Why Study Philosophy?

Why Major in Philosophy?

If you think that the only use you can put a philosophy degree to is by sitting on a mountain and contemplating your navel - 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:

  • cognitive science
  • artificial intelligence
  • mathematics
  • law
  • business
  • international relations
  • environmental and natural resource sciences

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 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.

"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."

Philosophy Majors and Job Data:

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/ .

Career Potential?

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.

Image of Graduate Students
Picture of Grad Students

Philosophy Rocks the Graduate Record Exam!

Students declaring to go to graduate school in Philosophy score higher on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) than all but 4 out of 50 other major fields (recorded by the Educational Testing Service, which runs the GRE). The only fields with higher mean scores on the combined Verbal, Quantitative, and Analytical sections are (in rank order) Physics & Astronomy, Mathematical Sciences, Materials Engineering, and Chemical Engineering.

Philosophy students score higher than

  • Every other major in the Humanities and Arts

  • Every major in the Social Science

  • Every major in the Life Sciences

  • Every major in Education

  • Every major in Business

  • Every major listed under "Other Fields"

  • Four out of six majors in Physical Sciences

  • Five out of seven in Engineering

Furthermore, Philosophy Students

For the Verbal Section of the GRE:
  • have the highest mean scores of any other major in the fields listed

In the Analytical Section of the GRE:
  • Get the 3rd highest mean scores. Only Physics & Astronomy and Math Sciences were higher.

  • Scored higher than every major in life Sciences, Engineering, Business Social Sciences, Education, and "Other Fields," plus every other major in Humanities.

In the Quantitative Reason Section of the GRE:
  • Score much higher than any of the other Humanities.

  • Score higher than every major in Life Sciences, Education, and "Other Fields," and all but Economics in Social Science and all but Banking & Finance in Business.

  • Only Physical Sciences and Engineering majors do better than Philosophy students.

Thinking about Law School?

Philosophy students scored higher than the other popular pre-Law majors: Political Science, Communications, & Public Administration. None of these majors did better than Philosophy students on any of the 3 sections of the GRE.

Now, which one looks like the best pre-Law training to you?

Want a major to prepare you for whatever challenges you might face later in life?

Averaging the rank order in each of the areas of the GRE, Philosophy does better than any other major of the fifty listed. Tell that to people when they ask what good a philosophy major is!

Source: Guide to the Graduate Record Examination Program 1996-7, Education Testing Service. Original article written by Department of Philosophy, Lewis & Clark College, 0615 SW Palatine Hill Road, Portland, OR 97219-7899, USA.

What Others Say About Philosophy

But don't take our word for it, check out what others have said about the practical importance of majoring in philosophy:

Contact Us

Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies

Ross Hall 223

Mailing Address:
Dept. 3392
1000 E. University Ave

Laramie, WY 82071

Phone: 307-766-3204

Email: relstudies@uwyo.edu


Email: philosophy@uwyo.edu

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