Rankings, Rankings, Rankings!

Some old news, the new rankings at the Philosophical Gourmet are up. USC and Northwestern made significant gains while UC Berkeley and UC Davis took a tumble.

Meanwhile, David Brooks linked to this piece by Malcom Gladwell that contains some valuable insights to keep in mind while reading rankings. Though Gladwell is focused on the US News college ranking system, it is applicable to the Gourmet report. To be sure, the Gourmet report is up front about what is measuring: faculty quality and reputation (which correlate with placement). Even so, there are variables that it can’t measure like whether the faculty is committed to good teaching or the grad program fosters a helpful community.

In light of these caveats, the best way to use the report is for a guide on where to apply, not necessarily attend. And remember to keep the report’s guidelines for interpreting it mind:

  • Attend to the actual mean scores, and not simply the ordinal rank of departments: some ordinal differences mark trivial differences in mean scores, others mark more significant differences.
  • For programs whose mean scores are fairly close (roughly, .4 or less apart), choose a program exclusively on the basis of how well it meets your needs and interests and needs, i.e., because it better meets your intellectual goals, or offers you a better financial aid package, or provides a more supportive intellectual community, and so on.
  • It can make good sense to choose a much lower ranked program (say, more than 1.0 or more apart) over a higher ranked program if that program meets your special interests. Because Departments are increasingly specialized in their coverage and methodologies, it is quite possible for a lower-ranked program to offer a stronger program in a sub-field than a higher-ranked one. Where you already have a specialized philosophical interest (e.g., ancient philosophy or Kant or philosophy of biology), you should certainly consider choosing a program that is weaker overall, but stronger in your specialty, than others to which you are admitted.

In any event, depending on what you want to do, I would say getting into any of the top 50 schools would be quite an accomplishment.


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