Graduate Program FAQ
What areas of philosophy does your program specialize in? [top]
Our program has faculty strengths in most major areas of contemporary Anglophone philosophy, including epistemology, ethics, metaphysics, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, philosophy of religion, philosophy of science, and political philosophy. In addition, several faculty have teaching and research interests in the history of philosophy. For more information about faculty interests, see Faculty. For current and recent course offerings, see Courses.
If I enroll in the program, will I be able to specialize in one of these areas? [top]
No, specialization is something you do in a Ph.D. program. Our program and its requirements are designed to provide a broad knowledge of philosophy, which is necessary for admission to and success in a strong Ph.D. program.
Do you require a thesis? [top]
No. It is possible to write a thesis, but doing so does not replace any other program requirement, and very few students elect to do so. Instead, students intending to apply to doctoral programs in philosophy work individually with a faculty member on a writing sample to submit with their applications.
What is the comprehensive examination like? [top]
The comprehensive examination is a four-hour written examination in one of the following fields, as chosen by the student:
- Ethics and Political Philosophy
- Philosophy of Language
- Philosophy of Mind
- Philosophy of Science
A master list of ten study questions for each examination is distributed at the end of the spring semester of a student's first year, and students sit for the examination during the second year. Each student is allowed two opportunities to pass the comprehensive examination. The first opportunity occurs at the beginning of the fall semester of the second year, and, if necessary, the second opportunity occurs at the beginning of the spring semester of the second year.
How long does it take to complete the program? [top]
The program is designed to be completed in two years. The shortest possible time to completion is one-and-a-half years (three semesters), but the department does not recommend attempting to complete the program in less than two years.
What is your placement record? [top]
A detailed account of the placement of our M.A. graduates can be seen at Placement Record.
Can I enroll as a part-time M.A. student? [top]
Yes. Whether you intend to be a full-time or part-time student, you apply for admission to the M.A. program. Once admitted, you may choose to enroll only part time. However, graduate assistantships and tuition waivers are not available to part-time students.
Can I take graduate philosophy courses at NIU without being enrolled in the M.A. program? [top]
Yes, if you are enrolled in another graduate program at NIU or you are admitted to the Graduate School as a Student-at-Large. However, registration for philosophy graduate courses is by permit only, and the department gives registration priority to the students in its M.A. program. In practice, once the department’s M.A. students are all registered, there are very few seats available in its graduate courses for SALs or students in other graduate programs.
Do you accept transfer credits for graduate courses taken at other institutions? [top]
The department can accept up to 15 credit hours of transfer credit, subject to the conditions detailed in the Graduate Catalog. Courses not taken at NIU are accepted for transfer credit only if approved by the department and the dean of the Graduate School.
Do you offer a Ph.D.? [top]
Will credits earned in your M.A. program transfer to a Ph.D. program? [top]
That depends on the Ph.D. program. Many graduates of our program have transferred credits from our program to their Ph.D. programs, shortening their courses of study by up to one year. But not all Ph.D. programs accept transfer credits.
How do I apply to the program? [top]
All information about how to apply is available at Applying to the Program.
Do you have a brochure or other printed information about your program that you can send me? [top]
No. All the information about our program is available here on our website.
How competitive is admission to your program? [top]
Admission is highly competitive; admission with funding is extremely competitive. In a typical year, we receive approximately 125 applications, and we aim to enroll a class of fifteen. To meet this goal, we generally admit less than one third of those who apply.
Is funding available? [top]
The department is typically able to award six graduate assistantships, which pay full tuition plus a yearly stipend of approximately $11,825, to each incoming class.
All admitted applicants are encouraged to apply to the Graduate School for tuition waivers, which are awarded by the Graduate School on a competitive basis. Information about types of tuition waivers, instructions for applying, and application deadlines are available on the Graduate School site. Please read carefully the eligibility criteria for each type of waiver. (Tuition waivers, including those packaged with graduate assistantships, do not cover student fees.)
Some applicants may also be eligible for certain university fellowships through the Graduate School. Such fellowships are by nomination only, and the Graduate Committee considers all admitted students for these fellowships and will nominate you for one if it thinks you are a suitable candidate.
How do I apply for a graduate assistantship? [top]
Information about how to apply, along with the application form, is available at Applying to the Program.
How do I apply for a tuition waiver? [top]
Information about types of tuition waivers, instructions for applying, and application deadlines are available on the Graduate School site. Please read carefully the eligibility criteria for each type of waiver.
How much are tuition and fees? [top]
You can estimate the cost of tuition and fees using the Tuition Estimator.
