Prospective Students

Is the Philosophy and Social Policy Program mainly for philosophy majors?

No. Most of our students have taken some philosophy courses, but many of them majored in other fields, such as political science, psychology, business, economics, English, or history. We look for well-rounded students with a demonstrable interest in public policy issues

Does one need a philosophy B.A. to study for an M.A. in Philosophy?

No. While a B.A. in philosophy is desirable, it is not a requirement.  When a student lacks a B.A. in philosophy, we look at a student’s personal statement, letters of recommendation, and grades to determine whether she or he is a good fit for the program.

Do I need "real-world" policy experience to be accepted into the Philosophy and Social Policy Program?

No. The Program is designed for students who intend to seek employment in a policy-related area, so some way of showing your interest in policy issues is desirable. Many of our students have already held internships or full-time positions in a policy-related field, but many have not. Some such experience strengthens your application, but it is not necessary.

Do I need to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE)? What GRE scores do I need to be accepted?

Yes, the GRE is required. We prefer students who score above the 75th percentile on all sections, but students with lower scores have been accepted and have proceeded to do well in the Program. Strength in other areas can compensate for lower GRE scores.

What undergraduate grade-point average (GPA) do I need to be accepted?

The general standard for admission to any graduate program at GW is a GPA of 3.0. We prefer students with a GPA above 3.3, but strength in other areas can compensate for a lower GPA.

What are the differences between the MA in Philosophy & Social Policy, the MPP, and the MPA in Philosophy degrees?

The three degrees are similar, but the MA in Public Policy with Concentration in Philosophy and Social Policy includes required courses that apply philosophical methods and reasoning to policy issues. The MA Program emphasizes reading, writing, and the ethical analysis of policy alternatives, although students are also expected to learn quantitative methodology, history, economics, and political science, as in the MPP and MPA degrees.

How long does it take to complete the MA?

  • It depends upon your courseload.
  • Many students take nine hours of coursework (typically three courses) in the fall and spring semesters. At that rate it takes four semesters (two academic years) to complete the MA.
  • It is also possible to take more than nine hours in a semester, but this is discouraged.
  • Students can also take summer coursework in order to expedite their degrees.

Is foreign language study required?

No.

Is the Program good preparation for a Ph.D.?

  • The MA in Philosophy and Social Policy is good preparation for a Ph.D. in public policy. It could also serve as preparation for a Ph.D. in certain other fields in the social sciences or humanities. Every Ph.D. program has its own policies. If you are interested in pursuing a Ph.D. after you receive your MA, then you should consult with programs in your field of interest and determine what their requirements are for transferring credit from an MA program. Some graduate-level philosophy courses taken at GW will transfer to some Ph.D. programs in philosophy.
  • The new Master of Arts in Philosophy develops the critical thinking, close reading, persuasive writing and oral communication skills needed for success in a doctoral program or teaching career. Graduates from this degree track may go on to obtain their PhD in Philosophy or a related field, such as political theory, biomedical ethics and gender studies.

How many students are in the Program?

In recent years there has been an average of twenty students in the Program at any given time.

Can I hold a job while pursuing my MA?

  • Yes. Most of our students work full time or part time. Most classes are held in the evening or late afternoon hours so as to accommodate work schedules. Full-time students ordinarily carry a courseload of nine hours per term, part-time students carry a load of six hours.
  • Students are not permitted to work more than twenty hours per week if they are receiving a half-tuition fellowship. Working more than twenty hours per week while enrolled in nine hours of coursework is not recommended for anyone.

What kinds of careers have recent graduates of the Philosophy and Social Policy Program entered?

Graduates of the Program have taken positions in a range of policy-related fields. These include positions working for members of the United States Congress, positions in state and local government, and positions with think-tanks, lobbying firms, foundations, environmental groups, and non-profit organizations. Click here for information about some recent graduates.

What does it mean to be admitted on probation?

