Frequently Asked Questions
Are there changes to the honors program requirements for Spring 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic?
If you elect to change the grading basis of H196 from the default of P/NP to a letter grade, your letter grade will factor into the honors GPA calculation.
Following L&S recommendations, we are reducing our minimum GPA requirement to graduate with honors in Spring 2020 from 3.7 to 3.65.
I need advice! Whom should I see?
Many questions can be answered by reading the Frequently Asked Questions below.
If you need more help, contact the Student Affairs Officer or Faculty Undergraduate Advisor:
For help with declaring the major, registering for classes, checking progress to the degree, and getting put on the degree list, see Janet Groome, the Undergraduate Student Affairs Officer, in 314 Moses, or contact her using this address: email@example.com.
For help with transfer courses, study abroad, advice on courses, and other questions, contact Professor Geoffrey Lee, the Faculty Undergraduate Advisor, using this address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do I have to be a philosophy major to enroll in upper-division philosophy courses?
You do need to be a philosophy major to enroll in Philosophy 100. Other upper-division courses are available to non-majors (provided that they have met any specific prerequisites for the course). However, non-majors are usually blocked from enrolling in upper-division courses until Phase II.
The course is full. Will I get in?
Unfortunately, this is difficult to predict. If there is a long wait list for a course, we try to increase the enrollment limit. But we cannot always do this; it depends on whether we have the available staff and classroom space.
Ask the instructor for advice on the first day of class (or earlier if it’s an emergency). Some instructors take special factors into consideration in determining who comes in off the wait list.
What are the requirements for declaring the philosophy major?
You should have taken at least one philosophy course. Beyond that, there are no specific requirements. What matters is that you have taken enough philosophy to feel confident that philosophy is right for you. Some people might be hooked after only one or two courses. Others might need to take more to be sure. It’s up to you.
If you are a transfer student, it’s fine if you have taken enough philosophy at your prior school to know that it’s what you want to pursue here. You needn’t have taken any philosophy courses at Berkeley to declare the major.
If you are still unsure whether to major in philosophy, but think that there is a good chance that you may, consider taking courses that will satisfy major requirements. That way, if you do major in philosophy, you’ll already have some requirements completed.
How do I declare the major?
Go to 314 Moses Hall (Philosophy Department office). Fill out a Declaration of Major form. Submit to the Student Affairs Officer in 314 Moses.
Forms are available in 314 Moses, but also online:
If you are declaring philosophy as a second major, then you may need to take further steps. For more information, see here:
How do I declare a minor in philosophy?
Once you’ve completed two minor requirements at Cal, take the Declaration of Intent to Complete the Philosophy Minor to the Student Affairs Officer in 314 Moses. The SAO will verify the minor in Cal Central after you have received your final grades.
How do I declare a minor in logic?
Once you’ve completed two logic minor requirements at Cal, take the Declaration of Intent to Complete the Logic Minor to the Student Affairs Officer in 314 Moses. The SAO will verify the minor in Cal Central after you have received your final grades.
Is there a GPA requirement for the major or minor?
Yes. For the minor, students must maintain a minimum GPA of 2.0 in all six required courses and also in all five required upper-division courses.
For the major: Regulation 809.D of the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate states:
Candidates for the A.B. degree must attain at least a C (2.000) average overall in all of the courses required in the major program, at least a C average in the upper-division courses required in the major program, and at least a C average in the upper-division courses taken at Berkeley that are required in the major program; averages higher than a C may be required only for Honors Programs.
How can I count a community college course toward the major?
Community college courses cannot satisfy upper-division requirements, but appropriate community college courses may satisfy the 12A, 25A, and 25B requirements. Appropriate community college courses may also count as a lower-division elective.
Check whether the course is articulated with 12A, 25A, 25B, or another lower-division course, by visiting www.assist.org or asking the Student Affairs Officer.
If the course is articulated, inform the Student Affairs Officer, by email, with your SID, last name, first name in the subject field of the message. You are done!
If the course is not articulated, then to see whether it can count as 12A, 25A, or 25B, skip to 4. To see whether it can count as a lower-division elective skip to 6.
Here are the MINIMUM conditions to satisfy the 12A, 25A, and 25B requirements. Please be advised that very few community college courses meet these conditions. While community college courses are often excellent, they are also usually meant for a general audience. In contrast, Phil 12A, 25A, and 25B are designed for intended majors, so they cover different ground.
