Careers & Philosophy
Because of the rigorous practice it provides in logic, the analysis of abstract conceptual relationships, and the interpretation of difficult texts, a philosophy major develops exactly the qualities that employers and graduate schools in many fields seek in their future leaders. In addition to preparing one for graduate study in philosophy, a philosophy major is one of the best preparations available for graduate study in law, business, and education, as well for a wide range of positions in business, journalism, publishing, government, and ministry. According to US Department of Education studies:
- On the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), philosophy majors nationwide consistently achieve among the highest scores of all majors. Philosophy majors have as good a record as Political Science majors for admission to top law schools.
- Philosophy majors outperformed all other disciplines on the verbal portion of the GRE exam, and outside the natural sciences, only philosophy and economics majors significantly beat the national average on the quantitative portion of the GRE.
- As groups, only philosophy and biology majors performed significantly better than the national average on the LSAT and GRE exams, and the highest performers on the GMAT exam (for business school) were philosophy, mathematics, and engineering majors.
Do your parents and friends say that a philosophy major will be a disadvantage in getting a good professional job and developing a successful career after college?
Then show them this.
College students usually become interested in philosophy in their first year of college after exposure to one or more courses in the field. The interest in possibly majoring or minoring in philosophy is usually a response to all that is intrinsically interesting in the subject matter of philosophy: its attempt to grapple with the hardest questions of human existence, to make sense of reality and our place in the cosmos, to give systematic form to our ethical and political intuitions, to explain the history of human ideas, and so on. The questions philosophy addresses are intrinsically interesting in themselves, and their study is often personally very rewarding for students in forming their own beliefs, value-judgments, and life commitments. But students exploring the possibility of further study in philosophy are forced to ask whether this pursuit will help them earn a living. Skeptical parents, understandably concerned for their children's economic well-being, may strongly dissuade them from majoring or minoring in philosophy. Contrary to popular belief, however, a philosophy major is one of the best preparations possible for careers in a large number of different areas. As statistical research shows, desirable employers throughout the country know this and hire graduates with majors and minors in philosophy all the time.
Philosophy is one of the best—if not the best of—majors you can choose to prepare you for law school, or other work in legal fields. It prepares you not only for the kinds of logical reasoning and conceptual analysis necessary to do well in law school, but also teaches you the ethical and political traditions which underlie our legal system. Philosophy majors consistently score highly on the LSAT relative to students majoring in other fields. If you wish to combine legal work with other specializations, such as biotechnology, environmental science, communications, or foreign languages, consider a philosophy minor to supplement your major, and this will help make you more attractive to law schools. Furthermore, students with a philosophy major are often qualified for paralegal work with only the BA degree.
Philosophy and critical thinking courses are taught at the community college level and at virtually every public and private four-year college and research university in the country, as well as at some public and private high schools. A philosophy minor can be an excellent addition to the portfolio of someone planning to teach in another humanities area in high school, and a philosophy major can prepare you to teach general humanities courses in public and private high schools. Teaching at the college level requires an advanced degree, building on work that usually begins with an undergraduate philosophy major.
Philosophy is one of the best possible majors for aspiring journalists, especially at schools that may not offer a separate Journalism major. Aside from teaching you to write well, analyze facts critically, and developing your research skills, courses in ethics, political philosophy, and the history of ideas expand your conceptual repertoire and provide essential background knowledge for informed journalists whose work will make a positive contribution towards educating their society. Although it is also advisable to work on a student paper and get practical experience writing for journals and magazines, a philosophy major gives you a solid foundation for becoming an insightful and persuasive writer. For this reason also, even if your are majoring in Communications, Media, or a Journalism program, a philosophy minor may be an invaluable addition to your training for a career in journalism.
The diverse world of publishing employs many people with backgrounds in the humanities, including philosophy majors. From editors in charge of list-building at university presses, to agents working in education publishing, to acquisitions staff at large publishing houses with substantial non-fiction lists, to managing editors responsible for finding and selecting material for more specialized magazines and journals, there are many different sorts of opportunities open in the diverse world of publishing. Any major in humanities, including philosophy, is usually seen as good preparation for work in many of these different areas.