  • You may have been accepted to the Program on a probationary basis. This means that some aspect of your record is weaker than the Admissions Committee ordinarily wants to see, but that you are a sufficiently promising student in other respects that the Committee believes that you can succeed in the Program.
  • Students admitted on probationary basis must maintain a GPA of 3.0 during their first two semesters in order to remain in the Program, after which time probationary status is removed.

What is the Five-Year BA/MA?

Students who are currently pursuing a BA in Philosophy in the Department can apply to the Five-Year BA/MA Program. Accepted students can receive both degrees more quickly.

Can the GRE be waived?

Some of our departments will waive the GRE requirement for students with a prior, earned JD, MD, or PhD. If you hold one of these degrees please check the program's profile page to see if your GRE scores are required. Other standardized tests (e.g. , GMAT, LSAT, MCAT, etc.) cannot be submitted in lieu of the GRE. 

Admitted Students

What should I do before starting my first semester in the Program?

Sign up for a University email account using this online application. Remember that this will be your professional email in the years ahead, so choose something based on your initials or your first initial and last name.

Subscribe to the Philosophy Graduate Student Listserv by emailing your new email address, with a message indicating that you are a new graduate student.

Register for your courses by accessing the GWeb Information System.

Enter your User ID (your GWid number at first) and your PIN (for first-time users, your PIN will be your birth date in either MMDDYY or MMYY99 format, where M=Month, D=Day, and Y=Year (Example: for March 5, 1983, try 030583 and 038399). Once you are logged in to the GWeb system, follow the prompts to register.

If you are an incoming student in Philosophy and Social Policy and do not possess a substantial background in ethics and political philosophy, familiarize yourself with some basic texts, such as:

  • Will Kymlicka, Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Introduction, 2nd ed. (Oxford, 2002)
  • John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, 2nd ed. (Harvard, 1999)
  • William H. Shaw, Social and Personal Ethics, 6th ed. (Wadsworth, 2007)

If you do not possess a substantial public policy background, acquaint yourself with some books in the field, such as:

  • James E. Anderson, Public Policymaking: An Introduction, 6th ed. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2005)
  • Eugene Bardach, A Practical Guide for Policy Analysis, 3rd ed. (CQ Press, 2008)
  • Christopher Jencks, Rethinking Social Policy (Basic Books, 1993)

What University policies and information should new students consult?

Who is my academic advisor?

The Director, Laura Papish, handles all advising duties for all students in the Program. You should contact her before registering for classes each semester for guidance on course selection.

Professor Papish is also available throughout the year for consultation about your individual program. It is especially important to seek out advice promptly if you find yourself having difficulties with your program.

How many courses should I take?

If you are a full-time student, then you should take nine credit hours (typically three courses) each semester.

If you work more than 20 hours a week, then you may not take more than two courses (six credit hours) each semester.

Students registered for fewer than 6 hours in a given semester, however, are considered "less than half time" and may encounter problems with student loans and, if a citizen of another country, their student visas.

If you are taking a light course load because you are almost done with coursework or because you are researching or writing a thesis, then you can apply to be certified as half or full time even though your registration falls short of that definition. International students get the certification form at the International Services Office; others get it from the Registrar's Office.

Which courses should I take during my first semester?

During their first semester Philosophy and Social Policy students are strongly encouraged to register for at least two courses in the required "core," and for at most one elective, if you are a full-time student. Part-time students should take commensurately fewer courses, beginning with core courses.

  • PHIL 6230 (Ethical Issues and Policy Arguments) is especially recommended in the first semester.
  • ECON 6217 (Survey of Economics) and PPPA 6020 (Research Methods and Applied Statistics) are two required courses that are often offered during the summer term, so you might want to save one or both of them to take in the summer.

Students earning an M.A. in philosophy are strongly encouraged to satisfy their history requirement during their first year.  They can do so by taking either Topics in the History of Ancient Philosophy (Phil 6211) or Topics in the History of Modern Philosophy (Phil 6212).

Which courses are acceptable electives for the Philosophy and Social Policy Program?

Students who choose the default (no thesis) option are required to take at least twelve hours of elective coursework.