For 12A: Coverage of propositional logic, monadic predicate logic, and polyadic predicate logic, both syntactically (by means of derivation systems) and semantically (by means of interpretations or models). This is the material covered, for example, in Barwise and Etchemendy, Language, Proof, and Logic, Chapters 1 to 14.3. You will need to provide a problem set or exam in which you were asked to demonstrate semantically the invalidity of arguments using multiple quantifiers (e.g., to use a very basic example, showing that There exists an x such that for all y, xRy, does not follow from For all x, there exists a y such that xRy).
For 25A: Focus mainly on Plato and Aristotle, with material on pre-Socratic philosophy as background and with mediaeval philosophy not included. Substantial coverage not only of ethics, but also of metaphysics and epistemology. In-depth examination of specific arguments with a great deal of attention to careful reading of primary texts with a view to understanding the arguments and the philosophical issues they raise. Substantial written assignments testing students grasp of specific points of argument raised by the texts as well as their capacity to think philosophically about the relevant issues.
For 25B: Focus on careful reading of at least five of the following philosophers: Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Berkeley, Hobbes, Locke, Hume and Kant. Focus mostly on epistemology and metaphysics. In-depth examination of specific arguments with a great deal of attention to careful reading of primary texts with a view to understanding the arguments and the philosophical issues raised by those arguments. Substantial written assignments testing students grasp of specific points of argument raised by the texts as well as their capacity to think philosophically about the relevant issues.
If you believe the course you took at another school met the minimum conditions in 4. to count as 12A, 25A, or 25B, please email the Faculty Undergraduate Advisor, with the following: (i) your SID, last name, first name, in the subject heading, (ii) a copy of the syllabus, (iii) a detailed, written explanation, with reference to the syllabus, of how the course satisfied the minimum conditions, and (iv) any further documentation (e.g., textbook table of contents, exams, problem sets, paper topics) necessary to support the written explanation. The FUA will reply to let you know whether the course has been approved.
Here are the MINIMUM conditions to count as a lower-division elective:
It MUST be a philosophy course.
Although it need not exactly match any philosophy course currently listed in the Berkeley Guide, it MUST be a course that our department would be willing to offer. (This means that it cannot simply be, for example, a course on a particular mystical tradition, psychotherapeutic practice, or political movement.)
It CANNOT be a logic/ critical thinking/ critical reasoning course.
You CANNOT be using it to satisfy the 12A, 25A, or 25B requirement.
It MUST have assigned original works by philosophers, NOT merely paraphrases or short excerpts (i.e., of no more than a few pages of continuous text).
It MUST have required written essays of at least three pages in length.
It MUST have been taken prior to enrolling at Berkeley.
If you believe the course you took at community college meets the conditions in 6. to count as a lower-division elective, then email BOTH the Student Affairs Officer AND the Faculty Undergraduate Advisor with the following: (i) your SID, last name, first name, in the subject heading, and (ii) a copy of the syllabus. The SAO will confirm that it has been received. Unless you get a request from the FUA for further information or documentation, the course has been approved.
Have you already counted a course in another department as one of your three required philosophy electives for the major? Or are you a minor? Then stop! You may satisfy only one of the three philosophy electives required for the major, and none of the three philosophy electives required for the minor, with a course from another department.
Otherwise, check the list of over a hundred approved courses, from all over the university, here. Any course that is cross-listed with an approved course on the list is automatically approved. So, if you don’t find the course that you want approved in one department, and it is cross-listed with courses in other departments, check those other departments.
If the course you want to count has no asterisk, or if it is cross-listed with a course on the list that has no asterisk, just tell the Student Affairs Officer, by email, with your SID, last name, first name, in the subject heading. You are done!
If the course you want to count is on the list, but has an asterisk, then email the Faculty Advisor, with the following: (i) your SID, last name, first name, in the subject heading, (ii) a syllabus, or at least a list of the assigned readings, for course. The Faculty Advisor will reply to let you know whether the course has been approved.
