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Where can a degree in philosophy lead me?

Philosophy is an ideal major providing incredible flexibility for all of your plans beyond college.

Recent graduates from Belmont’s philosophy program have gone on to graduate schools and careers in philosophy, library science, literature, writing, political science, and public affairs, law school, and education.

You can become a lawyer, work in bio-medical ethics, the ministry, become a professional philosophical counselor, go on in any level of education from administration to working with youth or pre-college students, or becoming a college professor; many non-academic fields enthusiastically welcome philosophy majors, be it in business are well suited after studying philosophy, as well as becoming an author, an editor or a publisher, psychologist, a social activist, or working in governmental or non-profit work, as well as any other number of career paths.  Click here and here to learn more about the many careers for which philosophy is an excellent preparation.

 Philosophy is “a tool … for thinking about everything else, and every profession from law and medicine to motorcycle maintenance” 
(Edward Tenner, “Is Philosophy the Most Practical Major?,” The Atlantic, Oct. 16, 2011).

Is philosophy better than majoring in something specific to my future career?
Yes!  Studies show that the Philosophy major leads to better employability and higher average salaries across diverse fields.  The Times of London reported philosophy graduates having an employability rate at 98.9%—calling it, “in commercial jargon, the ultimate ‘transferable work skill’” (Aug. 15, 1998)—and the American Philosophical Association’s vast study on the discipline showed that while the median starting salary for Philosophy majors lags $3,100 behind those in Business Management, mid-career salaries for Philosophy majors jumps $9,100 ahead of those same mid-career Business Management majors. confirms the median mid-career salaries of Philosophy majors to be $81,200 (which is the highest of all studied majors in the humanities).

“It seems to me that philosophers have acquired skills which are very valuable to a member of Congress.  The ability to analyze a problem carefully and consider it from many points of view is one.  Another is the ability to communicate ideas clearly in a logically compelling form.  A third is the ability to handle the many different kinds of problems which occupy the congressional agenda at any time”
(Lee H. Hamilton, 9th District, Indiana, March 25, 1982).

I want to pursue music business; how will philosophy help me?
Music Business ideally synthesizes one’s creative and practical drives; philosophy classes cultivate and hone the foundations for both.  Classes in ethics will aid you in developing proper management skills and help you to think through copyright and other legal concerns; classes in aesthetics demand you to think about the art of art itself; the history of philosophy classes raise themes concerning the long interplay of music, imagination, genius, and creation in our canon; in short—studying philosophy directly contributes to a more robust understanding of music business.  Philosophy also provides much needed inspiration for anyone in the arts themselves or in careers where art development, marketing, and sales are important.

“I have come to realize the answer to the question perpetually posed, ‘Philosophy?  What are you going to do with that?’  The correct response is ‘Absolutely anything you want’”
(Jordan Kotick, “Why Study Philosophy?  A Statement by Jordan Kotick, Head of Technical Strategy at Barclay’s Bank”).

I want to be a lawyer; how does majoring in philosophy help?
Philosophy majors consistently score very highly on the LSAT (Law School Admissions Test), required for application to law school—with the philosophy major, on average, scoring second out of the 29 majors surveys, whereas prelaw majors score 28th and criminal justice majors just behind at the 29th position.

Why does philosophy help these high scores?
It teaches careful and reflective reading, critical thinking, analytical skills, and logical argumentation—key skills for the areas tested.

Why does philosophy help once in law school or in legal practice?
Beyond the critical skill sets mentioned above, philosophy also trains you in ethics, hones your public speaking skills, and teaches you how to do significant research and analysis of complicated texts, which is required by legal practice.

I want to pursue a graduate degree in business; how does majoring in philosophy help with that?
Philosophy majors consistently score very highly on the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test), required for application to most all graduate business programs—typically fourth out of 35 surveyed majors, whereas International Business majors rank 24th, and Business Education majors rank 27thClick here to see the statistics.  

“A philosophy degree has trained the individual’s brain and given them the ability to provide management-consulting firms with the sort of skills that they require and clients demand.  These skills can include the ability to be very analytical, provide clear and innovative thinking, and question assumptions”
(Fiona Czerniawska, director of the Management Consultancies Association’s think tank, quoted in Jessica Shepherd, “I Think, therefore I Earn,” The Guardian, Nov. 19, 2007).

I want to go into medicine; how does majoring in philosophy help with that?
Philosophy majors consistently score very highly on the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test), required for application to med school—which has earned philosophy majors the highest percentile chance of acceptance rate to med school with an average of 50%, whereas the average for all other majors is 37%, with Biology at 35%, Chemistry at 39%, and Biochemistry at 43%.  Here is an article addressing philosophy as a key skill tested in the new 2015 MCATs.

“Graduates of philosophy who come in to graduate-entry medicine, or to nursing courses, are very useful.  Growth areas in the NHS include clinical ethicists, who assist doctors and nurses.  Medical ethics committees and ethics training courses for staff are also growing.  More and more people are needed to comment on moral issues in healthcare”
(Deborah Bowman, University of London, quoted in Jessica Shepherd, “I Think, therefore I Earn,” The Guardian, Nov. 19, 2007).

