The Kenneth Mark Drain Chair in Ethics at Trent University

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Where to get an MA in Philosophy in the USA?

Students keep asking. Here are my answers UPDATED as of 2014; most of the choices below are considered good MA programs on the Philosophical Gourmet Report of 2011.

Note that most of the best MA in Philosophy programs in the USA are not one-year programs.  This isn't to knock Brandeis.  I'm just pointing out the pattern. For one-year programs consider the UK or Canada as well, as both countries have excellent programs with good placement records.


Stanford “Although the requirements for the M.A. are designed so that a student with the equivalent of a strong undergraduate philosophy major at Stanford might complete them in one year, most students need longer.”


*New in 2014: Eastern Michigan University: Their announcements says EMU provides "a choice of two divisions (Social Justice and Methodology) and three unique capstone experiences.  Students may also incorporate cognate classes from other disciplines as part of their course of studies.  The Social Justice Division examines social structures from a normative philosophical perspective, offering courses in Food Justice, Environmental Philosophy, Comparative Ethics, and Feminist Philosophy.  The Methodology Division allows students to explore questions about the nature of philosophy as a mode of inquiry, drawing from diverse philosophical traditions, with courses in Chinese Philosophy, Phenomenology, Comparative Philosophy, and Philosophy of Science. Our rolling admissions policy allows students to join the program in an upcoming semester during most of the year."

Tufts PGR: "Among terminal MA programs, the top program in the country (in terms of faculty quality) is Tufts University."
Northern Illinois University  I went to NIU for undergrad, and I'm very fond of DeKalb.
American University: Ellen Feder writes me to say that there are "two MA 'tracks'--Philosophy and Social Policy and the History of Philosophy, as well as an joint MA with our School of International Service in Ethics, Peace, and Global Affairs." Students typically receive partial funding.  I asked about a placement page, and they do not yet have one, but Feder added that they "currently have students at Stony Brook, the Graduate Center, Fordham, Northwestern, and Vanderbilt (2 are there now actually).  In addition to these, we've had students (now employed) at Memphis, Michigan State, Penn State (with another heading there next year), and a large number at law school (one to NYU next year), as well as doctoral programs in other fields (psychology, political science, international relations)."
Miami University of Ohio (which still fully funds its MA students, a particularly feminist-friendly program)
Loyola Marymount Los Angeles has a lovely placement page, and fully funds its students as well.

(* indicates that the department website suggests possible completion in one and a half years)


  1. Do you recommend getting a philosophy degree through distance learning? Why or why not? Arizona State and the University of New Orleans have an undergraduate program in philosophy that they offer through distance learning. The University of Edinburgh offers an online Msc. in Epistemology, Ethics, and Mind.

    1. Distance learning can certainly supplement a degree in Philosophy or any other area of study. However, I do not recommend getting any degree entirely through distance learning, although for some it may be the only available option. If it is possible to pursue a degree in an interpersonal setting, then in my view, that is the better option. I cannot list all the reasons in a short blog post, but here are some:

      (1) What do you plan to do with this degree? If the answer is to go on to future studies, get a job, or anything else that requires letters of reference from your current professors, then bear in mind that your competitors for the job or school have letters from professors who have gotten to know them in classrooms and in person outside of the classroom. Educational experiences build relationships that can be very beneficial to the future. If you don't cultivate those relationships, then references from entirely online instructors will have less specificity, information, and grounds for knowledge of the applicant.

      (2) What is it you want to learn? If all you want to do is gain knowledge of the content of readings in Philosophy, then Distance Ed is a good choice for finding out what to read, and occasionally testing your own memory and understanding of readings, even discussing them in limited ways with others. But classes in person tend to more often involve students in their own learning, including more spontaneous discussion, more asking of questions, engaging more than just your keyboard and headphones. Problem-solving and puzzles are often better accomplished by working together -- not just taking turns writing online, but exchanging ideas in real time.

      (3) What skills are you trying to cultivate? When I recommend students from my in-person classes to employers and further schooling, I'm often asked how the applicant has demonstrated qualities including dependability, punctuality, maturity, decision-making, risk-taking, and oral as well as written communication. My answers are almost entirely based on things like in-class presence and participation, a willingness to answer another student's question or take a risk of talking when others don't, or an oral presentation. I'm often asked about a student's personal and ethical conduct, and I describe how they treated other students in the class. I am asked how students demonstrated leadership, and here the opportunity to lean in and start or redirect or help a discussion really adds to my reply. All these qualities and skills can be developed in Distance Education, but the in-person class offers so many more opportunities to build skills that are motivating and sustaining of future learning.

      (4) Who's teaching your courses? I don't know anything about the particular programs you mention, but at the best schools, the courses in Philosophy are taught by experts and leaders in their fields. Great teachers can -- not always, but often -- really provide an exceptional experience for their students, enhancing their understanding of the material at hand and the connections between the course material and other courses or other fields. They tend to have years of experience. They tend to grade rigorously, challenge their students, and provoke difficult discussion. And see (1), because experts and leaders in a field also tend to have their letters of recommendation accorded more weight. Are the courses at a DE program all taught by PhDs in Philosophy or scholars with expertise comparable to that of the professors teaching your competitors?

      In short, my reasons are both idealistic and practical. I think an entirely DE degree falls short of what a great education can and should provide you. And I think it makes you less competitive in the economic marketplace. These are very different in spirit, but they're both pretty huge, in fact the main reasons most people go to university. If you're going to give an institution money to earn a degree, make sure you get as much for your money as you can. Make it worth doing.

  2. I'm from India with a Bachelor degree in Civil Engineering. I want to study philosophy and pursue a career in it. I'm prepared to do a fulltime course abroad.Did i have to do a bachelor in arts first? (In terms of understanding the basics and gaining knowledge)

    1. ABRG, this depends on the program. As far as I can tell, most Masters Degree programs in the USA do not require a BA in Philosophy as a condition for entry. I went to Wisconsin without a BA in Philosophy.

      My Bachelors Degree was in Political science. I sought advice from the chair of UW's graduate program in Philosophy at the time, and he advised me to take undergraduate-level courses for one semester, to be able to demonstrate interest and ability to grad programs in my applications, and show that I could make the grades. It was also helpful to do so in order to generate an appropriate writing sample.