If the course you want to count is not on the list, then please be advised that it is very unlikely that the course can count as an elective. If you still want to try, email the Faculty Advisor, with the following: (i) your SID, last name, first name, in the subject heading, (ii) a copy of the syllabus, (iii) a written explanation with reference to the syllabus, of how the content of the course that overlaps with, or at least is very closely connected with, the content of courses offered in the philosophy department, and (iv) any further documentation (e.g., textbook table of contents, problem sets, paper topics) necessary to support the written explanation. The Faculty Advisor will reply to let you know whether the course has been approved.
How can I count a course from study abroad or another university toward the major?
Are you trying to satisfy 12A, 25A, or 25B? Then see this FAQ: “How can I count a community college course toward the major?”. Start at paragraph 4.
Are you trying to satisfy an upper-division requirement? If so, have you already satisfied three upper-division requirements for the major, or two for the minor, with courses from other schools? Then stop! You may satisfy at most three upper-division requirements for the major, and at most two for the minor, with work from elsewhere.
Please email the Faculty Advisor, with the following: (i) your SID, last name, first name, in the subject heading, (ii) the major requirement for which you want the course to count (e.g., elective, ethics, etc.), (iii) a copy of, or links to, a syllabus and/or course description, and (iv) the number Berkeley semester units the course satisfies. A quarter course (e.g., any course taken at another UC campus) counts as only two-thirds of a semester course. So a single quarter course will not count at all, two quarter courses will count as only one semester course, and three quarter courses will count as two semester courses. Study Abroad should be able to give you unit information on Study Abroad courses. For other courses, find out the total number of hours of instruction. The Faculty Advisor will reply to let you know whether the course has been approved.
Which upper-division requirement should I meet first?
You should take Phil. 100 as soon as possible after you declare your major. The purpose of Phil. 100 is to teach you how to do a better job of reading, writing, and thinking critically about philosophy. It gives you a lot of practice writing and a lot of individual attention. What you learn in 100 will probably help you get a lot more from your other upper-division courses.
Do I have to formally declare my major before I take Phil. 100?
Yes; the course is closed to non-majors. That said, you can file your Declaration of Major during the first week of the semester in which you are taking Phil. 100.
I took a philosophy course at Berkeley via concurrent enrollment some time ago. Now I am formally enrolled at Berkeley and majoring in philosophy. Can the course that I took via concurrent enrollment be counted towards a relevant requirement for the major?
Yes. Courses you took via concurrent enrollment will apply towards the requirements of the major in just way that they would had you taken the course as a formally enrolled student at Berkeley. As long as your concurrent enrollment classes appear on your Berkeley transcript, you will be credited with fulfilling the relevant major requirements.
I have completed a major requirement, but it does not show up on DARS. What should I do?
If you completed a major requirement in one of the following ways, then it may not show up in DARS.
- By taking a course in another department, having followed the instructions here.
- By taking a course at a community college, having followed the instructions here.
- By taking a course at another institution, having followed the instructions here.
- By taking a philosophy course that does not as a rule count toward the requirement, but that has a note on the course website that, as taught this semester, it will count toward the requirement. Here’s an example.
So long as you have followed the relevant instructions and, where the Faculty Advisor’s approval is necessary, been cc-ed on a course approval email from the Faculty Advisor to the Student Affairs Officer, there is no need to worry. The Student Affairs Officer has a record that you have satisfied the requirement.
Must I take and pass Phil. 100 in order to fulfill the Phil. 100 Requirement?
Strictly speaking, no. There are two ways to fulfill the Phil. 100 Requirement. You can either (1) Take and pass Phil. 100, or (2) Show that you already have the relevant skills by presenting the evidence described in How to Meet the Philosophy 100 Requirement. Roughly speaking, you need to get straight As in your first two philosophy courses at Berkeley. Option (2) requires (inter alia) filing a Petition Concerning the Philosophy 100 Requirement. Note that if you take option (2), then you only need to take 11 courses for the major.
However, we strongly advise planning on option (1). Very, very few students qualify for option (2). It’s a bit of a catch-22; it’s very hard to get As in your first two philosophy courses at Berkeley without the training you get in 100! Moreover, even when students do qualify for option (2), we still encourage them to take 100. (In that case, they only have to take 11 courses for the major, since they can count Philosophy 100 as an upper-division elective.)
What is the GPA requirement for honors?
The GPA requirement for honors is 3.7 for the major and 3.5 for Letters & Sciences.
How can I complete the major and my B.A. in the minimum amount of time?
