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The terminal MA is the norm in Canada and the UK. I myself did one and found it immensely valuable. Approximately 30% of us carried on to the PhD. When I was applying to the American PhD system (not being from the US) I was genuinely shocked that undergraduates were going straight into PhD programs. Remembering how I was when I started my MA, I found it shocking that these people were talking about all their important research plans, etc. when in fact you don't have a clue when you first start out. I think MA programs are fantastic both for preparing people for independent research and for giving people a 'taster' before committing to many more years of PhD work.

Jerry Green

My experience was almost identical to the OP's. MAs are a really important tool for leveling the playing field a bit when it comes to PhD applications.

Two points to the author: 1) Good luck with the PhD apps!, and 2) At my program, I was able to transfer a few classes toward degree requirements, which meant that I was essentially finished with coursework after one year. Departmental and university policies vary, of course, but I would look into it more once you know where you're going.

Henry Lara

Anonymous, thanks for the great post. I'll like to point out though that some Phd programs do give credit for MA work; specifically, Boston University does. See their program regulae for details: http://www.bu.edu/philo/files/2014/03/Regulae-revised-March-30-2014.pdf

There may be others.


I know a number of the leading philosophy departments in Canada used to have (and probably still do have) one year MA programmes. On the one hand, this is a bit of problem. In such a programme, one begins to apply for the PhD (at the same place and other places as well) even before one has completed a semester. For MAs to have some of the benefits identified by others, they should be 2 year programmes. Still it was sensible to have to a self-standing degree programme. It allowed departments to take a chance on someone, and it also allowed students who were uncertain to have a taste before choosing to embark on a long programme (Ph.D.). But people must realize that if all Departments had BOTH PhD and MA programmes, faculty at the best programmes will likely focus attention on the Ph.D. students, and let the M.A. students take care of themselves.

Pendaran Roberts

I did a terminal MA at the University of Missouri -St. Louis. The first year was tough, because the courses were quite a bit harder than those at my undergrad institution. However, I quickly 'figured it out' and ended up excelling. Berit Brogaard was there at the time and she's a great mentor!

Re transferring classes, I have heard that US programs have tons of classes and exams and other nonsense. Sometimes they let you transfer some classes from your MA program, other times they don't.

I ended up doing my PhD in the UK. Their system is different. It is required that you do an MA before you do the PhD. The MA involves taking classes and writing papers and a short thesis like US MAs. Very similar really.

The PhD though is quite different. You just have to write a long dissertation. Mine ended up being 100,000 words. I had two one-on-one meetings with my advisor every month for 2-3 hours each where we would basically chat about my work. He taught me a whole lot too!

There were no classes, but there was a graduate seminar and another seminar where guest speakers would come and give talks. There were no tests for these, but you learned a lot by going. The PhD was pass/fail.

This system allowed me to concentrate on my own research project for 4 years. This has allowed me to become quite an expert in my field and publish quite a few articles in good places. I doubt that would have been possible in a US program.

The downfall of a UK program is that you've really got to be self motivated. There isn't any hand holding, and the deadline for the PhD is 4 years away. I know a lot of people who procrastinate a lot and do a poor job. I didn't have that problem!

I said there are no grades for the PhD. This is true. But it is required that one of your examiners be external to the university and someone you don't know well. This person's written evaluation is like a qualitative grade so to speak. Also whether or not you get corrections is kind of a like a grade. You don't want to get major corrections, as that looks pretty bad! You're also going to get a poor evaluation.

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