Students can choose any course offered at the University, in any school, department, or program, if the following conditions are met:

  • The course is at the graduate level (numbered 6000 or higher); and
  • the student satisfied any prerequisites; and
  • the course is sufficiently related to the student's course of study, as determined by the student's advisor in the Department.

Acceptable electives include, but are not limited to these courses. For additional elective options, consult the University Bulletin and Schedule of Classes. Consult with an advisor before registering for electives.

Can I get credit for graduate work that I have completed in another program at the University or at a different institution?

Yes, under certain conditions outlined in the University Bulletin. The following conditions apply:

  • Transfer credits must be for graduate courses you took at an accredited institution within the two years prior to enrolling at the University.
  • You must have earned a B or better in the course.
  • The credits must not have been applied to the completion of requirements for another degree.
  • You will probably be allowed to transfer all credits for graduate courses taken at the University, other than thesis research.
  • A Director must confirm that the courses to be transferred were directly related to the student's current program of studies.
  • To transfer credit you should bring an official transcript to a Director, who will help you draft a petition to CCAS

Can I take summer coursework at the University?

If you are a Philosophy and Social Policy student, yes. The Philosophy Department does not offer graduate courses in the summer, but many other departments do. There are two summer sessions. ECON 6217 (Survey of Economics) and PPPA 6002 (Research Methods and Applied Statistics) are often offered during the summer. The schedule of summer classes is available early in the spring semester.

Can I take courses at other universities and apply them toward my MA?

Yes, under certain conditions. A transfer course must meet the following criteria:

  • It is considered a graduate-level course at the university where it is offered;
  • Any prerequisites are satisfied;
  • The course is sufficiently related to the student's course of study, as determined by the student's advisor in the Department.
  • No more than twelve hours of coursework taken at other universities will count toward the MA.
  • Any hours of transfer credit for graduate courses taken elsewhere before arriving at the University will be deducted for the total number of course hours taken elsewhere that you may apply to your degree.
  • You may not apply to your degree a course taken elsewhere if it duplicates a University course offered in the same semester.

Subject to the conditions mentioned above, students may enroll in graduate-level courses throughout the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Areawhich includes, in addition to George Washington, American University, Catholic University of America, Gallaudet University, George Mason University, Georgetown University, Howard University, Marymount University, Southeastern University, Trinity University, University of the District of Columbia, and the University of Maryland - College Park.

Consult with an advisor before registering for consortium courses. Access information on how to register for consortium courses.

Courses at other universities, including consortium courses, will not substitute for most of the courses in the philosophy or policy cores, but many will count as electives toward the MA.

What do grades mean in the Program?

Students are expected to maintain an overall grade-point average of 3.0 (B). Those who fall below 3.0 may be placed on probation and ultimately removed from the Program.

Different employers have different expectations about grades received in graduate school. Some will expect all A's. Others will not pay much attention to these grades or know how to interpret them.

Students who plan to submit a petition for the thesis option should aim to receive all, or nearly all, grades of straight A. Receiving grades of A does not guarantee that the thesis petition will be approved.

What is an Incomplete?

If you do not complete your work for a course by the end-of-semester deadlines, the instructor may allow you to submit it at a later date, within one year. In that case, you will receive an Incomplete, and an "I" will appear on your end-of-semester grade report. You must complete a Contract for Incomplete, signed by you and the instructor.

If you take an Incomplete, it is your responsibility to ensure that the instructor submits your final, updated grade before the contracted deadline. Remember that instructors often have many commitments at the end of a semester, and they will not be willing to drop everything they are doing to meet your deadline for work that was due a year earlier.

If your remaining work is not completed, graded, and reported to the registrar within one year, the "I" will automatically become an "F."

The "I" will remain on the transcript even after you complete the work for the class. If the completed work is deemed worthy of an "A," for example, the final grade on your transcript will be "IA" rather than "A," in order to show that you took more time to complete the work than did other students in the class.

Incompletes can ruin your vacations and interfere with the next semester's coursework.

What if I decide that the MA Program is not right for me after I have already begun classes?

