´╗┐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 2023-24 academic year is roughly $15,300, 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.

In addition to the graduate assistantships, a limited number of one-year Graduate School tuition waivers are available to admitted philosophy M.A. students. (For the fall 2024 admissions cycle, the department was given three such waivers.) The waivers are awarded on a competitive basis. Like the graduate assistantship waivers, they cover the portion of tuition calculated as the instructional charge.

NIU’s Graduate School offers information about other funding options.

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.

Do I have to take the GRE in order to apply?


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

As per the Graduate Catalog, applicants whose native language is not English must provide proof of English proficiency. This can be demonstrated by achieving an IELTS score of 6.5, a PTE Academic score of at least 53, or a TOEFL score of at least 80. The score must be from an examination taken within 24 months prior to the start of the academic term for which admission is sought.

Alternatively, possessing a baccalaureate or higher degree from an accredited institution in the U.S., the U.K., Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and certain other countries is considered evidence of sufficient English proficiency for admission. (A list of these countries is available at www.grad.niu.edu).

If you are already enrolled and in good academic standing at NIU, there is no need to submit English language proficiency scores.

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 typically do not review fall applications for spring admission. However, if you have been admitted for the fall term but wish to start the program in the spring, please reach out to the graduate advisor (contact information can be found on the left side of this page). They will assist you in making the necessary arrangements.

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?

Our department typically starts extending funding offers shortly after we've made admissions decisions. However, in many cases, admitted students might receive assistantship offers either just before or even after April 15th. In some instances, offers may be made as late as May.

The reason for this timing is that we often don't have a clear picture of how many students will accept our initial offers until the April 15th deadline. Consequently, we may not be able to provide you with an funding offer before that date. However, if we are in a position to make you an offer, we will communicate this to you as promptly as possible.

Furthermore, if you're waiting for our funding decision but decide to accept an offer from another program, we kindly request that you inform us as soon as possible. This consideration benefits other applicants in the process. Your timely communication is greatly appreciated!

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

Regrettably, we do not have funds available to cover travel expenses for admitted students coming to DeKalb. However, if you have received acceptance into our program, we warmly encourage you to visit us if it's feasible for you.

To make the most of your visit, please notify us in advance of your plans. By doing so, we can arrange meetings with our faculty, organize class visits, and connect you with current graduate students who can provide valuable insights. For those unable to travel, we are more than happy to coordinate online meetings to facilitate your engagement with our department. Your interest in visiting is highly appreciated, and we look forward to assisting you in making the most of your connection with us.

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