David Hume, Librarian 

Most people who major in philosophy do not become professional philosophers, just as most people who major in history, sociology and economics do not become historians, sociologists or economists.  They have these majors because they enjoy the fields, want to know more about them, and hope that their major will somehow prepare them for the future.      

While there may be no guarantees in life, we can play the odds, and philosophy is one of the best majors for getting a good career. Philosophy majors may open businesses. They may become novelists. Many go on to further education in professional schools such as medical or law school. Some go into politics. In general, they successfully find employment in any number of areas in the private and the public sectors. Statistically they do better than business majors and nearly all other humanities and social science majors. They have skills and attitudes that are very much in demand.

Philosophy and Salaries: In an interview with Forbes, "For starting salaries, engineering and things like nursing are pretty strong," says Dr. Al Lee, director of quantitative analysis at PayScale.com. "But the list reorders further into people's careers. Music doesn't pay very well, however the top 10% earns more than the average accountant. If you looked at the pay of people 15 years out, philosophy is actually in the top 10%." According to the Wall Street Journal, Philosophy B.A.’s have the highest percentage salary increase from starting pay to mid-career pay: 103.5% (tied with Math).

Philosophy and Law: The American Bar Association “does not recommend any undergraduate majors or group of courses to prepare for a legal education.” And yet many associated with the law have thought philosophy a particularly good major for the study of law. The ABA's website mentions a variety of important skills and values that are valuable for those thinking of going into law. Many of these skills and values are central to a philosophical education and others are certainly consistent with such an education.

  1. Analytic/Problem Solving Skills
  2. Critical Reading
  3. Writing Skills
  4. Oral Communication/Listening Abilities
  5. General Research Skills
  6. Task Organization/Management Skills
  7. Public Service and Promotion of Justice.  
Brian Leiter, a philosopher who joined the faculty of the University of Chicago law school in 2006, points out that the overlap between philosophical skills and the requirements for the legal profession have practical consequences. Philosophy majors actually score quite well on the LSAT, the entrance exam required by law schools. According to widely cited data, Leiter points out, majors getting the top scores are (scores are in parentheses)

  1. Physics/Math (157.6) 
  2. Philosophy/Religion (156.0)
  3. Economics (155.3)
  4. International Relations (155.1)
  5. Chemistry (154.5) 
  6. Government/Service (154.4)
  7. Anthropology/Geography (154.1)
  8. History (154)
  9. English (153.7)
  10. Biology (153.6)
Leiter writes, surprisingly, that “Finance majors came in 12th (with an average score of 152.5) and Political Science majors were 18th (151.6 was their average score). The bottom seven majors, in terms of LSAT scores: Management, Business Administration, Health Profession, Education, Prelaw (that's a major?), and Criminology.”

In a more recent study by Michael Nieswiadomy, for major fields with at least 1,900 students taking the LSAT, the average 2007-2008 scores were as follows.

  1. Philosophy and Economics (157.4)
  2. Engineering (156.2)
  3. History (155.9)
  4. English (154.7)
  5. Finance (153.4)
  6. Political Science (153)
  7. Psychology (152.5)
  8. Sociology (150.7)
  9. Communications (150.5)
  10. Business Administration (149.1)
  11. Criminal Justice (145.5)
Philosophy and Standardized Tests Other Than LSAT: Philosophy majors do very well on the GRE, the entrance exam required by many graduate programs. They do better than all other majors on the Verbal Reasoning section and the Analytic Writing section of the GRE and they do better than all humanities and social science majors except economics on Quantitative Reasoning. (Download Report here.) Interestingly, they also do well on the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), something most philosophy majors never heard of. Business schools use this test for admission to graduate programs such as MBA programs and Master of Finance programs. Not only do philosophy majors do better than business, finance and accounting majors on this exam, they do better than all major except Mathematics, Physics and Engineering. (Download Report here.)

Why study philosophy? Here are a number of articles from distinguished newspapers and magazines.

The New York Times The Atlantic Business Week The Guardian (UK) The London Times


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