Here are a some ideas:
- Take philosophy courses in summer session. Although the department can’t make any guarantees, it usually offers 25A, 25B, 12A, and at least one upper-division course in the summer. You can get information about the summer courses the winter before. If the information isn’t on the web site, go ask the staff in 314 Moses.
- See if you can get permission from the faculty advisor to count a philosophy-related course in another department as a philosophy elective. (More above.)
- If a Philosophy AC course is being offered, use it to meet a philosophy elective requirement as well as your American Cultures requirement.
- Use philosophy classes to meet L&S requirements in Historical Studies, Arts & Literature, Social & Behavioral Studies (and of course Philosophy & Values).
I have a lot of trouble with logic. Is there any way around taking 12A?
No, you do have to take it. If you have trouble with logic, it is essential to be very, very good about keeping up with problem sets. Learning logic is like learning a language or a musical instrument: a little each day is better than trying to cram all at once. You should also ask your GSI and your instructor for help. You might think about forming a study group. Peer tutoring may also be available. Taking 12A P/NP may also be an option. You may take one (but only one) of the twelve required courses for the major P/NP, including 12A. But please keep in mind that in order to get a P, you need at least a C minus for the course.
How can I get one-on-one peer tutoring in philosophy?
Our tutoring program aims to help undergraduates develop the essential skills required for participating in rigorous philosophical discourse. To this end, we offer one-on-one appointments with a peer tutor to any undergraduate currently enrolled in a philosophy course. Appointments are 60 minutes. To get the most out of your appointment, it is in your interest to come with a clear sense of what you want to get out of it. Here are some things a tutor can help you with:
- Understanding your prompt
- Understanding your reading
- Developing a direction or structuring an outline for your paper
- Presenting your ideas clearly
- Arguing for a conclusion clearly, logically and persuasively
- General help with logic, 12A
Sign up here to make an appointment with a tutor.
As a philosophy major, can I take a graduate seminar?
Yes, if you meet a couple of conditions. First, you should be a senior; second, you should already know something about the subject-matter of the seminar; third, you will need the instructor’s consent.
I wish I could get to know my philosophy professors better, but they seem so busy. Am I out of luck?
Absolutely not. Here are some ideas: Every member of the department has office hours, for starters. You should not hesitate to drop by for conversation with your instructors during their O.H.s. You (and they) will get the most out of this if you go in with a specific question about the course material.
Most faculty members are also happy to make an appointment to see you outside of O.H.s. Try e-mailing for an appointment; 15 or 20 minutes would be a good time-block to ask for.
You might also want to consider going to departmental colloquia. The talks are interesting, and many faculty members here participate in the discussion following the talks. This may suggest topics for conversation during the coffee break after the talk, or during the reception after the discussion.
If you have room in your schedule, you may ask a faculty member if he or she would be willing to let you enroll for an independent study, Phil 199.
You should propose a plan at the beginning of the semester. The plan should include what you will read and write, and a schedule of meetings with the faculty member. Per the general catalog, you will need to meet with the instructor for at least an hour per week per unit. That is, one unit of 199 means that you meet with the faculty member for one hour per week, two units means two hours per week, and so on.
Phil 199 will not satisfy major requirements. It is graded P/NP.
I’m thinking of double-majoring. Bad idea?
No; in fact philosophy works very well as half of a double major. The trick, as with any double major, is in meeting a large number of requirements in a limited amount of time. Keep in mind that no more than two upper division courses may be used in common to fulfill requirements in both majors. So planning is essential. See here to get started: https://ls.berkeley.edu/node/244
I’m a major; is there anything special I have to do before
A couple of things. First, several semesters before graduation, carefully check which major requirements you haven’t yet met, and make sure you will be able to meet them in time. If there are potential problems, go talk to one of the undergraduate advisors (see top of page). Second, be sure you put yourself on the degree list at the beginning of your last semester. Here’s how. When you enroll in classes online or via Telebears, the system will ask whether you want to put yourself on the degree list. Say yes. If it’s too late to do it that way, you need to do it through L&S. Third, if you would like to take part in the department’s graduation ceremony, watch the bulletin boards next to 301 Moses for information. The ceremony takes place in May; you are welcome to participate if you were graduated the previous winter or if you have a few more requirements to meet in summer session.
