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“Cogito ergo sum”, wrote Rene Descartes, “I think, therefore I am.” Those that study philosophy aim to tackle such questions: those surrounding existence, ethics, reality, and language, to name a few. As a philosophy major, you’ve likely encountered different modes of thought from disparate cultures and time periods, reading the efforts of some of history’s most brilliant writers and thinkers attempting to solve the fundamental questions of human existence.
A recent study found that in today’s universities only 8% of students choose to study in the humanities – less than half of the figure seen 50 years ago. And yet, findings published in the Wall Street Journal and Forbes show that down the road philosophy majors are some of the higher paid of the bunch, averaging a mid-career salary of around $81,000 per year.
Like English majors, those that concentrate in Philosophy often have a grim sense of humor regarding life after school. For one who wants to continue with philosophy specifically, there are few routes to pursue aside from graduate school, teaching, or writing.
However, more and more employers are seeking candidates whose strengths lie in a well-honed ability to read, write, and speak well, think analytically, and effectively work as a member of a team. Fortunately, this are all skills cultivated in the philosophy major. In short, if you want to continue with philosophy specifically, you better get writing, or keep studying. If not, there are many other ways to apply the skills you’ve learned as an undergraduate philosophy major.
First and foremost, philosophy majors have, perhaps indirectly, sharpened their ability to speak and write in a clear, articulate, and incisive manner. Not only will these skills be useful (if not necessary) in just about any job position you might hold, but also will do you well in the job hunt itself. Interviewers and potential employers read many applications and speak to many different potential employees – the ability to present oneself well in both a written and oral manner – can do wonders in setting yourself apart as a candidate.
Due to the nature of the subject matter, many philosophy classes – especially those in the upper echelons of your university’s course listings – will likely tend to be more discussion-based than lecture-based. As a result, students of philosophy learn to think critically and analyze readings before coming to class, with prepared viewpoints and speaking topics. This often becomes habitual for those that read philosophy on a regular basis, comparing one mode of thought with another and teasing out the finer points of the arguments put forth. While a potential employer might not want you to explain Aristotle’s concept of the good or Plato’s theory of forms, the ability to break down information into its constituent forms and understand the connections is an ability that translates well into most working environments.
Many of the foundational and introductory courses for an undergraduate degree in philosophy involve courses in ethics, or include courses that touch upon some of the greater ethical philosophers, such as Kant, Aristotle, and others. As a result, philosophy majors have been exposed to different conceptions of ethical reasoning and have come to understand much of the ethics upon which Western society has been built.
In general, people take issue with the fact that in philosophy there are no clear-cut answers to be had, but instead interpretations. Instead of considering this a fatal flaw for those that study philosophy and look to apply their skills in a post-graduate job, the ability to view problems from multiple viewpoints and consider different modes of reasoning may be seen as a particular strength of the philosophy major in their careers.
Depending on your experiences as a philosophy major you may have acquired more useful skills.
Completing a senior thesis or independent study requires seeing a project of several months through from beginning to end. This probably involved setting deadlines and achievable goals, reporting on your progress, and holding yourself accountable. All of these skills are valuable job skills in any industry.
You’re not going to be a philosopher with a bachelor’s degree, but some jobs are particularly well-suited to those straight out of college. Thanks to the philosophy major’s emphasis on critical thinking and strong communication skills, philosophy turns out to be good preparation for many careers, not many of them having to do with how well you know Kierkegaard.
The skills derived from a philosophy degree can be applied to many post-grad opportunities apart from pursuing a Master’s degree. Many philosophy students excel on the GED and LSAT from the critical reasoning skills they’ve used for the past years, and some others even apply to Medical schools after having completed the requirements. While the skillset of a philosophy major is somewhat broad, that also means that opportunities for employment can be varied and interesting. Some of these opportunities a philosophy major fresh out of school might include:
Median Pay: $36,000
The first avenue to look towards for a job-seeking philosophy major is one in which you can apply your skills at speaking and writing. Some of these opportunities might involve starting up the latter of the publishing industry as a publishing or editorial assistant for an established writer or firm. Editorial assistants are often flexible positions within a firm – they sometimes represent the company, write editorials, acts as assistants, read and edit manuscripts, and organize schedules.
Median Pay: $38,000
A paralegal performs legal work under the supervision of lawyers such as research and writing legal documents. These tasks are well-suited for philosophy majors, who are well-trained in writing and creating good arguments. A paralegal is also well-prepared to go on to law school and become a lawyer if interested.
Median Pay: $57,000
Public policy involves analyzing and solving problems that affect many people, often at the government level. Working in public policy involves policy research, communicating ideas with others, and creating arguments, as well as unraveling the arguments of others. All of these skills use the philosophy major’s ability to create and differentiate between good and bad arguments, along with research and writing skills.
Median Pay: $47,000
The non-profit sector involves working for a cause, which can be anything, including education, hunger, the arts, or the environment. Working for a non-profit can involve outreach, communications, program development, or volunteer coordination. Philosophy majors interested in ethics and social or political philosophy get to put their writing and speaking skills to good use at a non-profit.
If your strongest skills are those of writing and editing, it’s a good idea to start to create an online presence for yourself. A simple blog can, and increasingly is, a substitute for or facet of your online portfolio as a writer. When applying for jobs that require writing, employers are going to want to see some examples of what you can do, period. A foundation of writing samples and continued work on a blog site show dedication, applied writing, and your ability to create content for an audience other than yourself, if informally.