Admission FAQs

Inquiries about the graduate programs should be directed to:

Rachel Richmond
Graduate Secretary
Department of Political Science

Common questions:

What are my chances of admission?

Students accepted into the program normally have an average of at least A- (GPA 7.0). The top applicants usually have averages of A (GPA 8.0) or better. On rare occasions, a student with an average of B+ (6.5) may be considered.

Marks are not the only thing we consider, however. In the first place, we look closely at the courses in which an applicant has attained his or her best marks. Sometimes, an applicant's average is inflated (or deflated) by grades in subjects that have nothing to do with political science. We also look to see how well an applicant has done in courses closely related to the field in which s/he expects to be working.

The two letters of reference are extremely important to us and should clearly outline the applicant's potential to succeed in graduate school. This can go either way. Sometimes a student with very high grades gets indifferent references because his or her professors believe that s/he has been succeeding as an undergraduate by virtue of hard work and a good memory, but has yet to show much of a capacity for independent thinking and research. On the other hand, a student with a patchy undergraduate record may nonetheless shine in the eyes of some of his or her professors because s/he shows real talent when properly motivated. We may decide to take a chance on a student in the latter category in preference to one in the former. This is a matter of judgment for the Admissions Committee.

One thing is sure, however: if you have strong references and strong grades, your chances of receiving an offer of admission are good; if you are weak in either respect, you will be at a serious disadvantage in the competition.

Your Letter of Intent is also important. We read it to get a sense of what you want to do at the graduate level. We are impressed by mature, thoughtful, well-written letters. We can tell a lot about you by the way you describe your academic intentions. Do you know something about the field in which you are proposing to concentrate? Have you read enough of the appropriate literature to be able to identify a problem worth pursuing? Have you understood what you have read? Do you have a realistic sense of what you can accomplish as an MA student?

We know that you may still be thinking about your research topic. We know that you may change your mind about what you want to do. We want to know whether you understand what research in your field of political science might involve: hence, what a research topic might look like.

We can only accept a few of the many applications that we receive. Most of the applicants meet our minimum standards. Sometimes, we have an exceptionally large number of good applicants in a particular field of study. For example, it may be that several applicants want to work with the same person. There is a limit to the number of students that any one professor can be expected to supervise. In these circumstances, we may have to decline an application from a candidate in a particular field even when that person seems like a superior student to someone who is interested in research in a less popular area. We aim for both a balance in our graduate class in terms of proposed fields of study and of gender, ethnicity, and so on. Such considerations are secondary, but they may lead us to give an opportunity to someone who might not otherwise make the cut.

An applicant for the PhD program must meet more stringent standards. In addition to the criteria of a minimum GPA of 7.0 (A-) in graduate courses, the applicant's research proposal must fit into one of our seven fields of specialization:

In practice, this means that the applicant must have a proposal that appeals to a particular professor, who would be willing and able to take on the task of supervision.

A supervisor who takes on a PhD student makes a commitment which will last for several years. Both the supervisor and Department must be able to provide the necessary support for each applicant. For all these reasons, the Admissions Committee will be selective when it considers applications for the PhD program. An applicant might be able to pursue a PhD program successfully, and yet not be offered a place in our Department because we do not think that we could provide what that person needs to be really successful. This is a judgement we make about ourselves, not about you, the applicant.

That said, we do take seriously our role as a regional university. We know that some people can only do a PhD at UVic, because of their family responsibilities. We consider applications from such candidates very seriously, but we cannot accommodate everyone.

In the end, there is only way of finding out whether you will be accepted: apply and let us review your application properly. No one can give you a true estimate of your chances in advance, because no one will have seen your full application before you make it. We do our best to take all relevant factors into account.

I'd really like to do an MA in Political Science, but my first degree is in a different subject. Is it worth it for me to apply?

It may be, depending on your circumstances. If your first degree was in a subject unrelated to political science, you are unlikely to have taken many of the undergraduate courses that we would expect you to have taken.

On the other hand, you may have a minor in political science or at least a substantial number of courses in that field. You may have had practical experience, for example as a policy analyst, ministerial assistant or NGO campaigner. This experience might lead us to think that you have already picked up some of the understanding that we try to convey through undergraduate courses in political science. You may have studied history, philosophy, or one of the other social sciences and done courses that overlapped with political science as we know it.

You have to look at your own record and ask, "Does this amount to a background equivalent to the one that someone with a degree in political science might have? If not, what am I missing?" These are the questions the Admissions Committee will ask when it considers your application.

