Why Study Philosophy?

Why Study Philosophy?

Studying Philosophy is fun, but is it practical? Will it actually help you get a job after you graduate? If so, how?

First, the bad news: You are never going to pick up the newspaper and see an ad that says “Philosophers wanted!” Does this mean that taking Philosophy classes has no practical value for your post-graduate career? No. It turns out that for most collegiate majors there is not a direct pipeline from graduating with that major to acquiring a specific kind of job. For the overwhelming majority of college graduates, the route from degree to a good, long-term job is far less direct. In this regard, then, Philosophy is similar to other majors.

What are employers actually looking for?

The Association of American Colleges and Universities recently asked this question in a national survey of business and non-profit leaders. The key findings are that employers are looking for innovative employees who can think critically, communicate effectively, and solve problems. Employers say that these skills are more important than the particular major of an undergraduate employee.

Given this, an obvious follow-up question is: 

Are Philosophers good at innovation, critical thinking, communicating effectively, and problem-solving?

Are Philosophers innovative?
Frankly, it’s difficult to quantify whether someone is “innovative” or not and, if so, how innovative he or she is. But as a discipline, Philosophy is certainly not afraid of challenging assumptions or of “outside of the box” thinking. Here’s a recent article, published at the Huffington Post in 2014, which claims that studying philosophy fosters the kind of creativity and innovation that are necessary to succeed in the business world. (
Huff Post article) Here’s a similar article, published in he Guardian in 2007. (Guardian article)

Are Philosophers good at critical thinking? Communication? Problem-solving?
A graph of performance on the GRE test by major showing Philosophy at the top.

Writing and Verbal GRE Scores by Major

Post-graduate exams like the GRE, the LSAT, the GMAT attempt to measure, and quantify, these skills in college undergraduates. The data generated by these exams point to a strong correlation between undergraduates who major in Philosophy (or intend to major in Philosophy) and these skills. In fact, philosophy majors reliably and consistently outperform all other majors on these tests when it comes to the above skills.  Below is some additional information about the remarkable performance of undergraduate Philosophers on these tests, including links to additional data.
(This graphic representing GRE 2011-12 performance was created by Ty Fagan using data from the Education Testing Service, the organization that runs the GRE. (Homepage of ETS))
  • Here’s an article discussing the performance of Philosophy majors on the 2013 GRE. (2013 GRE)
  • Here’s a document, authored by the American Philosophical Association, summarizing the performance of Philosophy majors on the LSAT and also giving some data about acceptance rates of Philosophers into law school. (LSAT)
  • Here’s a document, produced using data from the Graduate Management Admissions Council, summarizing the recent (2009-2010) performance of Philosophy majors on the GMAT (GMAT)

How do I get a job with my Philosophy degree?
Honestly, it’s tough to get a job with any degree right now. To have success on this front, you need to be flexible and prepared to sell yourself to potential employers. Although nobody is going to directly advertise for an undergraduate philosopher, lots of employers want somebody that has the skills of an undergraduate Philosopher. You have these skills! Don’t be afraid to advertise them and use them in marketing yourself! 

Despite the absence of a straightforward “pipeline” job for Philosophy majors/minors, there is evidence that the skills developed by the undergraduate philosopher can pay dividends over the long run. Here’s an article, recently published by the Wall Street Journal, that shows that the mid-career salaries of Philosophy majors compares favorably with the mid-career salaries of other majors
. (Wall St Journal)

Another possibility is to consider a double major. Philosophy is a discipline that spends a lot of time contemplating issues from other disciplines. A philosophy major can enhance your education in a number of fields including art, the computer sciences, english, mathematics, medicine, and the sciences. The Philosophy major/minor here at UMD has been tailored, in terms of its required classes and overall hours requirement, so that it can be easily combined with a number of other majors/minors.

Employers of former UMD Philosophy majors/minors
Aerotek Engineering; Technical Recruiter for Allina Health; Patient Experience Analytics Data Analyst for Best Buy; Project Team Specialist for East Hillside Patch; Program Director for Home Choice; Customer Account Representative for Leede Research; Business Technology Manager for Michaels; Sales Associate for the National Park Service; Youth Minister; Technical Administrative Assistant at Anoka Ice Arena; Real Estate Agent for EMR; Biological Technician for France 44 Wine & Spirits; Software Engineer for the United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management; Graduate school (English); Graduate school (Philosophy); Graduate school (Poetry); Program Administrator for the Center for American Indian & Minority Health, University of Minnesota Medical School Duluth; Research Assistant for Costco Wholesale; Supervisor for Holiday Station Stores, Duluth, MN; Emergency Medical Technician, Lake Superior Medical Equipment; Compliance Specialist, Oslund & Associates; Administrative Assistant, Super One Foods; Analytic Chemist, 3M; Staff Accountant, Kolquist, Seitz & Goldman; Medical Device Reporting Specialist, Medtronic; Mental Health Associate, Mercy Hospital; CNA, Texas Terrace Care Center; Lead Clerk, Whole Foods Co-op, Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, Duluth, MN; Guest Services Attendant, Larsmont Cottages, Two Harbors, MN; Administrative & Accounting Assistant, Optum, Plymouth, MN; Senior System Analyst, Sears, Duluth, MN; Loss Prevention Associate, TBI Residential & Community Services, Duluth, MN; Thomas Allen, West St. Paul, MN; Guardian & Conservator, Whole Foods Co-op, Duluth, MN; PGA Golf Management, Florida Gulf Coast.