Philosophy’s role in our contemporary and popular culture
Absolutely!  Many of the most iconic moments in film, television, and music history have been forged from the ideas of philosophy.  From Kafka’s Metamorphosis to the Wachowski’s Matrix trilogy, philosophers have crafted the images and characters that have sculpted our popular cultural landscape.  From best selling authors like Philip K. Dick (whose writing inspired Blade Runner, Minority Report, and Total Recall), to filmmaker Ethan Coen (the director of such iconic films as No Country for Old Men, Fargo, and The Big Lebowski), philosophy majors have irrevocably impacted popular art and culture. 

Jean-Paul Sartre (Nobel Prize for Literature, 1964);  Albert Camus (Nobel Prize for Literature, 1957);  Simone de Beauvoir (mother of feminism, author of The Second Sex); David Foster Wallace (postmodernist novelist, MacArthur Fellow);  Pearl S. Buck (Nobel Prize for Literature, 1938); T. S. Eliot (Nobel Prize for Literature, 1948);  Susan Sontag (NY Review of Books called her “one of the most influential critics of her generation”);  Li Ang (Taiwanese feminist writer);  E. L. Doctorow (winner of the National Humanities Medal in 1998, and PEN award in 2012);  Leo Tolstoy (who profoundly influenced Gandhi and MLK); Fyodor Dostoevsky (one of the most famous Russian authors with over 15 million copies of his books sold worldwide);  Umberto Eco (best selling author of many books, including his famous The Name of the Rose);  Miguel de Unamuno (Spanish writer and philosopher);  Lowell Bergman (Pulitzer Prize, 2004);  Studs Terkel (Pulitzer Prize, 1985);  Philip K. Dick (author and/or inspiration for Blade Runner, Minority Report, and Total Recall);  Mary Higgins Clark (best selling mystery writer); Iris Murdoch (listed amongst the Modern Library’s 100 best English language novelists of the 20th c. and The Times’ 50 greatest British writers since 1945);  Alexander Solzhenitsin (famous Russian novelist and Nobel Prize in Literature winner for 1970); James Michener (Pulitzer Prize 1948);  Elie Wiesel (Nobel Peace Prize winner and holocaust survivor famous for his book Night)Art Spiegelman (cartoonist and graphic novelist, most known for Maus);  Henri Bergson (Noble Prize for Literature 1927);  Bertrand Russell (Nobel Prize for Literature 1950);  Ken Follett (novelist, famous for Pillars of the Earth).

Kris Kristofferson (country singer, songwriter, and film actor. 19 studio albums, Oscar nominated songwriter, Golden Globe winner for best actor); David “Phoenix” Farrell (bassist in Linkin Park);  Sixto Diaz Rodriguez (musician and poet);  John Fahey (blues musician);  Kim Thayill (Soundgarden);  Buffy Sainte-Marie (folk and singer-songwriter and composer);  Steve Reich (Pulitzer Prize winning composer);  Brad Roberts (singer, songwriter of Crash Test Dummies);  Elliott Smith (Grammy nominated singer, songwriter);  Philip Glass (classical and avant garde composer and musician);  Neil Peart (drummer for Rush).

Film and Theater Directors:
Woody Allen (nominated for 23 Academy Awards and the winner of four for Midnight in Paris, Hannah and her Sisters, and Annie Hall, as well as nine British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards)Terrence Malick (nominated for three Academy Awards for The Tree of Life and The Thin Red Line, and the winner the Palme d’Or in Cannes for The Tree of Life);  Ethan Coen (nominated for thirteen Academy Awards and the winner of four, including two for Best Picture for No Country for Old Men and Fargo, also winner three AFI awards and Cannes’ Grand Prize of the Jury in 2013);  Wes Anderson (nominated for three Academy Awards and Cannes’ 2012 Palme d’Or for Moonrise Kingdom);  Michael Haneke (nominated for two Academy Awards for his 2012 Amour, and thirteen awards at Cannes, of which he won two Palme d’Or, and six other distinguished awards);  Mark Boal (journalist, screenwriter, and film producer, notable of The Hurt Locker, which won Academy Awards for screenplay and Best Picture in 2009);  Ricky Garvais (creator of The Office);  Joseph Chaikin (theatre director).

Actors and Entertainers:
Steve Martin (multiple award winning actor, comedian, musician, author, playwright, and producer);  Harrison Ford (multiple award winning actor and producer best known as Hans Solo and Indiana Jones);  Bruce Lee; (martial artist, actor, director, and 20th c. pop culture icon); Dennis Miller (comedian, host, commentator, and actor known for his work with Saturday Night Live);  Susan Sarandon (Academy Award winner for Best Actress for Dead Man Walking)David Duchovny (Golden Globe winning actor and director);  Richard Gere (Golden Globe winner for Best Actor);  George Carlin (comedian and winner of five Grammy Awards);  Jimmy Kimmel (comedian and host of Jimmy Kimmel Live!);  Alex Trebek (host of Jeopardy);  Gene Siskel (film critic);  John Chancellor (news broadcaster);  Stone Phillips (news broadcaster);  Chris Hardwick (MTV host);  Jay Leno (comedian, host of The Tonight Show);  Steve Thomas (host of This Old House).

