Applying for philosophy degree when you haven’t done a philosophy a-level?

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justjas33
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#1
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#1
Hi all -
I’m thinking of applying for a Philosophy degree (or a History and Philosophy degree) later this year but I’m not taking philosophy and ethics / RE and philosophy at A-Level. Would I be at a disadvantage? Especially as it’s rather difficult to build up a philosophy personal statement aside from further reading and research? And that philosophy is a rather complex and unique subject so not having any kind of grounding on it could mean I’d be throwing myself in the deep end? (and while I’m on that topic, advice for what do include in a philosophy personal statement would be amazing!)

Thank you
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saltandshake
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#2
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#2
I don't think you'd be at a disadvantage in terms of A-Levels. As far as I can tell, there's no requirement for a Philosophy A-Level of any sort, and while it's generally recommended by admissions, other subjects are recommended just as strongly (such as Maths, Eng Lit, History, Classics). I'd imagine there's a large number of successful applicants every year that haven't studied Philosophy; as far as A-Levels go, there's quite a few sixth forms/colleges that don't offer it.
As long as you have some kind of arts/science mix and enough of a work ethic, I don't think you'd be too in over your head. It depends on the uni but they may have a recommended reading list for the course - having a look at these might give you some insight as to the sorts of things you might be discussing in classes, and if it's something you'd enjoy as well as something that wouldn't require excessive amounts of preparation for on your part.

I can't offer you specific advise in terms of your PS, but wider reading certainly wouldn't hurt. What brought you to considering a Philosophy degree in the first place? What research have you done that's brought you to your decision (or thereabouts)? Thinking about this might give you some pointers.
Last edited by saltandshake; 2 years ago
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gjd800
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No, nobody will care. There is no presumption or requirement that you have any academic background in philosophy.

My personal statement basically talked about my (outside) interest in Indian philosophy and religious philosophy because of my Catholic background
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justjas33
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#4
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#4
(Original post by saltandshake)
I don't think you'd be at a disadvantage in terms of A-Levels. As far as I can tell, there's no requirement for a Philosophy A-Level of any sort, and while it's generally recommended by admissions, other subjects are recommended just as strongly (such as Maths, Eng Lit, History, Classics). I'd imagine there's a large number of successful applicants every year that haven't studied Philosophy; as far as A-Levels go, there's quite a few sixth forms/colleges that don't offer it.
As long as you have some kind of arts/science mix and enough of a work ethic, I don't think you'd be too in over your head. It depends on the uni but they may have a recommended reading list for the course - having a look at these might give you some insight as to the sorts of things you might be discussing in classes, and if it's something you'd enjoy as well as something that wouldn't require excessive amounts of preparation for on your part.

I can't offer you specific advise in terms of your PS, but wider reading certainly wouldn't hurt. What brought you to considering a Philosophy degree in the first place? What research have you done that's brought you to your decision (or thereabouts)? Thinking about this might give you some pointers.
Thank you! This has really helped.
I do English Literature, History and Law at A-Level and I feel those should cut it as from what I’ve gathered philosophy involves a lot of reading and all three of my a levels focus on those skills.
I do know that logic is a part of philosophy, I’ve yet to look into it deeply but is it rather mathematical? I only ask this as my skill in maths and sciences are miles apart from my skill in humanities (and you can see that in my GCSEs haha) and I’m sure I could cope if it’s one module or something but I don’t know if unis would mind?
Ah yes I’ve already begun looking at reading lists at a few universities and have picked out a few texts to purchase and read, as well as introductory texts such as Think.
Thank you for the personal statement tips too.
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justjas33
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#5
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#5
(Original post by gjd800)
No, nobody will care. There is no presumption or requirement that you have any academic background in philosophy.

