College Of Humanities and Fine Arts

What You Can't Do with a Degree in Philosophy

The list of things you can't do with a philosophy degree would be much shorter than the list of things you can do with one. A great many employers (see "In a New Generation of College Students, Many Opt for the Life Examined" and "I think, therefore I earn") actively seek out students who have demonstrated abilities in such areas as communication, analytic thinking, and problem-solving areas that receive a great deal of attention in the philosophy classroom!

Indeed, philosophy majors tend to be very competitive in areas such as law, business, and medicine:

  • Philosophy majors rank third highest on the LSAT.
  • Philosophy majors ranked the highest among majors on both the verbal section and the analytic section of the GRE in the period from 2001 to 2004. Among humanities and social science majors, philosophy majors ranked highest on the quantitative section as well.
  • According to The Economist, "philosophy students do better in examinations for business and management schools than anybody except mathematicians", better even than those who study economics, business or other vocational subjects.
  • A recent study by the American Medical Association found that philosophy majors enjoyed the third highest acceptance rate into American medical schools.

Philosophy majors address the fundamental questions by developing foundational cognitive skills. They learn to question the things most people take for granted and they learn how to go about pursuing the answers to those questions. In the words of a 1998 editorial from the Times of London, "The great virtue of philosophy is that it teaches not what to think, but how to think."

Because of this, a philosophical education is a valuable foundation for just about any career, and just about any sort of life. Many philosophy majors go into business (investment banking is a popular option). Many others go into law (including Justices Stephen Breyer and David Souter of the US Supreme Court). Some become novelists (Philip K. Dick, David Foster Wallace, Pearl S. Buck), artists (Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman), film critics (Pauline Kael, Gene Siskel) or entertainers (Harrison Ford, David Duchovny, Steve Martin, Bruce Lee). Some become doctors, or study ethics and serve on advisory boards to hospitals. Some go into politics (Robert McNamara, William Bennett, Jerry Brown, Bill Clinton). Many teach: some in the public school system, others at the university level. And some,like Martin Luther King, fundamentally change the world we live in.

The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates said, "the unexamined life is not worth living." Perhaps living an unexamined life is the only thing a person with a degree in philosophy cannot do.