M.A. in Philosophy

Note: for additional information, please consult the M.A. in Philosophy page on the Columbia Graduate School of Arts & Sciences website.

The free-standing M.A. program is intended for students who wish to develop an advanced competence in Philosophy.  Some of our free-standing M.A. students do not plan to go on to Ph.D. programs in Philosophy.  Other free-standing M.A. students do plan to go on to Ph.D. programs in Philosophy, but do not yet have the background in Philosophy to win admission to a Ph.D. program; for these students, the free-standing M.A. program provides the opportunity to begin graduate studies by taking classes alongside the students enrolled in our Ph.D. program.

Students who do well in the free-standing M.A. program will be in a good position to apply to Ph.D. programs.  However, the free-standing M.A. program in Philosophy at Columbia is not intended as the first step toward earning a Ph.D. in Philosophy at Columbia. M.A. students who wish to pursue a Ph.D. should plan to apply to Ph.D. programs at other universities. Any M.A. student who wishes to pursue a Ph.D. at Columbia must apply separately to the Ph.D. program; they will be evaluated competitively with all of the other applications we receive. There is no guarantee that they will be admitted to the Ph.D. program, nor should there be any expectation that their chances of being admitted are improved by the fact of having obtained an M.A. degree in the Department.

Students who are pursuing the M.A. in order to enhance their chances of being admitted to a Ph.D. program should consult with the Director of Graduate Studies about how best to pursue that goal. Usually, it is wise to plan two years for the M.A. rather than one. That will allow more time to produce a record at Columbia, and to become known by the faculty members from whom they will be requesting letters of recommendation. If there are financial or personal reasons for trying to complete the degree within one year, we advise students to wait until after they have completed the M.A. before applying to Ph.D. programs.

Part-time Study

Students in the free-standing M.A. program may elect to distribute tuition costs over a period of several years by attending the program on a part-time basis. The Residence Unit (RU) constitutes the basis of the University’s tuition charges. Rather than charge students for individual courses, tuition is set for full-time registration for one term (semester). One RU equals one term of full-time registration. Students in the free-standing M.A. program may register for 1 RU, ½ RU, or ¼ RU each semester.  1 RU entitles students to take up to 18 points.  ½ RU entitles students to enroll in a maximum of three courses, regardless of point value. ¼ RU entitles students to enroll in a maximum of two courses, regardless of point value.   Tuition charges for 1 RU, ½ RU, and ¼ RU may be found on the GSAS website under Cost of Attendance – Tuition for MA Programs: 

Financial Aid

Due to budgetary constraints, the Department is not able to offer financial aid to students enrolled in the free-standing M.A. program. However, during the second Residence Unit, some aid in the form of a small stipend and tuition remission may be available for students who qualify for a program assistantship, serving as graders in certain courses offered by the Department. In addition, some students may qualify for fellowships from external sources, and it is wise to investigate as many such sources as possible.  For additional information, please see the Financing for MA Students page on the GSAS website:


Degree Requirements

The requirements below should be read in conjunction with the general requirements of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Note: Courses offered by other departments do not count toward Philosophy degrees unless they are cross-listed. In some cases, the DGS (Director of Graduate Studies) may grant an exception to this restriction if it is justified by a student’s philosophical project.

In order to earn an M.A. degree in Philosophy, students must satisfy the following requirements:


To earn an M.A. degree in Philosophy, students must accumulate two Residence Units (2 terms registered for 1 RU or 4 terms registered for ½ RU).


At least 30 points of coursework must be earned at the G4000-level or above. Of these, at least 18 points must qualify for E-credit (a passing letter grade), including at least two G9000-level seminars; the remaining points may be taken for R-credit (Registration credit).

In order to earn E-credit, a student must complete all the requirements for the course. In order to earn R-credit, a student must attend the course and satisfy any additional requirements the instructor may impose, such as an oral presentation. However, no letter grade is awarded with R-credit.

Distribution requirements:

At least 3 points of E-credit must be earned in each of the following three distribution groups:

—        Group I: Ethics; Aesthetics; Political Philosophy;
—        Group II: Theory of Knowledge; Philosophy of Logic; Philosophy of Language; Philosophy of Science; Metaphysics;
—        Group III: History of Philosophy (a major philosopher or philosophical period).

Qualification in Logic is not required for students pursuing a terminal M.A. degree; however, M.A. students who hope to pursue a Ph.D. in Philosophy are strongly advised to take a logic class (PHILG4415, Symbolic Logic, is the natural choice).

Note on grading:

For graduate classes, the Philosophy Department uses the following grading system. (Please note that this system differs from the grading system that GSAS states on its website; GSAS explicitly allows Departments to set their own grading policies.)

            A+       excellent
            A         very good
            A–       good
            B+       passing, but better performance is desirable
            B         passing, but serious improvement is needed
            B–       passing, but deficient in significant ways
            C         and lower: failing grade.

Students are encouraged to seek extensive feedback on their work. In particular, a student who receives a B+ or lower should get advice from faculty.