophy. The program also boasts a strong student community.
Villanova is strong in continental philosophy, critical theory broadly, philosophy of religion, political philosophy, feminism, and has excellent faculty in many other particular fields. Support for graduate students to travel is readily available. The faculty range from early to late career but are generally very active publishers, etc. The student body is generally very diverse, with women, minorities, and international students strongly represented and supported. The students are generally active in conference organization, organizing gatherings, and attending events, whether on campus or in Philadelphia.

on training for teaching:

The environment is very conducive to becoming a strong teacher, as their teacher development program starts the philosophy PhDs in the university writing center as trained tutors, then moves the cohort to the classroom as teaching assistants together in a mass class, then moves them to a personal teaching assistant stage, then finally offers them teaching for several years in philosophy core. Additional teaching opportunities tend to arise in the humanaities program, the ethics program, and occasionally upper-level philosophy.
This institution does a phenomenal job preparing its students to be educators of the history of philosophy.
Villanova had a program to prepare its PhDs for teaching, which involved incremental steps towards independent teaching.

on preparation for research:

The faculty are very knowledgeable about the standards of research, style, and citation. The diversity of the faculty allows students to encounter divergent research paradigms. The ethos of the program encourages wide, pluralistic, self-motivated research.

and on financial support:

Funding for graduate students is on a par with the field. Funding for graduate students to travel is readily available.

KU Leuven students also provided public comments on the program overall:

As far as I know, the placement record is good. The department focuses mainly on continental philosophy, so I definitely would recommend the department to students interested in continental philosophy. However, there are better, bigger department specializing in analytic philosophy (not that the department is not good at this, they are still good), so if you are interested in analytic philosophy, there are also other options. The most relevant thing is: find someone who works in something you want to work on in the department before applying.
Its an excellent program, and extraordinarily large (35+ full professors, and over 100 staff, with multiple centers in Metaphysics, Medieval, Ancient and especially Phenomenology). Unfortunately, although it is ranked 26 in the world on QS (for departments in philosophy) is left of the Gourmet Report, which is a shame and makes job placement much more challenging than it should be in the US.

on training for teaching:

The Institute is unfortunately a Johnny-come-lately to preparing graduate students for undergraduate teaching. In its defense, this is because Leuven is first and foremost a research university, and as such does not prioritize teaching the way, say, the average North American or Asian university does. In recent years, the Institute has been endeavoring to rectify this problem, but the scales still tilt heavily toward research -- and arguably, as perhaps they should. That said, the deficit of experience in undergraduate teaching is something that may be faced more by the funded doctoral students than self-supporting doctoral students such as myself; those of us in the latter category often end up in teaching positions elsewhere to finance our research. It is a trade-off: our research is slowed down, but we become well-equipped for teaching. Considering that the majority of universities around the world probably prioritize teaching over research, this is not a bad trade-off.

on preparation for research:

The Higher Institute of Philosophy at KU Leuven is, above all, a serious research institution. Everything is done to an extremely high standard, and you are exposed, in particular, to the best methods in the history of philosophy.

and on financial support:

I was lucky to take advantage of a very generous scholarship, but aside from a few of these positions it remains very difficult to find funding at KU Leuven.

Next week I hope to look at University at Albany and University of Chicago. Feedback is welcome, at

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