The MA Program

The Philosophy Department at SFU offers a course-based, two-year program geared towards students who have decided to pursue a PhD in philosophy, and who would benefit from establishing a strong philosophical foundation in an exciting and supportive North American program. Students who join our program may have limited coursework in Philosophy; they may be coming from non-North American departments or philosophical traditions; and they may have a hot and cold transcript for which clear evidence of great graduate work can be helpful.

We aim to put our students in the best position for them to apply to a PhD program that fits their interests and needs. We also support students who are not yet completely sure that academic philosophy is for them, and want to explore it is a more focused setting.

We are an MA-only program. This puts our faculty in a great position to focus on the unique needs and opportunities of philosophical work at the mater’s level.

We have a long and successful history of preparing students for top PhD programs. Our students have been accepted at Arizona, Cambridge, Columbia, Cornell, CUNY, Duke, Edinburgh, Harvard, Indiana, Maryland, McGill, MIT, Oxford, Pittsburgh HPS, Princeton, Rutgers, St. Andrews, Stanford, UCLA, UCSD, UNC Chapel Hill, University of Southern California, University of Toronto, Washington University PNP, Western, Wisconsin, and many other fine departments.

See our placement record for our MA graduates in PhD programs.

The Department also supports career choices that take students from this terminal MA to fields outside of academia. We have had recent success is helping students find career paths in endeavours like tech companies and policy analysis. We have a Co-op program for eligible students, where one term of work is done in a paid internship setting. This is a great chance to test out your skills outside of academia and to get great job training from SFU Co-op staff.

Wondering what our MA graduates have to say about the program? (pdf)

Read an interview with SFU graduate Lauren Kopajtic, currently a working on her PhD at Harvard (pdf), and an interview with Kino Zhao, currently working on her PhD at UC Irvine.

Read feedback on the program from our grads.

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Common questions about the SFU MA program

What’s unique about the SFU MA?

Several things stand out about our program. At SFU, we have the trimester system so that students get three full terms each year, in Fall, Spring, and Summer. We guarantee financial support for a minimum of two years. Our course requirements involve a bespoke assessment of each student’s background coming in, so that everyone reaches the high bar of graduation requirements in a path that is well-suited to the strengths and gaps in their study so far. Students write a “professional paper” in their area of interest. This is a publishable quality paper displaying original scholarship, honed over months with a supervisor. These usually serve as writing samples for PhD applications as well. Most importantly, we focus exclusively on MA graduate teaching. This means more individual attention for each student, and a central place for our MA students in the academic life of the department. We have a lively and supportive departmental community with ongoing colloquium talks as well as special workshops offered once or twice per year. Our students often work as teaching assistants, and we provide pedagogical training and mentorship; we feel it is also an important and underappreciated aspect of graduate training to learn how to teach effectively. Finally, we offer each student $1850 in travel funds as an incentive to present their work at conferences, workshops, etc.

How long is the MA program?

The program is designed to be two years long or 6 terms of continuous coursework. SFU has 3 annual trimesters of 13 weeks each, with a two week exam period them two week holiday in between. This means that students apply to PhD programs with 6 or more graduate courses on their transcripts by the fall of their second year. In contrast, students in one-year MA programs must apply for PhD programs prior to receiving a single graduate course grade or building the sort of academic relationships that make for good references. Students have up to 3 years to complete the degree. While most students arrive with the goal of taking only two years, there can be unexpected life circumstances that interfere (and sometimes, it is hard to leave Vancouver, and they just want to enjoy their time here a bit longer!). We support these choices.

Who does the program attract?

Our MA is geared towards exceptional but ‘non-traditional’ philosophy students. Many of our students were not undergraduate philosophy majors; some have transcripts that do not reflect their true abilities. Other students have taken some time away from academia or have degrees from less-known institutions. Some have non-North American transcripts that can be difficult for many PhD programs to interpret. Students come to us knowing what they want to do and this gives our program a distinctive student population of like-minded individuals who are serious about the study of philosophy.

What are your MA program requirements?

We run a course-based program designed to round out our students’ philosophical foundations. The requirements are tailored to each student’s background. We begin by assessing each student’s philosophical background, looking for at least 2 undergraduate courses at the 300- or 400-level (with a minimum grade of B+) in three central areas of philosophy (value theory, epistemology and metaphysics, and history). Students lacking this background will be asked to meet this minimum standard, thus making themselves more attractive to PhD programs. To receive the MA, each MA student must take 7 graduate level courses, one in each of the three main areas, plus satisfy a logic requirement.
There are no hard and fast rules about how much philosophy a student should have in order to apply here. It is expected that students will have at least a bit – we need to know that you understand what you are getting yourself into!

How is your placement record?

In short: Excellent. You can find our year-by-year placements HERE.  You may get a better sense of how our students are doing by looking at which departments our former students are in at present.  Please note that, recently, a number of our students have chosen to remain in Canada for their PhDs, often for political/personal reasons.

What sort of funding does SFU have for MA students?

All students who are accepted into the program, whether Canadian or non-Canadian, and who remain in good standing, are fully funded through a combination of teaching assistantships (leading tutorial sections of large lecture classes), research assistantships, and fellowships. Funding is guaranteed through 6 trimesters and enrolment is continuous. Thus, students do not have to worry about summer employment. As a public institution, we do not have bottomless pockets but with careful money management, students can leave the MA without debt. We often have changing opportunities for RAships and other forms of paid scholarly work that students around the department can take advantage.

Is tuition included?

Because of rules related to the union for teaching assistants and other, tuition is not included (a university rule here) but all MA students pay the same low, government subsidized tuition fee, a flat fee with no limit on courses taken. The pay rate for teaching and research assistantships, as well as fellowships, is designed to be sufficient to cover this tuition (but not in a manner that we can call a waiver), while also paying for rent, food, etc. To see a complete list of SFU expenses for MA students, click HERE. (We are not a per unit fee program.)

What about healthcare?

Canada has a public healthcare system which provides good health care and protects students from debt should they fall ill while a student. There is an initial 3-month waiting period before joining the BC medical system during which students must enroll in a private plan provided by SFU. There is an excellent student health service right on campus for general medical attention and psychological counseling. Students who need specialist attention will be referred to specialists in the great Vancouver area. (And yes, you may choose your own general practitioner.)

Where is Burnaby, BC and what is it like?

Burnaby is a fairly large city in its own right, and part of the of beautiful greater Vancouver metropolitan area. SFU sits atop Burnaby Mountain (which is a very small mountain), with a campus and living community surrounded by forest. It is not uncommon to see coyotes lounging on the grass, raccoons, and the occasional black bear (no, they are not dangerous). Vancouver itself is vibrant, young city with a strongly multi-cultural population. Most people are drawn to its natural beauty and emphasis on cultural diversity. (A survey of SFU undergraduates yielded ~160 different native languages in addition to English.) In general, BC has a tolerant and open (if not perfect) society, one that most of our students come to enjoy and value.

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Contact Us

Department Contact Details

4610 West Mall Centre 
Simon Fraser University, 8888 University Dr.
Burnaby, BC  V5A 1S6

Phone: 778.782.3343
General enquiries:

Graduate Chair

Dr. Nic Bommarito, Graduate Chair