The Value of a Philosophy Degree
WHAT IS THE VALUE OF A PHILOSOPHY DEGREE?
One of the first questions prospective philosophy majors (and sometimes their parents) ask is:
What can you do with a philosophy degree?
The answer: Just about anything you want.
Philosophy is one of the best majors you can take for a professional career. How do we know this? By looking at the data.
To start, consider how philosophy majors do on pre-professional exams such as the GRE (the Graduate Record Exam), the GMAT (the Graduate Management Admissions Test), and the LSAT (the Law School Admissions Test).
Philosophy intended majors are the top scoring overall among all majors.
Philosophy majors consistently appear at or near the top of this test to get into law school.
Philosophy majors are in the top five majors for this test to get into MBA school -- and they significantly outperform all business majors!
O.k., so philosophy majors do extremely well on tests. But do they actually make any money when they leave school?
Answer, yes. In particular, philosophy majors are tied (with math majors) for first place in median salary advancement in the years after college. Don't believe it? Take a look at this Wall Street Journal summary of Payscale Inc. salary data (click on "Percent Change from Starting to Mid-Career Salary" to see rates of salary growth by major):
Note too in the above link that the mid-career median salary for philosophy majors is 16th out of all majors -- and ahead of many hard vocational majors such as nursing, information technology, business management, and chemistry.
Why are philosophy majors so successful? In part it is probably because our majors are bright people to start with. But in part it's also their training. As a philosophy major you will develop many useful skills -- reading critically, writing cogently, doing research, formulating and evaluating arguments, interpreting, presenting, and examining differing positions. These are transferable skills which can take you into many different careers and which become more important as your working life develops.
STUDY AND CAREER OPTIONS WITH A PHILOSOPHY DEGREE
Philosophy is concerned with a wide range of issues. Consequently, a philosophy major can be combined very nicely with a concentration in some other area you're interested in. One way to do this is simply to take a set of courses related to this other area. Another way would be to double major, adding a major in the other area to your philosophy major. Alternatively, you could just minor in the other area. (If you do a double major, you do not also have to do a minor.)
Here are some examples of what you can do, many of which can also help to satisfy the general education requirements:
* Religion: Phil. of Religion, World Religions, Sociology of Religion, Reformation Europe (in HY).
* Artificial Intelligence: Phil. of Mind, Symbolic Logic, relevant psych courses, e.g., Cognition, Psych. of Learning, relevant computer courses (e.g., Artificial Intelligence). Or you could take a minor or second major in Computer Science or Psychology.
* Literary Criticism: Continental Philosophy, relevant courses in English and Foreign Languages. Or you could take a minor or second major in English or Foreign Languages.
* Law, Politics, & Society (LP&S): There are several relevant philosophy courses (Social Ethics, Phil. of Law, Social-Political Phil.) and lots of possibilities in other departments. For instance: Public Policy, Political Thought, Constitutional Law (all in PSC); Social Problems, Sociology of Law, Urban Sociology (all in SY); Current Global Economic Issues, Economics of Urban Development (both in ECO). Or you could take a minor or second major in Political Science or Economics (either would be particularly good if you're thinking of law school).
* Medicine: Social Ethics, Biomedical Ethics, Health and Culture (AN), Medicine and Society (SY), Health Psychology.
* Social Science: Phil. of the Social and Natural Sciences and courses in the history and/or development of theories in psychology (in PSY), sociology (in SY), anthropology (in AN), and economics (in ECO), maybe combined with a minor or a second major in a social science.
As the results of the post-graduate examinations above show, philosophy is an excellent pre-professional major. In recent years, U.S.A. Philosophy Department graduates have found careers as physicians, attorneys, technical writers, computer science professors, philosophy professors, business managers, environmental studies consultants, English professors, comparative literature professors, and political scientists.
Whether or not professional or graduate school is in your plans, however, there are some things you can do as a philosophy major to help improve your odds of getting a job after graduation, or getting into a good graduate program. These include:
- Extracurricular activities such as writing for the Vanguard, being active in a student organization, or doing volunteer work (check out Volunteer Mobile).
- Internships and jobs, including part-time, summer, and co-op jobs. Internships or co-op jobs might involve working with a lawyer, a clergy man or woman, a religious, non-profit, or educational organization, a social welfare organization such as the Child Advocacy Center, Penelope House, or Catholic Social Services (to name just a few), a hospital, or whatever you can think up. (Here are more possibilities.) If you're interested, see the Chair to work out the details.
- Taking some courses in computers, statistics, economics or even do a minoring in an area which potential employers could easily see the relevance of. But practical considerations aside, people have often found a degree in philosophy worthwhile for its own sake. A liberal arts education is, after all, not an education for a job, but an education for life. (For other perspectives on all this, check what the philosophy departments at the Universities of Arizona and Louisiana at Lafayette have to say.)
When you do start looking for employment, check out the Career Services Center. They have information about jobs and can help you put together a resume and interview with visiting employers. Some research into what an employer is looking for, combined with some working experience plus the skills you've gained as a philosophy major, should enable you to convince the employer that you can contribute what is wanted, in other words, that you should be hired.