Graduate schools across the country vie for CMC philosophy major

Caroline Bowman ’16 is definitely in demand.

The CMC senior, who graduates this fall with a degree in philosophy, has been accepted to 15 prestigious graduate schools and is wait-listed at one other.

The schools to which Bowman has been accepted include: Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, NYU, Princeton, Stanford, UC San Diego, University of Chicago, UNC Chapel Hill, University of Pittsburgh, University of Texas, University of Toronto and Yale. She was also admitted into the equivalent of a master’s program at Oxford University and was wait-listed at UC Berkeley.

“I didn't know I wanted to major in philosophy when I entered CMC,” Bowman says. “And then I ended up taking two fantastic philosophy classes my first-year: ‘Philosophical Questions’ with Suzanne Obdrzalek and ‘Reasons, Morals, and Reality, a Freshman Humanities Seminar’ with professor Jim Kreines. I was gripped by the way philosophers raise and try to answer questions about the nature of reality and our place in it. As I took more philosophy classes, I came to realize that there were so many questions, problems and ideas that I wanted to think, write, and talk about that I could see myself spending my whole life writing about and teaching philosophy.”

Currently, Bowman works as a consultant at the Center for Writing and Public Discourse (CWPD) as she completes her senior thesis under the mentorship of Professor Kreines. She says that her experience working at the CWPD has helped her to envision working with students, ultimately as a professor while aiding her in becoming a better writer at the same time.

“As a consultant at the CWPD, I work with students on a variety of writing assignments, but I've worked with quite a few students specifically on philosophy papers and I've really enjoyed and grown from that process,” Bowman says. ”I love having conversations about philosophical arguments and how best to present them.”

Bowman’s senior thesis is on Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. Specifically, she’s analyzing one of Kant's arguments for his doctrine of transcendental idealism, and trying to interpret and defend this argument.

According to Bowman, transcendental idealism is the theory that the world as we experience it depends on the nature of our mental faculties, and all we can have knowledge of are “appearances,” which are distinguished from “things in themselves” of which we cannot have any substantive knowledge.

“Transcendental idealism includes the highly counterintuitive claim that space and time aren’t features of reality independent of us, but are rather forms that our cognitive faculties impose on the world around us.”

“Professor Kreines has been tremendously helpful as I write my thesis, part of which was the writing sample I used for my graduate school applications” Bowman says. “He’s given very detailed and constructive feedback on many, many drafts, and we’ve had a lot of great conversations about Kant’s arguments.”

In graduate school, Bowman plans to continue studying Kant and his early modern predecessors (including Spinoza and Leibniz) as well as Plato, Aristotle and others.

In the past, CMC’s Philosophy Department has sent other students on to prestigious graduate programs at Princeton and UC San Diego, but the interest in Bowman by so many schools could be unprecedented.

“It's hard to tell how these programs make their final decisions about which candidates to offer admission, and it is unfortunately the case that because philosophy PhD programs are often quite small, they cannot accept every qualified candidate,” Bowman says. “That being said, I would say that I've worked hard in my philosophy classes, I put a lot of effort into my application and I’ve had tremendous support from philosophy professors at CMC and Pomona.”

According to Bowman, perhaps the most important parts of the application process are submitting a writing sample (a 20 to 25-page essay), letters of recommendation and having a solid academic record.

 “I spent a lot of time writing and refining my writing sample—I started researching at the beginning of the summer, was busy writing it throughout the fall, and continued to edit it, perhaps a bit obsessively, throughout winter break as I submitted my applications,” Bowman says. “Professor Kreines gave me tons of feedback through this process, and I got a lot of help from Professor Peter Thielke at Pomona as well. These professors, as well as Professors Suzanne Obdrzalek and Adrienne Martin, also gave me great feedback on my statement of purpose. I've been lucky to attend a school like CMC with small seminar classes that have let me get to know my professors.”

UPDATE 4/21: Caroline has chosen NYU to continue her philosophy studies. "I am very excited to join NYU's community. I think that it will be a wonderful place to pursue my current interests, and to expand and deepen my philosophical education."

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