Contact the Director of Graduate Studies as soon as you begin to have doubts. We will not take offense or be angry with you if you wish to transfer to another program or to suspend graduate studies altogether. We will want to help you in whatever way we can, including finding a more appropriate program for you.

What should I do if I am having emotional, personal, academic, or career problems?

Talk to the Director of Graduate Studies or other instructors for advice on academic and career matters.

If you are having a problem with one of the Directors or with another faculty member, talk to the Department Chair, Tadeusz Zawidzki, who will help you and promise confidentiality.

If you are overwhelmed by personal matters, take advantage of the free counseling available at the University.

Continuing Students

What is the "thesis option"?

A small number of students petition the Program Committee to write an MA thesis and are approved for this option. These students complete twenty-four hours of required coursework and six hours of thesis coursework (PHIL 6198 and PHIL 6199) for which they register while completing their thesis. The successful oral defense of a Thesis Proposal satisfies the requirement for a Comprehensive Examination.

See Part II.A of the Guide for Students for more information

What is the Comprehensive Examination for the M.A. in Philosophy and Social Policy and when do I take it?

  • The Comprehensive Examination ("comp") is a take-home examination that tests your ability to reason and write about policy problems. It is graded pass/fail. A student who chooses the default option (no thesis) must pass the Comprehensive Examination in order to receive the MA.
  • Most students choose to take the Comprehensive Examination after the end of their last semester of coursework. If that is the Spring semester, then the exam may be taken early in the summer months. In this case, the degree is conferred in August. This schedule allows you to focus on completing your coursework without the extra burden of the Comprehensive Examination. Most employers do not care whether your degree is "in hand" in May, provided that your coursework is completed. The Directors are pleased to write letters to prospective employers explaining that you have completed your coursework and are on schedule to graduate.
  • August graduates are not charged summer tuition and they are still permitted to march in the May graduation ceremony, although they must submit the Application for Graduation before the deadline for May graduation. The registrar charges a $35 fee for "continuous enrollment" for students who choose the August option.
  • See Part II.A of the Guide for Students for more information about Comprehensive Examinations.

What is an MA thesis and what are the procedures for writing it?

See Part II.B of the Guide for Students.

How do I finish my degree?

  • During your final semester of coursework or thesis coursework, you should contact the Director of Graduate Studies, Laura Papish. Let her know that you wish to be cleared for graduation.
  • If you chose the default (no thesis) option then you should also schedule your Comprehensive Examination with her at this time.
  • If you chose the thesis option, then you should schedule the date by which you intend to submit your completed thesis.
  • Finally, apply for graduation with the Office of the Registrar.

Do I have to finish all my degree requirements before I can participate in commencement activities?

No. For more information, access the Commencement site.

If I'm a student in the Philosophy and Social Policy Program, what is the name of the degree that will be printed on my diploma?

The official title of the degree that appears on the diploma is Master of Arts in Public Policy.

May I ask my instructors for letters of recommendation for employment, fellowships, or graduate school in other fields?

  • Yes. However, no instructor is ever obligated to write a letter on your behalf, no matter how well you may have done in her or his class.
  • A letter from a university instructor does not simply indicate that you passed particular courses. It is a detailed statement about your individual strengths and weaknesses that compares you to other students whom the instructor has known in her or his career.
  • Instructors are unlikely to write letters for students who have not received good grades and participated actively in class discussions.
  • Some instructors will ask to see copies of your written work, with their comments. Save your term papers in a safe place after they have been returned to you.
  • It is courteous to ask instructors for letters no less than one month before they must be submitted.
  • Instructors are sometimes too busy to write letters even for the most capable students, especially if the letter is requested at the last minute.

Graduate Financial Assistance

The Office of Student Financial Assistance offers financial aid in the form of Federal Direct Stafford, Federal Direct Graduate PLUS, and private alternative loans to students who have been admitted to one of our graduate degree or approved graduate certificate programs. Visit the Office of Student Financial Assistance in the ground floor of the Marvin Center to learn more.

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