It's definitely an exciting time to be picking out a school to pursue philosophy. I have a few suggestions for schools, but honestly any school will do. You don't need to go to Oxford or Harvard to truly learn philosophy and so on. It's the experience and the drive and determination you have to study philosophy that matters. But for any school you consider, keep in mind these few points;
1.Check the Department funding schedule (considering the economic troubles)
2.Check the number of tenured professors in the department
3.Check the Student to teacher ratio
4.Talk to the undergraduate adviser (never the academic advisor)
5.For quality in the department, look at;
---The difference in number between the number of higher level classes and lower level classes
---How many requisite courses are required
First, I would seriously consider checking the department funding schedule for the schoolcheck out how many tenured professors are in you prospective school's philosophy department
. Tenure is not only a good way to find out how much money is allocated to your department but how serious the school is about your particular department. More tenured professors equal more money to pay them a guaranteed salary for a longer period of time. Another important thing is the student to teacher ratio
. This is probably the most readily available fact to prospective freshmen. The more closely the numbers, the better the quality via quantity (I would assume).
The best thing for you to do if you want to get really good advice and guidance from the source is to speak with philosophy department undergraduate adviser
. These people are worth their weight in gold and it pays to know them. As I would assume in most universities, the philosophy department is attached to a specific higher department, namely the Liberal Arts department. They have a fair number of general advisers who handle just about everybody. The problem is though, since they are generic advisers, they really don't have that much in common with you and your major, let alone the time to devote to you. The philosophy department undergraduate adviser is usually a co-chair and very knowledgeable with students and the major track. I would note that they also hold the power of substitution, exchange, etc. of classes you take or wish to substitute for another and so on. Talking to this undergraduate adviser would be very much worth your time and they are open to talking with prospective students.
Quality of the department wise, check for two things. It is true that the more classes the philosophy department has the better. However, check to see difference between how many lower level courses are offered and how many upper courses are offered.
Here is the reason. Suppose the philosophy department has 30 lower level classes for freshmen and sophomore level students (what my school classified as 1000+ and 2000+ courses). Now count how many upper level courses (3000+, 4000+, and 5000+) the department offers, which in this example may be 10 (which is honestly a pretty generous number). Why are there so many less higher level courses compared to lower level courses? In one respect, there are introductory philosophy courses that all majors have the option of taking, so it makes sense to have enough classes to support that. But there are always more philosophy classes available for majors in lower level than upper level. The reason you find this kind of discrepancy is that many people leave the major when it gets to a certain point. The coursework becomes harder, the teachers grade more sternly, etc. Really consider checking this out, because it could tell you a lot about what you could experience as an undergraduate in philosophy. Also consider checking out how many requisite courses are required.
My theory goes that the more requisites a department has, the more they intend to bring up the standing of the cumulative ranking of the department. Grading gets harder and so on in these courses, and I think has a correlation with the apex of lower level courses and your entrance into the higher level courses. I would not go so far as to call them wash-out courses, but they are something to look out for.
If you are looking for schools in particular, I honestly don't know many intimately outside of the cities I have been in or wish to go. As far as Philadelphia, PA is concerned, I loved my experience at Penn and I feel obligated to recommend it. You pay for it, but you may get your money's worth in the end. Also, if you are interested in going into the law, Penn is the place to go. Prof. Katz still teaches there as far as I am aware, and this is a sharp guy with legal philosophy. And I have noticed that most of the schools in the area converge on Penn for functions and seminars so there is no shortage of opportunities and events there. But Penn is only one place. Temple University (a short distance away) is fantastic in the respect of the faculty there. If you want to do anything with history, talk to the faculty there (Erwin, Eisman). I don't know what the philosophy department is like, although I met with a few of the professors from there and they seemed really nice. In Louisiana, I would say Loyola University and Tulane. Loyola University pumps out quite a few Rhodes scholars and the philosophy department is very personalized, so you are sure to get very good treatment there and they work with you to make sure you get where you need to go. Hope any of this helped.