In comments, Potential Philosopher reminds me it's getting to be about time to talk about advice for prospective grad students. (Actually, it's probably getting late for that. Oh well.) I and everyone else have things to say about that, so we'll get to that in time. But the actual advice will have to wait another day.
Right now, I want to make a case for a general principle of advice-giving. It's a principle that, if you really take it seriously, I think puts serious constraints on the advice you can give to prospective grad students.
Here's the principle. The advice you give a prospective grad student has to be based on the rule, and not the exception, of what prospectives can expect about grad school and philosophy more generally.
Why is this a good principle? Well, I take it most people who want to go to grad school in philosophy were the exceptions in their college philosophy classes. They were the smartest people in the room. Or if, like me, they weren't the smartest people in the room, they were at least pretty smart, and certainly better at philosophy than most other things they ever tried to do. One thing this means is, prospective grads are used to being the exceptions. Now, some of them are going to go to grad school and continue being the exceptions. But the overwhelming majority won't. Their days as the exceptions in the class are over.* I take this to be damn near analytically true. So for the overwhelming majority of prospective grads, whatever might be true for the exceptions isn't true for them.
Now, here's how the principle constrains the advice we can give. Take just one example. Suppose I give some pessimistic-sounding advice about how long it takes to finish a PhD in philosophy in America. Like, say, some school's offering a five year package and saying they run a five-year program, but I say it's probably more like a six, seven, or eight year program. Suppose I say that.
There's always going to be someone who wants to come back at me with, "But I know someone who worked really hard and finished in four years! It can be done! Quit saying it can't be done!" First, no one's saying it can't be done. But more to the point, how the fuck does pleading exceptions help give a prospective grad student a fair idea of what grad school is normally, probably, usually like? What, in all likelihood, grad school will be like for them?
The advice we give prospectives should give them a sense of what they can reasonably expect. But they can't reasonably expect to be exceptions. Our advice needs to reflect that.
*Side-bar to prospective grads: This isn't a knock against you guys. In fact, it's one of the best things about grad school. If you got to grad school, every one of your classmates is going to be really, really bright, especially compared to the some of the dumb-ass knobs who won't STFU in your undergrad classes. Imagine taking class after class after class where the discussion never gets hijacked by someone who's real beef with Davidson is, he's not nearly as cool as the ideas that come to you at 2:00am when you're taking rips off your room mate's bong. It's really awesome having a bunch of smart people in your class instead of that guy.