The Committee may decide that you show potential and that you have some of the background required for the MA program. If so, it may accept you on condition that you do specified make-up work in Political Science. You may be able to anticipate the Committee's demands in this respect, by beginning to do relevant work before your application is considered.

I don't think I have the right background for an MA in Political Science. What make-up work should I do?

This is a difficult question to answer because much depends on what you have done before and what you are hoping to do at the graduate level in political science.

Generally, we expect a graduate student to have some familiarity with all fields of political science. The four main fields are Canadian politics, comparative politics, international relations, and political theory.

In our undergraduate course listings, you'll find that some of our 300- and 400-level courses are designated as "core" courses. A Political Science Major must take at least one core course in each of the four fields. You should do the same. For the most part, there are no pre-requisites for these courses.

If you don't feel quite ready for that, try the 100- or 200-level course in the field concerned. Remember that we are not likely to be impressed by an A that you get in a 100-level course if you have a completed BA.

The wider the spread of your make-up courses, the greater the difficulty of those courses, and the more pertinent the courses are to your proposed field of study, the more impressed we are likely to be.

So, if you think you should do make-up work, start right now. There are online courses available from various institutions. You can register as an unclassified student at UVic, and try to pick up the courses you want. The more you do the better.

I'm not sure exactly what I want to do at the MA level. Do I need to have a thesis topic all worked out?

No. We'd like you to have a preliminary thesis proposal by October 15 of your first year as an MA student.

That means that you need to begin thinking now about what you might want to do. At the time you apply for the MA program, you should know what your main field of study will be and be able to identify one or two possible thesis topics.

We don't expect your topic(s) to be as well defined when you apply as they will be when you develop your actual thesis proposal. We also realize that you may change your mind about what you want to do in the period between applying and beginning your program. It's important to go on thinking about research possibilities and not to get stuck on something that won't work or that ultimately doesn't interest you.

On the other hand, remember that we will be placing you in our program (or refusing you a place) on the basis of what you say in your Letter of Intent; so, give some careful thought to that Letter. Remember too that you will ultimately have to make a decision about your thesis topic. No decision is perfect, but in this case the refusal to make a decision can be disastrous.

I don't think that I want to be a professor. Is there any point in doing an MA?

Yes. An MA can be of great benefit whatever you decide to do. A graduate degree gives you a chance to build on the skills you gained as an undergraduate and develop a research project. The latter will be an especially valuable experience. Governments, NGOs and private businesses are always looking for skilled policy analysts and public affairs consultants. An MA degree is now the base academic qualification for people seeking such positions.

An MA in political science will not guarantee you a job in any particular field, but it will give you the credentials necessary to compete for a wide range of interesting positions. Political science is a great background for journalism, public sector management, planning, public relations and a host of other careers.

My first degree is from UVic. Should I stay here, or go somewhere else for graduate work?

This is a decision that you will have to make for yourself. If you intend to do a BA, MA, and PhD, you will probably want to attend more than one institution as you will benefit from the experience of different departments and perspectives.

We have had great success in placing graduates of our MA program in top PhD programs all over the world. Whether or not the student did his or her first degree at UVic is of no particular relevance in this context.

If you are in your final year of a BA program and are looking at the possibilities for study at the MA level, you should certainly be thinking of applying to a number of different programs. This will increase your chances of acceptance. Think of a variety of possibilities and then narrow your choice to a few that really interest you. Don't exclude UVic just because you've studied here already.

Are there professors with whom you would like to study further? Do you have a potential research topic that would fit into the Department's main areas of specialization? Are there personal or financial reasons that lead you to prefer Victoria to other possibilities? If you can answer yes to one of these questions, you should probably apply here as well as elsewhere. Where you decide to go in the end will depend on the offers that you get.

Money is really tight for me. How much will cost me to do an MA?

There is good news and bad news in this respect. Most MA programs in Canada, including ours, try to provide some funding to their students in the form of graduate awards, teaching assistantships (TAs) and research assistantships (RAs).

If you need enough to cover your living expenses as well, you will have to win either a fellowship or a national graduate award, such as a SSHRC.

Most students have to provide for the bulk of their living expenses from their own resources. This means you may need to work part-time or borrow money. The funding situation is similar to that of an undergraduate student, except that assistantship/fellowship money may be available to cover tuition and other direct academic costs.

If your marks are good, you should apply for MA programs and see how much money you are offered. If you are flexible in your choice of programs, you may end up in a place where the bulk of your living expenses are covered. It's worth trying for such support.