My personal statement basically talked about my (outside) interest in Indian philosophy and religious philosophy because of my Catholic background
Ok, thank you. So it was just based on your knowledge, old and new, about philosophical topics and kind of evaluating that? I’m wary and a little lost (as you could probably tell) as you can’t really show how much you want to do philosophy aside from talking about philosophy but idk if that’ll be enough? I have some rough ideas in my head of how I could do it but obviously I don’t really know anything about how I should conduct a personal statement so those ideas could be brilliant or dreadful haha. I’ll be doing some summer schools (online now) at unis studying history and I’ve done some stuff for law...I’d love to tie that in to my philosophy ps but at the same time I don’t want admissions to be like “??”
Sorry for rambling ahahaha
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gjd800
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#6
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#6
(Original post by justjas33)
Ok, thank you. So it was just based on your knowledge, old and new, about philosophical topics and kind of evaluating that? I’m wary and a little lost (as you could probably tell) as you can’t really show how much you want to do philosophy aside from talking about philosophy but idk if that’ll be enough? I have some rough ideas in my head of how I could do it but obviously I don’t really know anything about how I should conduct a personal statement so those ideas could be brilliant or dreadful haha. I’ll be doing some summer schools (online now) at unis studying history and I’ve done some stuff for law...I’d love to tie that in to my philosophy ps but at the same time I don’t want admissions to be like “??”
Sorry for rambling ahahaha
I talked about how I had been interested in 'philosophy' without even knowing what it really was: I was interested in argumentation, how to assess the validity of argumentative claims, whether belief is justified and so on. I related this to my religious upbringing because it was the most immediate, personal way to show I had been thinking about big questions and challenging my own beliefs and the beliefs instilled by the Church. Then I talked about my interest in Indian philosophy, specifically Indian Buddhism and how it might relate to some 'big' questions (this was important because the university was at the time one of the few places with a research specialism in Classical Indian philosophy). I also tied in some stuff re what I had been reading and how it had influenced my approach to life.

There's no set formula, but you don't need to be worried about having no philosophy background. I was years out of education, crap A Levels, no background to speak of other than my personal interest in Indian philosophy and now I am a PhD holder! Just show them that you are interested, that you are asking questions and that you are reflective, and they will like you.

You can def tie in the law stuff, especially if you have any interest at all in legal philosophy (this is something I dip in and out of myself), and history could be related to the history of ideas, or history of philosophy. So make clear that you do these extracurricular stuff and it gets you thinking about philosophy.

But try not to stress (easy for me to say!). I am sure you will nail it
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justjas33
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#7
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#7
(Original post by gjd800)
I talked about how I had been interested in 'philosophy' without even knowing what it really was: I was interested in argumentation, how to assess the validity of argumentative claims, whether belief is justified and so on. I related this to my religious upbringing because it was the most immediate, personal way to show I had been thinking about big questions and challenging my own beliefs and the beliefs instilled by the Church. Then I talked about my interest in Indian philosophy, specifically Indian Buddhism and how it might relate to some 'big' questions (this was important because the university was at the time one of the few places with a research specialism in Classical Indian philosophy). I also tied in some stuff re what I had been reading and how it had influenced my approach to life.

There's no set formula, but you don't need to be worried about having no philosophy background. I was years out of education, crap A Levels, no background to speak of other than my personal interest in Indian philosophy and now I am a PhD holder! Just show them that you are interested, that you are asking questions and that you are reflective, and they will like you.

You can def tie in the law stuff, especially if you have any interest at all in legal philosophy (this is something I dip in and out of myself), and history could be related to the history of ideas, or history of philosophy. So make clear that you do these extracurricular stuff and it gets you thinking about philosophy.

