In a previous post, I argued that philosophy undergraduate students are pretty smart; indeed, they are approximately as smart as the physics and mathematics undergraduates. Now, I want to ask a question that naturally extends from my first post: just how smart are philosophy graduate students?
We can make some inferences using GRE scores. However, we must first have a sample of philosophy graduate students. I will use the Philosophical Gourmet Report, which has a profound impact on undergraduates selecting philosophy graduate programs. The ranking has come under some criticism, notably by Zac Ernst, on how well the report ranks the educational ability of the departments; but I find for my purposes that the ranking is excellent at ranking the faculty quality in terms of publication, both in quantity and quality. In short, the better the professional philosophers (on average) are, the better ranked the graduate department is. And it’s reasonable to assume that the better the philosophy undergraduate (on average) is, the better the program (on average) the student will be admitted to.
Let’s restrict the number of graduate schools to the United States. It’s a manageable number, and they require GRE scores more often than Canadian, Australasian, and British graduate programs. There are approximately 100 U.S. philosophy graduate programs. So finding a school that is ranked around 50 is going to be a good approximate of the average philosophy graduate department, and of the average philosophy graduate student. I could only find GRE scores for the following departments, starting with our approximate average:
(51st) University of Missouri-Columbia: 650 verbal, 700 quantitative, 1350 total, 10%-15% acceptance, and 3.9 GPA.
(46th) University of Washington-Seattle: 660 verbal, 710 quantitative, 1370 total, and 6%-8% acceptance.
(40th) University of Virginia: 650 verbal, 690 quantitative, 1340 total, 10% acceptance, and 3.87 GPA.
(38th) University of California-Davis: 684 verbal, 743 quantitative, 1427 total, and 3.62 GPA.
(28th) University of Colorado-Boulder: 708 verbal, 741 quantitative, 1449 total, 6% acceptance, 3.87 GPA.
(22nd) University of Chicago: They don’t currently post their information, but I do recall that as early as last year the average was 710 verbal, 740 quantitative, 1450 total.
(21st) University of California-San Diego: 705 verbal, 750 quantitative, 1455 total, and 12.7% acceptance.
(20th) University of Texas-Austin: 1470 total, and 3.86 GPA.
For a comparison, the average GRE for the total test-taking population is a 465 verbal (117 SD), 584 quantitative (149 SD), and 1049 total. The average GRE score for the philosophy undergraduate test-taking population is a 590 verbal, 638 quantitative, and 1228 total.
Let’s use the differences in standard deviation to gain a better idea of how much smarter the graduate students are from the undergraduates. Philosophy undergraduates are roughly 1.07 standard deviations above the verbal mean, and .36 standard deviations above the quantitative mean. Averaging them together yields that the undergraduates are roughly .72 standard deviations above the general test-taking mean. Recall from my above list that students from the University of Missouri-Columbia are good approximate representations of the average philosophy graduate student; they tested at 1.58 standard deviations from the general verbal mean, and .78 standard deviations from the quantitative mean. Averaging this yields that they place at 1.18 standard deviations from the general test-taking mean. The University of Colorado-Boulder philosophy graduate students tested at 2.08 standard deviations from the general verbal mean, and 1.05 standard deviations from the general quantitative mean. The average yields that they tested at 1.57 standard deviations from the general test taking mean. the University of California-San Diego philosophy graduate students tested at 2.05 standard deviations from the general verbal mean, and 1.11 standard deviations from the general quantitative mean. The average yields that they tested 1.58 standard deviations from the mean.
I couldn’t find any programs past Texas that has available, ready-made, easily interpretable scores. So we don’t know the average GRE scores of the students in the top-nineteen programs. But most will surely be better than the 1470 total of Texas. So I’ve decided to perform a linear regression analysis to predict the top-ten philosophy graduate programs’ GRE average scores.
I’ve thrown out the Texas score to do separate regressions on the verbal and quantitative scores against the ranking. The verbal y-value is 756.62348459 and the slope is -2.151887773; the quantitative y-value is 782.06927607 and the slope is -1.6279853. I stick with the simpler values of 756.62, -2.15, 782.07, and -1.63. We find the corresponding equations to be Verbal = 756.62 – 2.15(Rank), and Quantitative = 782.07 – 1.63(Rank). These equations predict a 713.62 average verbal score, and a 749.47 average quantitative score for Texas, which adds to a 1463 total average (with rounding). This is seven points off from the 1470 reported total. You might not think the equations’ predictive power is very accurate—they seem to be on the conservative side—but the conservativeness shall work well for my purposes; it’s better to be conservative for my following predictions.
Here are some predicted average GRE scores for the graduate students at the following departments (with their standard deviations from the total test-taking population):
(15th) City University of New York Graduate Center: 724 verbal (2.21 SD), 758 quantitative (1.17 SD), and 1482 total (1.69 SD).
(10th) University of California-Berkeley: 735 verbal (2.31 SD), 766 quantitative (1.22 SD), 1501 total (1.77 SD).
(5th) University of Michigan-Ann Arbor: 746 verbal (2.4 SD), 774 quantitative (1.28 SD), 1520 total (1.84 SD).
(3rd) Princeton University: 750 verbal (2.44 SD), 777 quantitative (1.3 SD), 1527 total (1.87 SD).
(1st) New York University: 754 verbal (2.47 SD), 780 quantitative (1.32 SD), 1534 total (1.9 SD).
These predictions are probably on the conservative side; If these average GRE scores approximate the real ones, then all I can say is “WOW!” You might be wondering why the student quality is so high; the reason is that the job market for professional philosophers is abysmal, which forces graduate departments to have minimal funding for graduate students, which forces the departments to accept the best of best, which forces an acceptance rate that is roughly 3%-5% for the top-ten departments. I highly doubt that the best physics departments in the United States have acceptance rates this small.
To conclude this post with a side note, you probably believe that philosophy graduate students tilt towards verbal ability given the above standard deviations. Verbal tilt is usually calculated as having verbal scores the fall more than one standard deviation beyond the quantitative scores. If this true, then you can tell from above that philosophy graduate students don’t tilt towards verbal ability. You can read here about ability tilt concerning highly gifted adolescents taking the SAT.