How to Get Into the Justice Political Philosophy & Law Program at McMaster

By Samantha Moss
Photo by Marcus Bellamy via Unsplash

Considering McMaster’s Justice, Political Philosophy & Law program (JPPL)? Here’s why I chose it and how I got in. 

Though people often dismiss the study of Philosophy for being abstract and irrelevant to the workplace, graduates still advance in fields like law, technology, and business.

I mean, consider Dr. Damon Horowitz. With a Ph.D. in Philosophy, he became a renowned tech entrepreneur and joined Google as an In-House Philosopher / Director of Engineering.

Given its expectations for creativity, writing, and critical thinking, it’s no shock that the field fosters some of the world’s most influential thought leaders. In fact, former CEO of HP, Carly Fiorina, and PayPal’s co-founder, Peter Thiel, majored in Philosophy at Stanford University. Even Ethan Coen (who produced movies like ‘Fargo’) earned a Philosophy degree from Princeton University.  

So, when my parents’ boomer friends would ask, “WhY DiD yoU MaJor In PhiLoSoPhY?” or “WhAt jOb CaN YoU GeT WiTh ThAt?”, I’d assure them that Philosophy would teach me ‘how to think’ instead of ‘what to think’ – which is the cornerstone of successful entrepreneurship.

*drops mic*

“A degree in Philosophy sounds way cool. But, why McMaster?” 

A few reasons. 

In addition to being one of the most research-intensive schools across the globe, McMaster holds a diverse student body and promotes over 350 clubs that support a spectrum of interests, hobbies, and cultures. They even have a quidditch team!

Plus, McMaster is ranked as one of the most vegan-friendly (and gluten-free) campuses in Ontario. If you’re into that sorta thing, check out Bridges Cafe on the west side of campus. It serves as a venue for student groups to build diversity initiatives like slam poetry nights, and their homestyle bruschetta is unmatched. 

Not to mention, Hamilton is known for its evolving arts community, upheld by initiatives like the Art Crawls; and it’s home to over 100 waterfalls. Both of which are at your disposal for fun outdoor activities.

“McMaster sounds popp’n. But, why choose Justice Political Philosophy & Law?”

Deciding on a faculty while you’re still young is tough, let alone choosing a major that could determine how your life unfolds (*cue the internal monologue of panic*).

When I was in the 12th grade, the Justice, Political Philosophy & Law (JPPL) program had recently been “ministry approved”. I didn’t know what that meant. So, I googled it. 

I learned that JPPL was a new addition to McMaster’s Philosophy department; aimed at fostering a holistic understanding of our legal institutions as they make up our social world, as well as to unpack their normative functions. 

You’re probably wondering, “Is iT LiKe PoLiTiCaL sCiEnCe?”

No, it’s not. 

While Political Science aims to teach how our legal institutions operate, JPPL encourages students to consider how the law should operate, according to transformative moral theories. And, McMaster is the only school in Ontario that offers the program!

It’s even led by professors who studied at top tier Ivy schools like Oxford University. 

Given that JPPL covers themes of normative jurisprudence, foundations of ethics, and international law, war, and peace — the primary career paths for graduates typically fall into public policy and law.

Though I was fascinated by the law at 17 years old, I wasn’t entirely convinced that I wanted to be the next Harvey Specter. I figured, even if I decided not to pursue a career in Law, I would still be in a program that is highly competitive and application-based, which I could leverage in any job interview. Regardless of the industry. 

Not to mention, studying heavy themes fosters creative problem-solving skills that I could transfer to other industries: marketing, business, medicine or technology. You know, just in case. 

“JPPL accepts roughly 50 students a year. How do I call dibs on a seat?”

Okay. Here’s what you do. 

At McMaster, most programs require you to apply to your faculty out of high school. Then apply to your major in the latter half of your level 1 program. So, in this case, you apply to McMaster Humanities in grade 12 and apply to JPPL before April of your first year. 

If you are sitting comfortably in the B or A grade point average, your application will certainly be considered. If you can score closer to an A average range, you’ll definitely set yourself apart from many competing applicants. 

The Philosophy department suggests taking three units of level 1 philosophy in your level 1 program. Personally, I suggest taking PHILOS 1B03 Philosophy Law and Society because I think it is closely linked with the bulk of JPPL’s content. 

If you can, enroll in other available Philosophy courses to gain a fuller perspective on whether philosophy is something you want to major in. 

“So, how do I crush the application?”

The application is your opportunity to showcase what makes you a suitable candidate for the program. Have fun with it. The process consists of two primary parts. Your first year’s transcript and a supplementary application. 

In the latter, you’ll have a limited amount of words to sell yourself. A lot of students are going to write about how they want to use the program as a stepping stone toward law school. 

Don’t do that. 

Find innovative ways to show your interest in the field while still showcasing your personality and uniqueness. In my application, I talked about how my veganism and passion for animal welfare drove my interest to explore varying perceptions of ethics and its influence in law and justice.

You might be thinking, “that is just a hail mary attempt to paint yourself as a social justice warrior.”

But, in one sentence, I demonstrated that I had an invested interest in an entire sector of ethics AND would be eager to build on my existing knowledge of its regulating laws. 

It’s like killing two birds with one stone (except not actually because #animals).

“How do I pitch JPPL to my parents?” 

Anxious about the future (and the past) seems to be a common experience among young people. 

It’s hard not to wonder if you had just studied an extra 20 minutes on that one advanced functions test in the 11th grade, maybe you’d have stronger grades and a more defined career path. 

But, if you or your parents are doubting whether a degree in Philosophy can secure a job in such a competitive hiring climate, consider this — social activist and philosophy professor, Angela Davis, and co-founder of Flickr, Stewart Butterfield, probably weren’t thinking, “what can I do with a Philosophy degree?” but rather, “damn, how will I decide where to take my Philosophy degree?” 

Published on February 1, 2020

About Samantha Moss

Sam is an Account Manager at Student Life Network and a Writer for various digital platforms. She enjoys true crime conspiracies, snowboarding, and a well-delivered punchline.