I’ve heard that philosophy is a good major for professional schools, including law school. True?
A big study conducted ten years ago showed that philosophy majors outscore all other humanities majors on the LSATs, GREs, and GMATs. On the LSATs, only majors in Economics and Mathematics did better. It’s hard to know how much the advantage lies in qualities that make students lean toward philosophy, and how much the coursework in philosophy gives majors their edge.
I’d like to continue studying philosophy after I get my B.A. What are my options?
You can try studying on your own, but it’s not easy. Your best bet is to apply to an M.A. program or a Ph.D. program. Most programs admit students for fall entry, and most application deadlines are in the previous winter. You will therefore need figure out where to apply and get your application materials together almost one full year before you plan actually to start your advanced degree program.
How can I figure out which graduate programs to apply to?
Talk with a faculty member who knows you or who shares your philosophical interests. You might also want to talk with the Faculty Advisor.
How can I get letters of recommendation?
Whether you’re applying to professional school or graduate school, you will need letters of recommendation from philosophy department faculty members. Some students assume that if you don’t know the professor personally, you should not ask him or her for a letter. False! All faculty members who have had you in their classes will be happy to talk with you about writing a letter for you, whether they already know you or not. The best way to approach them is to go in during office hours or e-mail a request for an appointment.
Why do honors?
As the website reads: “The Honors Program is for undergraduate majors who want to work more intensively and independently on a subject that they have studied in the course of their undergraduate studies.” In other words, the main reason is that you are so interested in a particular topic that you want to devote a year focusing on it, above and beyond the necessary coursework for the major. That’s a wonderful reason — just be sure that it is actually your reason!
Being awarded honors is necessary for admission to graduate school, right?
No. For one thing, many students are admitted to graduate school by March of their senior year, before they have completed coursework for a honors program. For another, some undergraduate colleges don’t have any special honors program, and yet their students are regularly admitted to graduate school. The Berkeley graduate program often accepts students who were not involved in any honors program.
But being awarded honors helps in admission to graduate school, right?
What matters most in graduate admissions are, first, high grades in a wide range of challenging philosophy courses; second, strong letters of recommendation from your instructors; and, third, a compelling writing sample. In addition, having “honors” on your transcript can’t hurt. But how much it helps is less clear. Keep in mind that time spent pursuing honors may be time that you could devote to doing better in your regular coursework. If the decision is either pursuing honors, or ensuring that you do better in your courses, there’s a strong argument that the latter will be in the end more important for graduate school.
If I start the honors program, will I be awarded honors?
Unfortunately, not. Here’s an example from the 2010-11 academic year. Of the six people who started the honors program in fall, only three actually completed the required work (i.e. graduate seminar and thesis). Of the three who completed the required work, only two were actually awarded honors. So, of the six who started, only two were awarded honors. The students who did not complete honors were nonetheless exceptional students, several with GPAs of 3.9. Here’s another example, from the 2011-12 academic year. Of the four people who started the honors program in fall, all four completed the required work. However, only one of the four was actually awarded honors. It is very easy to underestimate how much time it will take.
How much time does the honors program take?
The honors program is a huge time commitment. Students almost always underestimate how much time it will take. Recall that the honors program has two components. First, you have to take a graduate seminar. While this graduate seminar counts toward your 12 required courses for the major, it is more demanding than an undergraduate course. It typically requires a 15-20-page term paper. Second, you need to research and write an independent 35-45-page thesis by mid-April. This is at least as much work as two four-unit semester courses. However, none of the work on the thesis counts toward your 12 required courses for the major. It is over and above your usual coursework.
Why are you being so discouraging about honors?
We don’t mean to be discouraging! Indeed, we’re delighted that you’re interested in spending extra time doing philosophy! But before students decide to embark on honors, they need to understand what it involves, and they need to be clear about what they hope to get out of it.
I can’t get enough philosophy! Are there extracurricular philosophy organizations on campus?
Yes! In recent years the following organizations have been active:
- Cal Philosophy Forum: see their Facebook page
- Minorities and Philosophy (MAP)
- The undergraduate journal, renamed The Idealist
Can I get funding to travel to a conference, to do independent research, or to take part in other academic activities?
There are many opportunities of this kind. The single best resource is: http://research.berkeley.edu/. Look under “Opportunities” for a list of the possibilities. And good luck!