´╗┐Graduate Program Frequently Asked Questions



What are your program's areas of strength?

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.

Our program and its requirements discourage narrow specialization and are designed to provide students with a broad knowledge of philosophy, which is necessary for admission to and success in a strong Ph.D. program.

Do you require a thesis?

No, M.A. students do not have the option to write a thesis. Instead, in PHIL 601, Graduate Writing Seminar, students intending to apply to doctoral programs work individually with a faculty member on a writing sample to submit with their applications

What is the comprehensive examination like?

The comprehensive examination is a four-hour written examination in one of the following fields, as chosen by the student:

  • Epistemology
  • Ethics and Political Philosophy
  • Metaphysics
  • 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?

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?

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?

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?

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.

Do you accept transfer credits for graduate courses taken at other institutions?

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.?


Will credits earned in your M.A. program transfer to a Ph.D. program?

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 competitive is admission to your program?

Admission is competitive. In a typical year, we receive around 100 applications, and we typically aim to enroll a class of twelve to fifteen students.

What types of funding are available?

The department is typically able to award four or five graduate assistantships to each incoming class. Each assistantship provides a tuition waiver plus a yearly stipend. The stipend for the 2022-23 academic year is roughly $14,300, and the tuition waiver covers the portion of tuition calculated as the instructional charge. Graduate assistantships are renewable for a second year, provided that the student makes good academic progress and conforms to other university policies governing graduate assistantships. Graduate assistants are assigned indirect instructional duties, which typically include grading, tutoring, proctoring exams, and holding office hours. Information about how to apply for a graduate assistantship is available at applying to the program.

NIU also awards a variety of non-renewable one-year graduate tuition waivers on a competitive basis. Please note that the tuition waivers are not awarded by the philosophy department; instead, they awarded and administered centrally by NIU's Graduate School. Only admitted students are eligible to apply for Graduate School tuition waivers. If you are admitted to the M.A. program, you will receive instructions on how to apply.

Most of our incoming students receive departmental graduate assistantships or Graduate School tuition waivers.

Some students also work as graduate assistants for other units. Human Resources maintains a list of student job openings on campus.

How much are tuition and fees?

You can find information about tuition and fees from the Office of the Bursar.

What criteria do you weigh most heavily in deciding whom to admit?

All aspects of an application are important. We seriously consider applicants' undergraduate transcripts, letters of recommendation, and writing samples. We have found that a strong undergraduate GPA is highly predictive of success in our program. But an especially high GPA is neither necessary nor sufficient for admission. An excellent writing sample or particularly strong letter of recommendation can outweigh low grades; likewise, a poor writing sample or lukewarm letters of recommendation can prevent a student with a high GPA from gaining admission. Note also that we regularly admit applicants with backgrounds in fields other than philosophy whose undergraduate records or writing samples demonstrate an aptitude for philosophical work. 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.

If English is not my native language, must I take the TOEFL?

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 TOEFL 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 School website, which notes several accommodations made in response to the pandemic.

What should I send for my writing sample?

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. Though we do not impose strict word limits on writing samples, an ideal length is something in the range of 10 - 20 pages. If you submit a sample significantly longer than this, please include a note on the first page directing our attention to the sections or pages on which you would like us to focus.

If you do not have a suitable paper on a topic in philosophy, 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?

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?

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?

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 January 15 priority consideration deadline. Can I still apply?

We continue to accept applications after the January 15 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 May 1 for international students living abroad and July 15 for applicants residing in the U.S.

Do you admit students in the fall to begin in the spring semester?

We do not routinely review fall applications for spring admission, but it is possible to be admitted to begin in the spring semester. If you wish to be considered in the fall for spring admission, you should contact the graduate advisor (at the email address at the top left of this page) to explain your circumstances. The Graduate School's deadline for spring admission is October 1 for international students living abroad and December 10 for applicants residing in the U.S. Please note, however, that graduate assistantship offers are made only in the spring for the following academic year.

Applicants and Admitted Students

When will I find out whether I've been admitted?

For applicants who meet the January 15 priority deadline, most admissions decisions are made by early March, though in some cases a final decision may not be made until April. (Note that the department typically makes initial admissions decisions before it makes funding decisions.) For applicants who apply after the January 15 priority deadline, admissions decisions are made on a rolling basis, after decisions are made on applications submitted by January 15.

When will I find out about funding?

The department typically begins making assistantship offers shortly after it makes admissions decisions. However, in many cases, admitted students receive assistantship offers just before or even after April 15, and in some cases offers are made as late as May. 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 an assistantship before that time. If we are able to make you an offer, we will inform you as soon as we can. Additionally, if you are waiting on our funding decision and decide to accept an offer at another program, please let us know as soon as possible. Our other applicants will appreciate it!

Deadlines for Graduate School tuition waivers are set by the Graduate School, not the department. Ordinarily, the Graduate School awards tuition waivers in two rounds. The deadline for first-round applications is typically in mid-Feburary, and decisions are usually made in April. In recent years, the deadline for second-round applications is late April, and decisions are made over the summer.

Do you pay for admitted students to visit NIU before deciding whether to come?

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.

Contact Us

Department of Philosophy
Zulauf Hall 915

Melinda Davis, Office Administrator

Undergraduate Advisor
Prof. Steve Daskal
Zulauf 1026

Graduate Advisor
Prof. Carl Gillett
Zulauf 904

Department Chair
Jason Hanna
Zulauf 902