Philosophy Overview

The Philosophy Major’s (Surprisingly Solid) Career Prospects

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In the 21st century, mastery of the basic skills of reading, writing, and math is no longer enough. Increasingly, almost any job that pays more than minimum wage today—both blue and white collar—requires employees who know how to solve a range of intellectual and technical problems… In addition, we face an exponential increase of readily available information, new technologies that are constantly changing, and more complex societal challenges such as global warming. Thus, work, learning, and citizenship in the 21st century demand that we all know how to think—to reason, analyze, weigh evidence, problem solve. These… are essential survival skills for all of us… Effective communication, curiosity, and critical thinking skills… are much more than just the traditional desirable outcomes of a liberal arts education. They are essential competencies and habits of mind for life in the 21st century.” Given the expected outcomes of majoring in Philosophy (described below), you might think the Philosophy faculty authored the above text in an effort to draw more students into its degree programs. Well, we of course wholeheartedly endorse the passage’s key claims; but we didn’t write it. Instead, the quotation comes from the introduction to The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need—And What We Can Do About It by Tony Wagner, Co-Director of the Change Leadership Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

As Wagner correctly suggests, employers of all sorts value highly the education and training Philosophy majors acquire; accordingly, career opportunities for Philosophy majors abound. Philosophy majors know how to think—they see the big picture, question assumptions, analyze arguments, and understand alternative perspectives. They can speak and write clearly, in both expository and argumentative modes. Philosophy majors can find themselves at home in the humanities, the social sciences, the natural sciences, the exact sciences, and in all manner of professions—for they have been trained to take up basic questions that range across all these areas. Philosophy majors have found careers in business, medicine, law, journalism, media, government, teaching, science, social services, and advocacy organizations. And of course some have gone on to graduate work in Philosophy and to academic careers as Philosophers. Speaking of graduate work, in a recent publication from The American Philosophical Association Philosophy reports on "the average score for each of the three sections in the GRE," on verbal, mathematical, and analytic reasoning, that: "Philosophy is the best performing major overall, ranking first in the verbal and analytical writing sections of the test and 19th in the quantitative portion. And these data are consistent from year to year, both before and after the recent revision of the GRE." This data is confirmed by the 2014 Magoosh Guide to GRE Scores which shows Philosophy majors score higher than students every other major on the Verbal and Analytical Writing sections. Further, on the Quantitative section, Philosophy majors score higher than almost every other major in the life sciences, social sciences, humanities and arts, education, and business.  See also a recent paper by Prof. Robert ("Rex") Welshon (UCCS) on Some Benefits of Philosophical Training

So: Philosophy majors do very well in the job market, much better than you might initially think. Indeed, a recent (2015) study found that, by mid-career, Philosophy majors earn on average over $84,000 a year—more than students majoring in (e.g.) Journalism, English Literature, Political Science, and International Relations. Granted, this could be because students who choose to major in Philosophy are brighter and more capable to begin with than students who choose to major in these other areas. But it seems likely that it is (also) because students who choose to major in Philosophy find themselves well-trained for success in a wide range of careers, thus improving their lifetime employment and earnings potential; you might recognize some famous philosophy majors in an online poster created by Daily Nous. As with most majors, your immediate post-graduation employment prospects and earnings will be determined not only by your major, but by your grades, your work experience (including internships), and your planning. For further information about employable skills after you graduate, see  Employability - Where next? Unlocking the Potential of Your Philosophy Degree