Should this Canadian pursue a philosophy degree in Belgium?
January 23, 2005 9:09 PM   Subscribe

I am currently a philosophy student at the University of British Columbia (Canada). I've applied to transfer to the Institute of Philosophy at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven for their strong involvement with continental philosophy, and because I want to live in Europe. Will getting a Belgian degree significantly complicate things for me if I choose the pursue a graduate degree in North America? Will it be detrimental to getting in to a good school?
posted by ori to Education (13 answers total)
Howdy neighbor! *waves from Place Vanier*
posted by stray at 9:13 PM on January 23, 2005

Response by poster: I should mention I'm in my third year of my undergraduate degree, and I'd be finishing up my B.A. there.

stray: ha! I lived in Vanier (OK) my first year.
posted by ori at 9:19 PM on January 23, 2005

My guess is that it will make it harder for you to get into a grad school in NA, for two reasons:

1) If you come from a school that the acceptance committee hasn't heard of or doesn't know much about, that will work against you. I've had other international friends who had placement troubles because of this, even though they had killer letters and a good writing sample (one was forced to do an MA though he wanted to go straight into a PhD). However, although I haven't heard of the school you're applying to, that doesn't mean that it's not excellent and has a good reputation in a specialized field. You may want to try asking some philosophy professors on application committees whether they've heard of it and what their impressions are.

2) The overwhelming majority of philosophy programs in North America are analytic-based. You'd essentially be transferring from an analytic school to a continental one, which some schools may be wary of. Of course, if you're planning on going into a continental-based program, then it could work out to your advantage (you may not want to work in a predominantly analytic department anyway).

That being said, with good letters and a solid writing sample and personal statement, the place you do your undergraduate degree at might not be so important. But realize that most universities would likely look more highly upon UBC, simply because it's analytic, it has recognizable faculty (ever had a class with Dom Lopes? I like him a lot), and they've heard of it. Applicant selection isn't much of a science; from what I understand, selection often comes down to a gut-feeling a lot of the time.

(If the Institute of Philosophy is a really well-known school that I just haven't heard of for some reason, then I retract all my comments)

(What's with all the philosophy questions on AskMe all of a sudden?)
posted by painquale at 11:07 PM on January 23, 2005

You know, thinking about it a bit more, I think that having done three years at UBC may already be enough... one year at a different school will probably just show maturity and an ability to do many kinds of philosophy in many different environments.

As long as you can get a good letter or two from someone at UBC and tell a good story in your personal statement about your department swap, it's probably unlikely to hurt you.

(this'll teach me not to post my kneejerk impressions)
posted by painquale at 11:13 PM on January 23, 2005

Some universities give preference to those with international background. I have no idea if this applies in your field, but it sure does in some.

While in Leuven, be sure to take up drinking serious beer, even if it means you'll never be happy with 'normal' North American beer (ha! NA beer!)
posted by Goofyy at 11:34 PM on January 23, 2005

'nother shout out from a UBC-er *waves hands*.

(nothin' to contribute).
posted by juv3nal at 12:57 AM on January 24, 2005

Just dropping by to curse Dom Lopes. His metaphysics class was useless. Though that shouldnt come as a particular surprise, considering the field... but I mean compared to other metaphyics classes.
posted by mek at 5:47 AM on January 24, 2005

I'm at a primarily continental grad school & we had a speaker from Katholieke U. Leuven at a grad student conference last year (I think she spoke on Plato & eros; my vote was 'meh'), so it's certainly recognized, etc. Yeah, I'd say the main thing is where you want to go from there. Analytic depts are probably gonna be less accessible, but I doubt that's really a concern to you if you're specifically interested in going to the continent to start with. The thing about grad degrees is that they're often quite specific, so getting into a 'good' program is as much about finding a program that fits what you're interested in pursuing as anything.
posted by mdn at 5:59 AM on January 24, 2005

I'm out of my league with Continental departments, but I would think that if the KUL is a respectable continental department, you might even have an advantage getting into some place like Vanderbilt, University of Memphis, or the SUNY triangle, all of which tend significantly towards Continental philosophy as done in Europe. I don't think that Brian Leiter's department would see your application as better in any way. I would guess that a school that is good at integrating the two, like the University of Chicago, would want some more analytic training.

Good luck with your applications!
posted by ontic at 10:35 AM on January 24, 2005

A year in Leuven will probably be a major asset if you want to apply to grad school in philosophy at a Catholic university with a progamme that emphasises continental philosophy (Boston College, Fordham, and Villanova come to mind). At the majority of North American universities, the time at Leuven will likely have a neutral to slightly negative effect--not so much because it is Belgian, but because (as other posters have mentioned) of its continental focus.
posted by muhonnin at 2:34 PM on January 24, 2005

Response by poster: I'm not sure I want to do graduate studies in philosophy. I'm also leaning towards comparative literature. I should've probably mentioned that in the original post. Thanks everyone for your thoughtful answers.
posted by ori at 3:15 PM on January 24, 2005

I'm also leaning towards comparative literature

Then by all means, go to Belgium. The more I think about it, the more I realize that it would be ridiculous for you not to go. Especially if it's the kind of philosophy you want to do.

Just dropping by to curse Dom Lopes.

Ha! He writes interesting aesthetics papers, anyhow.
posted by painquale at 5:22 PM on January 24, 2005

Not quite what you want to know, but I once visited a friend who was studying in Leuven and it's a beautiful place with a great student life and a lot of international students - good luck if you decide to go for it!
posted by penguin pie at 5:34 PM on January 24, 2005

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