But try not to stress (easy for me to say!). I am sure you will nail it
Honestly, thank you so much for this! This has actually eliminated all my doubts I’ve had about applying for philosophy. I feel like I may actually be able to do this now, and I’m lowkey very excited if I’ll be honest! The only thing holding me back is informing my mum haha, she still thinks I’m set on law and she’s very excited about it. Feel like my main line of argument will be: “I could do a law conversion afterwards!!”
But anyway, thank you again
Do you mind if I run by you some books I’m planning to get to build my knowledge? I’ve got a couple introduction books and some actual philosophy texts but despite my research I wanted to check by you if they’re not too advanced for a total beginner
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gjd800
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#8
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#8
(Original post by justjas33)
Honestly, thank you so much for this! This has actually eliminated all my doubts I’ve had about applying for philosophy. I feel like I may actually be able to do this now, and I’m lowkey very excited if I’ll be honest! The only thing holding me back is informing my mum haha, she still thinks I’m set on law and she’s very excited about it. Feel like my main line of argument will be: “I could do a law conversion afterwards!!”
But anyway, thank you again
Do you mind if I run by you some books I’m planning to get to build my knowledge? I’ve got a couple introduction books and some actual philosophy texts but despite my research I wanted to check by you if they’re not too advanced for a total beginner
Not a problem, feel free!
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justjas33
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#9
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#9
(Original post by gjd800)
Not a problem, feel free!
For introductory books I’ve got Think by Simon Blackburn and the a very short introduction to... book. I’m thinking of getting What Does It All Mean by Thomas Nagel as well but depends on cost😅 I’ve also got Five Dialogues: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Meno, Phaedo (Hackett Classics) and Discourse on Method & Meditations of First Philosophy from Descartes so far
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saltandshake
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#10
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#10
(Original post by justjas33)
Thank you! This has really helped.
I do English Literature, History and Law at A-Level and I feel those should cut it as from what I’ve gathered philosophy involves a lot of reading and all three of my a levels focus on those skills.
I do know that logic is a part of philosophy, I’ve yet to look into it deeply but is it rather mathematical? I only ask this as my skill in maths and sciences are miles apart from my skill in humanities (and you can see that in my GCSEs haha) and I’m sure I could cope if it’s one module or something but I don’t know if unis would mind?
Ah yes I’ve already begun looking at reading lists at a few universities and have picked out a few texts to purchase and read, as well as introductory texts such as Think.
Thank you for the personal statement tips too.
No problem!
I study Philosophy A-Level currently and I can't speak for the content at degree level, but I wouldn't describe what I study now as mathematical. Maths is not my strongest point either - I'm also much more humanities-oriented - but I haven't found the course challenging, although as you say, it definitely involves a lot of logic. You do have to look at things from a logical perspective and be prepared to do so, but I would say I actually use this kind of thinking already in my other subjects - e.g. using logic to understand the meaning of an unknown word in a Spanish passage. Your A-Levels are humanities, but they involve the same kind of analytical thinking that you really need to study Philosophy.
I'm not sure about specific modules, but I would recommend having a look at the course details on the uni websites. Some provide more detail about the compulsory/optional modules; if not, you could always email admissions and ask if they have any more info. It might help you feel more prepared/prepare for any parts of the course that you're less sure about.

Good luck!
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gjd800
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#11
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#11
(Original post by justjas33)
For introductory books I’ve got Think by Simon Blackburn and the a very short introduction to... book. I’m thinking of getting What Does It All Mean by Thomas Nagel as well but depends on cost😅 I’ve also got Five Dialogues: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Meno, Phaedo (Hackett Classics) and Discourse on Method & Meditations of First Philosophy from Descartes so far
These are all good! You might benefit from some companion books, like Cambridge Companion to Descartes etc but I don't think those choices are somehow beyond you! Have a read and see how you get one

Nigel Warburton's books are worth a go, too. He is really, really good at putting across complex ideas simply. One of the best public philosophers of a generation, for me
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justjas33
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#12
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#12
(Original post by gjd800)
These are all good! You might benefit from some companion books, like Cambridge Companion to Descartes etc but I don't think those choices are somehow beyond you! Have a read and see how you get one

Nigel Warburton's books are worth a go, too. He is really, really good at putting across complex ideas simply. One of the best public philosophers of a generation, for me
Ah brill thank you sm! Oh I’ll definitely have a look at Nigel Warburton too, especially after that glowing review
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UoB - Arts and Law
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#13
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#13
(Original post by justjas33)
Hi all -
I’m thinking of applying for a Philosophy degree (or a History and Philosophy degree) later this year but I’m not taking philosophy and ethics / RE and philosophy at A-Level. Would I be at a disadvantage? Especially as it’s rather difficult to build up a philosophy personal statement aside from further reading and research? And that philosophy is a rather complex and unique subject so not having any kind of grounding on it could mean I’d be throwing myself in the deep end? (and while I’m on that topic, advice for what do include in a philosophy personal statement would be amazing!)

