Purple leaf

So you want to apply to Graduate School to do an MA in Philosophy?

Apply for external scholarships (SSHRC CGS, OGS)

    • These are very lucrative scholarships and the deadlines are normally well before the deadlines for applications to graduate programs.
    • These are determined by grades, letters of reference, and your research proposal.
    • Choose your references carefully:
      • There are always exceptions, but generally speaking a letter from a tenured professor carries more weight than a letter from a part-time instructor;
      • Also, a letter from an instructor who knows you from a seminar will likely be more detailed and helpful than a letter from an instructor who had you in a class with 50 other students.
    • Work hard on the research proposal:
      • Get feedback on one or two drafts from one or two faculty;
      • Ensure that the proposed research is tightly focused (i.e., not too broad);
      • Emphasize the contribution your project will make to a particular issue/problem;
      • Ensure that the topic is manageable for the time-frame of the degree.
    • If you are awarded an external scholarship but have not yet heard back about your application to your preferred MA program, contact the local Graduate Coordinator and inform them about the award. It is often (though not always) the case that you will be admitted to a program if you secure your own external funding.

Where to apply to do the MA

    • You should apply to several schools.
    • Don’t rule out schools in the US.
    • Think about the kind of MA you want to do:
      • Do you want a degree that requires a thesis, a major research paper, or just course work?
      • Do you want to take a one or a two-year program?
    • Do some research on programs:
      • Consult faculty profiles and publishing records to ensure the department has one or two suitable supervisors (especially if the program requires a thesis or major research paper);
      • Contact potential supervisors and ask about their availability to work with you on a project in the coming year; gage their level of interest in your proposed project.
    • If the institution’s website does not provide this information, contact the local Graduate Coordinator and ask about the following:
      • Types of seminars that have been offered recently or will be offered next year;
      • Typical funding packages;
      • Additional scholarship opportunities;
      • Are there opportunities to work as a research assistant?

Putting together your application

    • Follow all application instructions to the letter.
    • Give yourself lots of time to put your application together (deadlines for first consideration are normally in mid- to late January—so start working on this in the fall).
    • Give faculty plenty of notice (i.e., several weeks, not several days) if you want them to write a letter of reference for you.
    • As with the scholarship applications, choose your references carefully.
    • Work hard on the research proposal/statement of research interests:
      • Get feedback on one or two drafts from one or two faculty;
      • The proposal is designed to determine your fit with the program, so you might want to tailor this to each institution to which you apply;
      • Some focus is advisable (programs don’t want the sense that you might flounder trying to decide what to do) but many (especially larger) programs value some breadth of interests, so mention other interests also.
    • Mention that you have applied for external funding, if you have (SSHRC, OGS).
    • Choose your sample of work very carefully:
      • The sample should be among your very best work;
      • This should be a paper you wrote for an upper-level course (not first- or second-year courses, even if you did get an A+);
      • Revise the paper in light of any feedback you received and ask one or more professors for feedback on the revision;
      • The paper should demonstrate some originality and not be too expository;
      • Ensure that it is entirely error-free (no typos or grammatical errors).

Your application was unsuccessful, or your grades are below the requirements for admission. What should you do?

    • If your GPA is the problem, you need to assess how much of a problem it is. How far below the cut-off are you?
    • Most entrance requirements identify an overall GPA, an average of all philosophy courses, or a final year average. Will taking a few more credits help?
      • Most institutions are primarily concerned with your recent performance, so it might be possible to improve your GPA where it counts by taking some additional courses
      • While it might be easy to get an A in a few second-year courses when you are in your fifth year, this is not the best approach. Take some third- and fourth-year courses. These will count for much more because they speak to your aptitude for advanced work. They also provide the opportunity for better and more relevant writing samples, and better and more recent letters of reference
      • Many institutions also allow for exceptions to the standard entrance requirements (including GPA) but the admissions committee needs to make the case on your behalf. Accordingly, you need to give them the ammunition they need to help you. If you have taken several third- and fourth-year courses and have excelled, have a strong writing sample and supportive letters of reference, this makes their job easier.
    • If you were not admitted and aren’t sure why, you can always follow up with the program and ask what you can do to improve your odds for the next round of applications. Some years institutions have an exceptionally strong pool of applicants, and other years they don’t. It might be that you were just unlucky and will succeed next time. Be sure to ask yourself if you did everything.