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I do think academic philosophy would be better served if the terminal MA was a norm in the profession, and only after completing the MA would students decide to apply out to a PhD or not. For one thing, about half of students would decide they'd had enough philosophy and move on to something else. Rather than the shame that accompanies one when they "drop out," "quit" or "give up" a PhD, a student would simply be completing their degree and deciding not to get involved in another one. I think undergraduates, literally all of them, are fundamentally unable to make an informed decision about whether a PhD is the right choice for them. They just do not have access to the relevant information, including facts about their future selves. Allowing students to test the waters with stand alone MA programs would help them get a real feel for the discipline without feeling like failures if they decide not to continue on. Plus, the MA levels the playing field in a lot of ways. Undergrads from Harvard and Yale have no problem getting into strong PhDs, but equally smart people from the Wichita State, Wisconsin Oshkosh and Cal State Fullertons of the world don't have anything comparable in terms of resources and opportunities, and terminal MAs help with that. And finally, these MAs could do more to help students get alt ac or post ac careers in things like publishing, administration, high school teaching, government, etc. They would have more of an incentive to, since it would be their graduates looking for jobs instead of their drop outs, as is sometimes the case in a PhD.

Derek Bowman

All great points, anonymoose, but you left a couple out:

It would give more people access to the benefits of advanced coursework in philosophy without further saturating the academic job market, and it would turn all of those people who leave as successful MAs (rather than as dropouts) philosophical ambassadors to the parts of the non-academic world they go on to occupy.

90s person

I completed my dissertation in Canada in the 1990s. Then the norm was a self-standing MA program. This changed, though, and some schools began admitting people into the PhD program directly from their undergraduate programs. I thought the MA was very useful. And a number of people did either decide or had it decided for them not to continue on to a PhD. But I am not sure everyone left unscathed. Indeed, most people in the MA program assumed they would continue into the PhD, either where we were or elsewhere. But only about 2/3s did pursue a PhD. As I said, some even felt bad about the MA experience. (Some failed out) But, as noted by others, there was not such a painful feeling that one had wasted lots of time (5-6 years).

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