Careers in Philosophy

WHAT CAN I DO WITH THIS DEGREE?

Students who major in philosophy are well-prepared for today’s economy and for the challenges to be faced after graduation. Whether you wish to enter the workforce or apply to graduate school in a variety of disciplines, you will be able to succeed with the tools and skills you learn with philosophy.

Philosophy skills are in high demand

According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, employers have identified critical-reasoning and communication skills as the most important asset for success in today’s workforce. With its emphasis on those skills, a philosophy program prepares majors for a modern economy that requires the ability to learn new skills quickly, adapt to economic changes, communicate effectively, and approach problems with fresh perspectives and rigorous analysis.

Variety of career choices

Philosophical skills transfer to a variety of professions and careers. This is especially important in today’s market where current graduates entering the job market can expect to change jobs between ten and fourteen times by the time they are 38. When half of all workers have been with their present employer less than five years (10 Years After College, NCES), it is especially necessary that a degree program provide students with portable skills. A philosophy degree provides graduates with broad-based, cross-disciplinary skills that apply to any job and any career. The analytical tools our graduates would develop will be able to handle the challenges of an uncertain labor market. Instead of a narrowly trained, highly specialized graduate, our graduates would possess critical thinking and communication skills that would help them innovate and adapt to today’s changing workplace.

Economic security

According to a report released in 2010, a major in Philosophy ranks 19th in overall economic security, ahead of majors in business education (31st), criminal justice (30th), and most humanities majors. The relatively strong economic security for philosophy majors is reflected in the diversity of possible occupations. Among philosophy graduates, approximately a third find jobs in the non-profit sector, 30 percent find jobs in for-profit businesses, 15 percent find jobs in education, and the remainder are split between government positions and being self-employed.

Higher salaries 

The long-term outlook is strong for philosophy graduates’ salaries. PayScale, which provides real-time salary data, ranks philosophy majors 16th overall when undergraduate degrees are ranked by salary. Starting annual salary for the major averages $39,900; while this is above the national average, it is still lower than many starting salaries for career-oriented majors. However, “mid-career” salaries for philosophy majors are more than double their starting salary with annual earnings of $81,200. By mid-career, the earnings picture is quite a bit better than many career-oriented majors that are traditionally considered to be more economically viable, e.g. information technology (24th, $74,800 by mid-career), business management (25th, $72,100 by mid-career), and nursing (30th, $67,000 by mid-career).

Graduate school options

Some philosophy majors elect to apply to graduate school. The study of philosophy long has been recognized as excellent training for the study of law. Philosophy and religion majors on average have the second-highest scores on the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT)

Philosophy majors apply to many types of graduate programs, from MA or PhD programs in philosophy to programs in environmental studies, film studies, sociology, and many others. Philosophy majors on average get some of the highest scores on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). For instance, in a 2003-2004 analysis, students who intended to graduate with a philosophy degree got the highest average scores on the verbal and analytical sections of the exam. A detailed analysis in 2013 of GRE scores by students’ intended majors can be found here [PDF].

WHO ARE SOME FAMOUS LIVING PHILOSOPHY MAJORS?

  • Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York and an ex-Republican candidate for president
  • Stephen Breyer, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court
  • George Stephanopoulos, television journalist and former Press Secretary for Pres. Clinton
  • George Soros, financier and philanthropist
  • Bill Miller, renowned mutual-fund manager for Legg Mason
  • Aung San Suu Kyi, winner of a Nobel Peace Prize for her work in Burma
  • Richard Gere, actor
  • Woody Allen, movie director, writer, actor, and comedian
  • Jay Leno, comedian and former host of The Tonight Show
  • Ethan Coen, director of many movies and co-recipient of an Academy Award for best director in 2007
  • Philip Glass, American minimalist music composer
  • Umberto Eco, novelist (e.g., of The Name of the Rose) and academic
  • Harrison Ford, actor in Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and many other movies
  • Robert McNamara, former Secretary of Defense and former CEO of Ford Motors
  • Elie Wiesel, writer and Nobel Peace Prize winner
  • Phil Jackson, basketball coach whose teams have won a record 11 NBA titles
  • Steve Martin, actor, comedian, writer