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Five fully-funded years are always better than four. You will be able to finish earlier if you're ready, so you may as well take advantage of it.

Do, however, ask current grads in years 5+ about the funding situation for year 5 and above. This is especially important in Canada, where what the department says and what they actually do for you in years 5+ often diverge.


It's good to have the job market in mind.

Pro for 5 years: you can start applying for jobs in your 4th year (or even earlier, depending on how things are going) and so get an extra year to apply as a funded grad student and not as a VAP or unemployed.

Con for 5 years: if you end up not being able to get an acceptable academic job, it's better to start your career switch sooner rather than later. Spending a year of your life on something, particularly at this stage, has a high opportunity cost. I wish I had considered this more carefully when I was making a similar kind of choice.

US grad

At my program (US-based), the normal time until completion is 7 years. There are two reasons for that: (1) my program has two years of coursework (plus lots of other requirements) and only allows people with an M.A. to get credit for three of those courses. (2) While I think that it would still be possible to complete all the required components in 5 years, there is a lot of pressure to do other things while you are a grad student. If you are looking at an academic job market, it's now a de facto requirement to have publications and teaching experience (as primary instructor). And people looking at non-academic jobs usually try to take advantage of university resources to get qualifications in whatever field they are looking at. I think our program is pretty normal for US standards -- although I hear that UC Irvine has a nice model that encourages students to finish in 5 years and offers them 2-year postdocs if they do. In any case, do consider what else you will need to do (besides writing a dissertation) to get yourself on track for the career that you want.

Assistant Professor

If all things about the programs were equal then choosing 5 years seems to make the most sense - though you don't need to take 5 years to complete the program if you don't end up needing the 5th year. The MPhil may not reduce coursework by much overall (many programs have a limit on how many credits you can transfer) but it might put the OP at an advantage in terms of already having a more narrow focus for their dissertation in mind and can make progress faster because of that (though plenty of people go into PhDs thinking they will work on one thing and decide on a different direction and that can be great too - stay open minded!).

Several people in my program effectively had their dissertation in hand by the start of their Y5 which meant they were a) stronger candidates on the market with the dissertation in hand b) were able to focus on the market (which can feel like a full time job) without having to pause their dissertation progress to do so and c) were able to polish their work and send more out for publication that helped set them up early career. As Michel says, if you don't need the 5th year you don't have to use it, but it can be nice to have. Also agree with Michel about inquiring about each program's success at securing extra funding beyond the guaranteed number of years - which is just good info to have.

Alex Bryant

I believe in the example given there is not a choice to be made for the applicant, at least as far as I know. From what I understand, Toronto either admits an applicants direct entry from undergrad to the 5-year version or to the 4-year version if they already have an equivalent to the MA in philosophy at Toronto. Could be wrong about this (this could be a real situation OP is in!), just want to flag it. Given the option is presented to the applicant, see the advice above--especially Michel's point.

This said, perhaps there *are* programs designed with 5 years in mind rather than 4--you could conceive of the recent changes to the design of the PhD program at UBC in this way. A few American programs (as far as I remember) have made similar changes and have redesigned things with a 5-year timeline in mind (inc. funding!). That seems preferable on the whole, if only because it's a more honest design in light of the standard time to completion.


Neither is crazy. Likely best to go with place that is better ranked/has best placement with likely advisor.

Eur to US

I went to a US grad school from Europe, with an "old-style" European degree (5-year undivided study, kind of a masters degree at the end), and upon admission I could decide whether I wanted to take the 6-years package (as if I had no MA at all) or the 4-years one (as if I had a masters degree already). The 6-year package meant more years of funding, but also more years of course work and time until comps / proposal time.
Since I was going to a very new place, new system, etc., I took the 6-year option, and did not regret it. I probably could have gotten away with the other one, but the first couple of years would have been much more stressful.

I assume the OP is in a similar situation? If so, they should think about how comfortable they are with the system, confident in their ability to go through qualifying papers / comps / whatever right towards the start, etc.


Hi all, this is the OP. Sincere thanks to Marcus for posting this question and to everyone for their helpful answers. This is indeed the actual situation I am in, where I have an explicit choice between the 4-year or 5-year stream at Toronto (with full funding for either), as well as between other 5-year US programs. It's been very helpful hearing everyone's advice and, as many have said, it seems clearer to me now that the additional year of funding will provide a useful cushion in many respects.

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