Thank you
Hello!

This is a really frequently asked question, but in short, no - you won't be at a disadvantage.

We expect students to have a wide range of A level subjects. Anything which prepares you to read and interpret texts will prepare you well. Literature, history, languages, arts, social sciences – there are many routes into the study of philosophy.

We fairly recently had look at all the A-Levels of our current student body, and it is genuinely diverse, with good company for those without A-Levels in Philosophy!

The first year enables those who have not undertaken the subject at A Level to ‘get up to speed’ with the topics by allowing them to take introductory modules. For example, the ‘Problems of Philosophy’ module covers a different philosophical problem each fortnight to give you a good grounding of popular philosophical arguments. Therefore, I would not let your lack of previous exposure to these subjects put you off as it really doesn’t put you at a disadvantage.

That being said reading around the subject is a really great way to get a feel for the course. We recently released a series of Philosophy recommendations from current staff and students which you might find useful. The recommendations include lots of examples of philosophy in popular culture but if you scroll to the bottom of the page there is also a list of interesting and accessible philosophy books which should help give you a sense of what you would be doing on the course.

Overall, the first year does not assume prior knowledge, but interest in the subject area is key!

I hope this helps!

Molly
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justjas33
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#14
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#14
(Original post by saltandshake)
No problem!
I study Philosophy A-Level currently and I can't speak for the content at degree level, but I wouldn't describe what I study now as mathematical. Maths is not my strongest point either - I'm also much more humanities-oriented - but I haven't found the course challenging, although as you say, it definitely involves a lot of logic. You do have to look at things from a logical perspective and be prepared to do so, but I would say I actually use this kind of thinking already in my other subjects - e.g. using logic to understand the meaning of an unknown word in a Spanish passage. Your A-Levels are humanities, but they involve the same kind of analytical thinking that you really need to study Philosophy.
I'm not sure about specific modules, but I would recommend having a look at the course details on the uni websites. Some provide more detail about the compulsory/optional modules; if not, you could always email admissions and ask if they have any more info. It might help you feel more prepared/prepare for any parts of the course that you're less sure about.

Good luck!
I’m so sorry I’ve only just seen this! Thank you for your help
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justjas33
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#15
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#15
(Original post by UoB - Arts and Law)
Hello!

This is a really frequently asked question, but in short, no - you won't be at a disadvantage.

We expect students to have a wide range of A level subjects. Anything which prepares you to read and interpret texts will prepare you well. Literature, history, languages, arts, social sciences – there are many routes into the study of philosophy.

We fairly recently had look at all the A-Levels of our current student body, and it is genuinely diverse, with good company for those without A-Levels in Philosophy!

The first year enables those who have not undertaken the subject at A Level to ‘get up to speed’ with the topics by allowing them to take introductory modules. For example, the ‘Problems of Philosophy’ module covers a different philosophical problem each fortnight to give you a good grounding of popular philosophical arguments. Therefore, I would not let your lack of previous exposure to these subjects put you off as it really doesn’t put you at a disadvantage.

That being said reading around the subject is a really great way to get a feel for the course. We recently released a series of Philosophy recommendations from current staff and students which you might find useful. The recommendations include lots of examples of philosophy in popular culture but if you scroll to the bottom of the page there is also a list of interesting and accessible philosophy books which should help give you a sense of what you would be doing on the course.

Overall, the first year does not assume prior knowledge, but interest in the subject area is key!

I hope this helps!

Molly
This has been extremely helpful and reassuring, thank you so much! And I’ll definitely check out your Philosophy recommendations series, it sounds brilliant!
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