Generally, when asked to consider what makes for the best school, students will assume it has to do with school rankings. And it is true that the best philosophy schools are ranked. Potential philosophy students, especially considering graduate work, should take into consideration peer-reviewed rankings of school like those found on the Philosophical Gourmet Report. However, there are some things that are more important than ranking. When international students consider top philosophy schools they should also consider items like price, financial aid, community, and philosophical focus.
What makes for the “top” school in philosophy is really about the faculty. The quality of a program is determined by the prestige and reputation of its faculty, and there is great benefit from obtaining a degree at a top school. Firstly, these top schools provide the student with the opportunity to study with world class faculty. These faculty are the best in their field and know how to help the student find publication and career opportunities. Moreover, a degree from a top school will carry a great deal of weight, and provide the graduate with more career opportunities and respect in the work place.
However, the student’s top priority should not be the schools ranking. The best philosophy schools are those that are the best for the individual student. An undergraduate student is far more likely to benefit from attending a smaller school with a great deal of faculty help, and then applying to larger schools for graduate work. There is little point in attending a large philosophy school as an undergraduate, as undergraduates rarely get to work with the top faculty anyway.
Graduate students should be concerned with ranking, but not with the “top” rankings, they should seek philosophy schools with top rankings in their field of philosophy. For example, some schools will be better in the philosophical field of metaphysics, others will be stronger in ethics. International students who are potential graduate students should attend schools based on the chosen focus of the particular area of study in philosophy.
The primary concern for any student, and especially international students should be considering the affordability of the school and the interest the school shows in him or her. Attending a school that offers scholarship is almost always preferable to attending a school that does not, even if it is high-ranking. So, what makes for the best philosophy schools and the top philosophy schools is only, in part, the rankings, but is largely comprised of the interest the school shows in students and the focus the school has on the your chosen field of study.