What criteria do you weigh most heavily in deciding whom to admit? [top]
All aspects of an application are important. We have found that a strong undergraduate GPA and strong GRE scores are highly predictive of success in our program, so they receive serious consideration. But they are neither necessary nor sufficient for admission to the program. Many students with low grades or GRE scores have gained admission and flourished here. An excellent writing sample or particularly strong letter of recommendation can outweigh low grades or low GRE scores; likewise, a poor writing sample or lukewarm letters of recommendation can prevent a student with stellar numbers from getting in. If you feel that some aspect of your application doesn’t accurately reflect your potential, please use your statement of purpose to explain this to us.
Do I have to take the GRE in order to apply? [top]
Yes. The GRE is required by the Graduate School for admission to our M.A. program. The department may waive the GRE requirement for applicants who have earned a graduate degree, for applicants completing a baccalaureate degree in philosophy at NIU with a GPA of 3.00 or above, and for applicants who have taken other standardized exams for admission to graduate or professional degree programs (such as the GMAT or LSAT). However, the department encourages even those applicants who are eligible to request a waiver to take the GRE.
How recently must I have taken the GRE in order to apply? [top]
The Educational Testing Service does not report scores that are more than five years old, so you must have taken the GRE within five years of the application date.
What is NIU’s code # for sending GRE scores? [top]
It is 1559.
If English is not my native language, must I take the TOEFL? [top]
An applicant whose native language is not English must present an IELTS score of 6.5 or alternatively, a TOEFL score of at least 80 on the TOELF ibt, 213 on the scale of 0-300, or at least 550 on the older scale of 310-677 where applicable (in certain countries). The score must be for an examination administered no more than 24 months prior to the beginning of the academic term for which admission is sought. For further information, see the Graduate Catalog.
What should I send for my writing sample? [top]
The writing sample is our primary source of evidence for judging an applicant’s philosophical aptitude and fit with our program’s strengths. You should send the best paper you have written on a philosophical topic. Most writing samples are in the range of 10 - 20 pages.
Note that the writing sample is required by the philosophy department, not by the NIU Graduate School. Your writing sample should be sent directly to the department at email@example.com as an email attachment in a message with the subject line “[My Name] Writing Sample.”
What if I don’t have a writing sample on a philosophical topic? [top]
Then send us your best sample of academic writing on a topic as close to philosophy as possible.
What should I say in my statement of purpose? [top]
Your statement of purpose should explain why you wish to pursue an M.A. in philosophy and describe your philosophical interests. This is particularly important if you do not have a primary academic background in philosophy. If you feel that some aspect of your application (your undergraduate GPA, for example) does not accurately reflect your abilities or potential as a graduate student, you should explain this.
My primary academic background is not in philosophy. Should I bother applying? [top]
Absolutely! An undergraduate degree in philosophy is not required for admission, and some of our most successful students have had undergraduate degrees in fields other than philosophy, such as English, mathematics, music, physics, and the fine arts. However, most have had some experience with philosophy in an academic setting prior to applying to our program, and it is very helpful to have a letter of recommendation from a philosophy professor or someone else in a position to evaluate you as a potential philosophy student.
I applied last year and wasn’t admitted. Should I reapply this year? [top]
A prior year’s decision is not taken into consideration in the admissions process. A negative decision one year is no guarantee of a negative decision in a subsequent year.
I missed the suggested February 1 application deadline. Can I still apply? [top]
We continue to accept applications after the February 1 deadline, but we can’t assure them full consideration, particularly for offers of funding. The Graduate School’s final application deadline for the fall semester deadline is July 15.
Do you admit students in the fall to begin in the spring semester? [top]
No, we only make offers of admission in the spring for students to begin in the fall.
Applicants and Admitted Students
When will I find out whether I’ve been admitted? [top]
Most admissions and funding decisions are made by early March, though in some cases a final decision may not be made until mid-April. (You can check the status of your application through MyNIU, in accordance with the instructions you received after completing your application.)
I’m on the waiting list for funding. When will I find out if I will be made an offer? [top]
Applicants on the waiting list are often not made a funding offer until just before April 15, and in some cases even later. Because we often don’t know how many students will accept our initial offers until the April 15 deadline, we often don’t know whether we’ll be able to offer you funding before that time. Please be patient: as soon as we have made a decision about your offer, we’ll let you know what it is.
If you are on the waiting list and decide to accept an offer at another program, please let us know as soon as possible. Other applicants on our waiting list will appreciate it!
Besides a graduate assistantship or tuition waiver, what funding opportunities are available? [top]
The Graduate School has a helpful page on financing your graduate education. Also, Human Resources maintains a list of student job openings on campus, and other departments and offices on campus occasionally have graduate assistantship openings.
Do you pay for admitted students to visit NIU before deciding whether to come? [top]
Unfortunately, we have no funds to pay for admitted students to travel to DeKalb. But if you have been accepted to the program, we encourage you to visit us if you can. Please let us know in advance that you’ll be coming, and we can schedule meetings with faculty, arrange visits to classes, and put you in touch with current graduate students.