Robert Motherwell (contemporary American painter and printmaker, part of the New York School along with Pollock and Rothko);  Barnett Newman (contemporary American abstract expressionist and color field painter).

Nobel Peace Prize Winners: 
Jane Addams (first woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931);  Aung San Suu Kyi (1991);  Albert Schweitzer (1948);  John R. Mott (1946);  Elie Wisel (1986);  Georges Pire (1958)

U.S. Supreme Court Justices: 
David Souter (retired Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the U.S. who served from 1990-2009);  Stephen Breyer (current Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the U.S. who has served since 1994).

Domestic and International Political Leaders:
Thomas Jefferson (United States President);  Vaclav Havel (past President of Czechoslovakia); Mohammad Khatmi (past President of Iran); as well as past presidents of Serbia and Costa Rica; Al Gore (Vice President for the United States);  Robert MacNamara (U.S. Secretary of Defense); William Bennett (U.S. Secretary of Education); Raymond Donovan (U.S. Secretary of Labor); as well as a long list of Prime Ministers (Pierre Trudeau, former Canadian Prime Minister),  Senators (Thomas J. Dodd),  House Members (David Skaggs, CO),  Governors (Rudy Giuliani, NY; Jerry Brown, CA), Parliamentarians,  Mayors (Richard Riordan, Los Angeles; Rahm Emanuel, Chicago), cabinet members,  and MPs.

Religious Scholars and Leaders: 
Pope John Paul II (the second longest-serving pope, from 1978-2005, and considered the one of the most influential leaders in the 20th century);  Pope Benedict XVI (pope emeritus who served from 2005-2013Mircea Eliade (historian of religion, fiction writer, philosopher, and professor renown for studying religious experience);  Cardinal Joseph Bernardin (American Cardinal and Archbishop of Chicago from 1982-1996);  Shaykh Hamza Yusef (American Islamic leader and scholar renown for promoting classical learning in Islam and Islamic science);  the 14th Dali Lama (the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader).

Human Rights Leaders and Social Activists: 
Martin Luther King, Jr. (renown civil rights activist);  Angela Davis (American political activist and founder of Critical Resistance, an organization working in prison reform);  Susan Sontag (American writer and political activist working for political peace, AIDS, and human rights);  Alexander Solzhenitsin (Russian activist, writer, and critic known for raising awareness about Soviet gulags);  Aung San Suu Kyi (Burmese politician and longtime political prisoner, Nobel Peace Prize recipient);  Jane Addams (early 20th c. pioneer settlement social worker and leader in women’s suffrage and world peace);  Albert Schweitzer (theologian, philosopher, and medical missionary in Africa and Nobel Peace Prize recipient).

Business Leaders:
George Soros (financier);  Gerald Levin (CEO, Time-Warner, Inc.);  Carl Icahn (CEO, TWA Airlines);  Carly Fiorina (CEO of Hewlett-Packard);  Max Palevsky (business tycoon);  Peter Thiel (venture capitalist and hedge fund manager who cofounded PayPal and served as its CEO)

Sports Players and Owners:
Bruce Lee (greatest martial artist of all time);  Phil Jackson (coach of the Chicago Bulls); Michael McKaskey (owner of the Chicago Bears);  Aaron Taylor (offensive tackle of the Green Bay Packers);  John Elway (quarterback in the National Football League);  Mike Schmidt (former Philadelphia Philly and Baseball Hall of Fame inductee).

For More Information

The American Philosophical Association’s Guide for Undergraduates

 “In a New Generation of College Students, Many Opt for the Life Examined,” from The New York Times.

 “Learn Philosophy: The Classic Discipline can help with Contemporary Dilemmas and Modern Careers,” from U.S. News and World Report.

 “Is Philosophy the Most Practical Major?” from The Atlantic.

 “Think On: Philosophy is a Quintessentially Modern Discipline.”

 “I think, therefore I earn: Philosophy Graduates are Suddenly all the Rage with Employers,” from The Guardian.

 “Philosophers Find the Degree Pays Off in Life and in Work,” from The New York Times.

 “Why Study Philosophy?  A Statement by Jordan Kotick, Head of Technical Strategy at Barclay’s Bank.”

 “Liberal Arts Majors are Very Hirable,” from the WCF Courier.

 “Study of Philosophy Makes Gains Despite Economy,” from The Philadelphia Inquirer.

 “Want Innovative Thinking? Hire from the Humanities,” from the Harvard Business Review Blog.

 “Philosophy Valued at One Community College,” From NPR.

 “Finding Equality Through Logic,” from NPR.

 “11 Reasons to Ignore the Haters and Major in The Humanities,” from Business Insider.

 “9 Famous Execs Who Majored in Philosophy,” from Business Insider.