Politics and Public Policy
Like political science or government, a philosophy major is often excellent preparation for positions in state or national civil services, policy research institutions, jobs as congressional aides and researchers, and so on. If you are planning to go on to take an advanced degree in public policy, government administration, international affairs, or similar programs, an undergraduate major in philosophy will provide an excellent basis for further study in applied political fields. Among a field of graduate-program applicants who have usually majored in political science or economics, a philosophy major may stand out. Similarly, a philosophy minor may complement a major in political science, history, or languages as part of a solid portfolio for further work in politics.
The written and analytic skills which philosophical studies help to develop are essential tools for work in different kinds of public relations fields. If the student also has some experience with the media, and can develop a good ability to make oral presentations to groups of visitors, individual callers, donors, etc., then his or her philosophical training will enable them to convey complex ideasto the targeted audiences. An ability to help justify an institution's work, its future projects, and to develop consistent policies on controversial issues, can also be a vital asset for PR work with larger organizations.
Fundraising and Nonprofit Work
Students with degrees in philosophy are well prepared for any job in which difficult value-judgments and comparative analyses have to be made. This often suits them for work in college and university administrations, e.g., in admissions, or in major foundations, or other non-profit enterprises devoted to various social causes. In addition, fundraising for various non-profit interests often involves not only good written and spoken skills, but an ability to explain and justify why the organization's work is worthy of devotion, has long-term promise, or fulfills basic human needs. Many foundations and think-tanks also hire general researchers, who need the sorts of skills provided by prior training in philosophy.
Religion and Ministry
Students who go on for advanced degrees in theology or into seminaries to study for the ministry often start with an undergraduate degree in philosophy, which is often as good as a theology or religious studies major for these purposes. Especially if the student has theoretical interests, it is good to have some training in philosophy if planning to work in areas related to theology. Here is a case where a philosophy minor or an interdisciplinary major involving both philosophy, biblical languages, and religious studies, can be a powerful combination.
Business and Management
Many students with undergraduate majors or minors in philosophy go on to successful careers in business or management. Large firms often look for people who have a great all-round liberal arts education—which trains their mind for analysis—excellent communication skills, and an understanding of people. Of course any career in business or management will involve a lot of on-the-job training, and the student will have to learn particular knowledge not supplied by a philosophy degree or any other liberal arts major. But philosophy often provides a good basis on which to build. Students thinking of going on for MBA degrees need not major in business or economics alone; the best MBA schools like to admit students who have shown interests in other areas, such as history, languages, and philosophy, in addition to finance and management. Students with some background in philosophy are often better prepared for the kind of logical thinking required for more advanced administrative science and long-range planning.
Art and Architecture
Preparation for professional work in art and architecture often requires either advanced technical training or a graduate degree, but some background in philosophy is often very helpful for the student who wants to think theoretically about these creative endeavors. Both in aesthetics and in other areas, such as theories of meaning, culture, and society, philosophy has been a significant inspiration for innovation in art and architecture, and some training in philosophical disciplines provides a basis for a mature understanding of these disciplines, an understanding that extends beyond the technical competencies they also require.
Articles on the value of a philosophical, humanities education
- American Philosophical Association Statement on the Philosophy Major
- "The Management Myth: If you want to succeed in business, don't get an M.B.A. Study philosophy instead" (The Atlantic)
- "History for Dollars" - As the job market slides, it can be easy for college students picking their majors to forget why humans need the humanities. (David Brooks, New York Times)
- "Is Philosophy the Most Practical Major?" (Edward Tenner, The Atlantic)
- Video: 5 Reasons to be a Philosophy Major
APA Guide to Graduate Programs in Philosophy
This Guide contains information about Ph.D., M.A., and equivalent degree programs in the United States. The purpose of this volume is to provide prospective philosophy graduate students and others with basic information about the opportunities in North America for professional training in philosophy. While this volume is a useful starting point for prospective graduate students, a comprehensive inquiry should also include consultation with advisers and people directly involved with programs of interest.
(Thanks to our sister Jesuit philosophy department at Fordham University for much of this careers & philosophy page.)