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, yet currently lack the background or academic record required for entry into the world’s best philosophy departments.

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, St. Andrews, Stanford, UCLA, UCSD, UNC, University of Southern California, University of Toronto, Washington University PNP, Wisconsin, and many other fine departments.

See our placement record for our MA graduates.

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.

Common questions about the SFU MA program

What’s unique about the SFU MA?

Many things.  At SFU, we have the trimester system and continuous funding for every student across 2 years, or 6 terms (see below).  We have a course-based program in which each student’s academic background figures into his or her course load.  Students also write a “professional paper” in their area of interest.  In a one-on-one tutorial, an existing paper is re-worked into one suitable for PhD applications.  Most importantly, our experience with our MA students has been so positive that we have decided to 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. Finally, we offer each student $1200 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 about a month of exams/holiday in between.  This means that students apply to PhD programs with 4-6 graduate courses on their transcripts. 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 3 years to complete the degree but may apply for extensions in unusual circumstances.

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 little known institutions. 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 educations. 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.

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.

Is tuition included?

Alas, 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 allow students to pay this tuition plus 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 ‘suburb’ of beautiful Vancouver.  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 a family of coyotes lounging on the grass, taking in the view.  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. Holly Andersen, Graduate Chair 
Office: WMC 5611
Phone: 778.782.4851