Why Major in Philosophy?
Philosophy is often thought to be the most impractical of all disciplines, but this is simply not the case. In fact, the study of philosophy is one of the best routes to a successful and rewarding career. To understand why, we should first note that most employers are looking for individuals with a broad range of knowledge and skills, including the abilities to think critically, to communicate effectively, and to analyze complex problems. In fact, a recent study by The Association Of American Colleges And Universities found that these abilities were among the top priorities for potential employers.
Next, we should note that philosophy does an exceptional job of developing exactly these skills. In fact, studies consistently show that philosophy majors do better than anyone else when it comes to verbal reasoning and analytic skills (as revealed by scores on the Graduate Record Exam).
A simple scatter plot helps to illustrate just how unusual these scores are.
What this graph reveals is that philosophy majors are true outliers—they display an unrivaled combination of verbal reasoning and analytic writing skills.
Now, if employers are looking for people who are good at reasoning and communicating, and if philosophers excel in these areas, then one would expect philosophers to be successful on the job market. And that is exactly what we find. For example, a recent study by the Wall Street Journal found that the average mid-career salaries of philosophy majors compare well with those of many other majors.
In fact, the Journal found that philosophy majors see the sharpest increase of all majors from starting to mid-career salary.
“Fine,” you might be thinking. “The study of philosophy can help lead to a successful career. But what, exactly, do philosophy majors do? What job will I get if I major in philosophy?”
Well, we could tell you that philosophers have some of the highest scores on admission tests for management school, or that philosophers have the highest scores on admissions tests for law school, or that philosophers have the highest acceptance rates at medical schools. We could tell you that many philosophy students find successful careers in finance, business, and politics. Or we could point you to a list of famous philosophy majors who have excelled in various other fields.
But the truth is that there is no simple answer to the career question. We don’t know what you will do with your philosophy degree, since that will depend on your particular interests, values, and circumstances. What we do know is that the study of philosophy will make you a better thinker, writer, and communicator, and these skills will help you to succeed in whatever career path you choose.*
*By the way, the career question isn't the only question to consider when asking whether or not to major in philosophy. For further considerations, we reccommend Bertrand Russell's excellent essay on The Value of Philosophy.