Extracurricular activities of a Philosophy major

Lorenzo asked:

I am a foreign high school student who intends to apply to a top american university, in order to major in Philosophy. What kind of extracurricular activities — related to philosophy — could I do and include in my applications, showing to the admissions officials my commitment to its study and improving my chances of being accepted?

Answer by Gideon Smith-Jones

Do they have this saying (or the equivalent) in Brazil, ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’?

It’s unlikely that the admissions officer of a philosophy department would be looking specifically for extracurricular activities related to philosophy. What they want to know is: are you an interesting person or a boring swat? Will you be making an active contribution to the life of your university or college? For example, in sport, or the performing arts, or special interest clubs, or outreach?

What can you do besides philosophize?

On the PhiloSophos.org site it says, ‘Philosophers should know lots of things besides philosophy.’ If I was an Admissions officer, you would also need to show me that you have genuine intellectual interests outside your chosen subject — in the physical sciences, or psychology, or history for example. Do you follow politics or does the news just bore you? What are your views on Third World debt? climate change? Where do you stand politically on libertarianism? socialism?

However, as you asked, I do think that there are philosophically related things you can do, like attending public talks by philosophers if there are any available, or contacting your nearest university philosophy department and asking them if you can sit in on some of their seminars. Does your school have a philosophy club? What contribution did you make to it? Have you ever talked to a professional philosopher?

Well, the fact that you submitted this question is a start. It’s something you can note on your application form.

So far as your philosophical abilities are concerned, you may be asked to submit a sample of your work — an essay or essays on philosophy. School grades are rarely enough to judge a candidate’s academic potential. The best advice I can give here is, don’t even think of cheating. Sweat it out, put everything you have into it. And hope for the best.

Good luck!

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