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Why major in philosophy? Perhaps because those trained in philosophy are likely to possess a better combination of verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing skills than those trained in any other major? (Jason Stanley, Rutgers University, June 8, 2008)
If you think the only use you can put a philosophy degree to is mountain sitting and navel contemplation - think again. A degree in philosophy will train you for the rigors of almost any demanding job, whether in academia, law, business, or any number of other areas that require written, verbal, or reasoning skills.
"Philosophy is challenging," says philosophy Professor Ed Sherline. "You develop skills in reading comprehension, logical reasoning, problem-solving, and other aspects of critical thinking. And you can't take a philosophy course without writing a number of papers. By the time you graduate, your writing ability will have improved considerably."
Many philosophy majors plan to pursue graduate work. A philosophy degree will prepare them to pursue graduate work in a variety of fields:
and any area that requires abstract, rigorous thinking.
In law school, for instance, students don't memorize laws, they learn to reason about cases and legal opinions. "A law professor told me, 'All we're doing in law schools is teaching them to be philosophers'," Dr. Sherline says. He points out that philosophy majors score very high on the LSAT, the test students are required to take before entering law school. The only majors that score above philosophy are economics and math.
"Prelaw students should major in what interests them," Dr. Sherline says. "Many of our majors plan on going to law school, but they are in philosophy for the love of wisdom."
"If your plans include going for an advanced business degree, you should know that philosophy majors score among the highest of any major on the GMAT, the test required for entry into business school. Ironically, those with an undergraduate business degree scored among the lowest on the GMAT," says Dr. Sherline. "Philosophy develops those fundamental skills you can't obtain if you are just loaded with facts. Graduate programs in general are looking for people who can think well."
If your plans don't include an advanced degree, you could still benefit from a philosophy degree, for the very same reasons that would be valuable in graduate school: written, verbal, and analytical skills. "Companies that understand the rigors that a philosophy degree requires are just as willing to hire a philosophy major as any other kind of major," says Dr. Sherline. When we consider the alternatives, philosophy majors are in the same boat as English, business, and engineering majors because all students fresh out of college have limited experience.
A major in philosophy is an excellent foundation for a range of nonacademic careers, including business, computers, consulting, education, engineering, finance, government, insurance, journalism, law, marketing, medicine, publishing, real estate, religious ministry, research, sales, and technical writing.
An undergraduate major in philosophy is widely considered to be an excellent preparation for law school and a career in law. In a study of test performance by undergraduate major, the philosophy major ranked in the top three on the LSAT. Philosophy courses stress skills of critical thinking and analysis that a career in law requires. Pre-law students who do not choose to major in philosophy would nonetheless do well to take courses such as Critical Thinking, Introduction to Symbolic Logic, History of Philosophy, Philosophy of Science, Epistemology, and courses on human values (Ethics in Practice, Political and Social Philosophy, Ethical Theory, and Topics in Social and Political Philosophy).
Say you wish to major in philosophy and hope to go on to obtain an M.B.A. You are worried about the GMAT. In a study of test performance of undergraduate majors, Philosophy majors ranked in the top two on the GMAT! In contrast, business majors ranked 19th and last. Philosophy is an excellent preparation for a career in business. Employers often look for people who can write well and think critically. All philosophy courses emphasize writing and critical thinking. You should round out your degree with some business courses and attempt to obtain internships working in business during the summers.
Many medical schools look for candidates who possess, in addition to the requisite scientific background, an understanding and concern for humanistic issues. Course work in philosophy is an excellent grounding for a career in medicine.
Aside from preparation for the traditional profession of the philosopher as teacher, a major in philosophy is also highly valuable for a wide range of nonacademic jobs. The American Philosophical Association notes that people well educated in philosophy have a number of general abilities that employers value in an information age. The following web page describes why it is valuable to "hire a Philosophy Major:"
They can do research on an almost unlimited variety of subjects. They can, for instance, get information and organize it. They can write clearly and effectively. They can communicate well, usually both orally and in writing. They can generate ideas on many different sorts of problems. They can formulate and solve problems. They can elicit hidden assumptions and articulate overlooked alternatives. They can persuade people to take unfamiliar views or novel options seriously. They can summarize complicated material without undue simplification. They can formulate and defend policies on a wide range of important issues in business, education, social legislation, and other areas. They can integrate diverse data and construct useful analogies. They can distinguish subtle differences without overlooking similarities. They can also adapt to change.
An indication of the general abilities that philosophy helps to develop is the placement of its students on the Graduate Record Exam. Of all students who took the GRE between 1990 and 1993, those who said they planned to pursue further study in philosophy scored sixth out of 50 disciplines. (From the proceedings of the American Philosophical Association, 1995.)
New data shows that the philosophy major is a prudential choice. PayScale.com’s current data on “Best Undergrad College Degrees By Salary (www.payscale.com/2008-best-colleges/degrees.asp) lists starting median salary and mid-career (15.5 years after graduation) median salary for 50 different university majors. Of the fifty, the philosophy major ranks sixteenth in mid-career median salary. (Seven of the majors ranking above philosophy are various engineering fields). Of particular interest is the comparison with Business Management. The starting median salary for Business Management majors is $43,000, while the starting median salary for Philosophy majors is $39,900. By mid-career, however, the median salary for Business Management majors has risen to $72,100, while the median salary for Philosophy majors has jumped to $81,200. For more on this, see http://www.apaonline.org/ .