While the debate continues over just how practical a humanities degree is, jobs for philosophy majors are rising in the United States. With a philosophy degree, you can pursue a variety of careers in politics, education, marketing, and more. According to Educational Testing Services, philosophy majors were the top scorers on the verbal and analytical writing sections of the GRE test in 2012, demonstrating the practical value of a degree that helps students develop their critical thinking skills.
These skills are applicable in a variety of professional settings. Today, employees with philosophy degrees commonly find jobs as paralegals, IT managers, and marketers, just to name a few common positions. Additionally, philosophy professionals have the potential to earn higher-than-average income throughout all stages of their career, compared to other professions with little growth over time. Philosophy graduates in the U.S. earning an average annual starting salary of $32,000 stand to make more than $58,000 by mid-career and upwards of $140,000 with 20 or more years of experience.
What is a Philosophy Degree?
The skills students learn in a philosophy program are quite practical and transferrable to a range of industries. Critical reasoning and communication skills, at the heart of core philosophy curriculum, can prepare students for journalism and law careers, for example, while the extensive research and problem-solving skills students learn may lead to a career in science or politics.
The B.A. in Philosophy
The bachelor of arts in philosophy comprises a broad core curriculum in ethics, metaphysics, science, and logic. Philosophy attracts students interested in exploring existentialism, logic, and critical discourse. Philosophy majors with a BA degree are prepared for careers in public service, education, law, medicine, journalism, and business.
While some philosophy majors do not pursue a concentration, others may choose to specialize in philosophical aspects of history, social science, or the law. Selecting a particular specialty in philosophy can also prepare students for a career in their field of choice. Generally, a core BA philosophy curriculum is designed to promote widely adaptive skills that can be practically applied in both traditional and unconventional careers.
With core skills spanning a variety of “big-picture” concepts, specific philosophy specializations can help students focus their career ambitions. Students interested in exploring a law career, for example, may pursue a concentration in ethics or political philosophy, while aspiring journalists or writers may declare a minor in language and linguistics. Though program requirements vary, the following are just some of the most common specializations in the field.
The ethics concentration teaches students to find sensible solutions to moral problems in business and commerce. Students in this specialty explore ethical theory, political philosophy, and global economics to learn to be ethically responsible in business and in life. .
This concentration explores the nature of language and fundamental linguistic concepts. Students in this specialty learn how logic and reasoning have impacted the history of language and linguistics.
Students concentrating in logic learn how to apply logic to any situation through computation courses in mathematics, as well as analytics, ethics, and more. Graduates should leave school with excellent analytical reading and writing skill.
- Political Philosophy
Political philosophy students may be especially interested in how philosophy intersects with political and social theory. This concentration covers both classical Greek and modern philosophy concepts, along with ethics and justice in modern society. Students develop advanced skills best-suited to careers in philanthropy, law, government, or diplomacy.
- Philosophy of Science
“Risk” is defined as any variable that influences potential losses or gains. Examples of risk include market uncertainties, legal issues, workplace accidents, and unforeseen problems (such as natural disasters). The risk management specialization primarily looks at the corporate finance and insurance sectors. The curriculum includes strategies for not only mitigating risks with negative consequences (threats), but also capitalizing on risks with potentially positive outcomes (opportunities).
- Philosophy of Religion
This concentration explores the formation and evolution of human spiritual practice and religious beliefs throughout history. Coursework covers religious texts and historical events from around the world.
Job Skills Developed within a Philosophy Degree
While philosophy is a common major, those unfamiliar with the subject might have trouble seeing its utility in real life. In fact, the core curriculum of a philosophy degree helps students develop a well-rounded skill set applicable to a variety of fields. Read on to learn a little more about the “soft skills” you’ll develop in a philosophy program.
- Accuracy and Attention to Detail
Accuracy and attention to detail are important qualities for any employee, but especially for those in research-heavy occupations. Students in philosophy programs must pay close attention to all of the details in their assignments: they may have to evaluate an argument for consistency or prove a logical fallacy, for example, and both of those scenarios require students to evaluate a number of details and factors simultaneously. Successful philosophy students absorb the importance of paying attention to details.
- Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
Critical-thinking and problem-solving skills are a key element of any philosophy degree program. Coursework teaches students to synthesize ideas, weigh alternatives, and identify solutions as part of an efficient problem-solving process.
- Effective Communication
Effective written and oral communication skills can provide an advantage to candidates in any occupation. Employers prefer to hire candidates with a feel for tone and tact, whether they are writing an email, answering the phone, or participating in a meeting. Communication coursework in a philosophy degree teaches students to debate a topic, present and defend a point, and summarize debate results.
A strong ethical code and a healthy dose of empathy are valuable in a variety of careers, including law, journalism, science, medicine, and religion. Students in a philosophy program studying ethics and empathy will gain a greater appreciation for the value of human life, learn to cultivate empathy, and explore ways of behaving ethically in any work situation. Developing these skills can also help you build character and increase your self-awareness.
- Logic and Analytic Reasoning
Logic and analytical reasoning comprise an integral part of a philosophy degree’s curriculum. Coursework in these concepts enables students to approach any situation objectively and use analytic reasoning skills to see multiple sides of an issue. Strengthening these skills helps students make informed decisions, using logic to construct and analyze arguments. Philosophy students also learn to apply compare and contrast methods and think objectively, preparing them for jobs in which they must use advanced communication and problem-solving skills.
While in the Army, Jason Baar completed a BS in Liberal Arts with an emphasis in Philosophy from Excelsior College in Albany, NY. He went on to also complete an MBA in International Management from Thunderbird School of Business in Glendale, AZ. In addition, Barr holds a professional certification in production and inventory management (CPIM) from APICS. He has held jobs in the aforementioned US Army, as well as in the industrial radio hardware and semiconductor manufacturing industries. Barr is currently a planning program manager for a semiconductor manufacturer, dealing specifically with new product introduction. He has also been adjunct faculty for undergraduate and graduate-level courses in supply chain, operations management, and general business disciplines.
"Much of philosophy, at least in my experience, arises from introspection."
What do you find most fulfilling about your career?
The thing I enjoy most about supply chain and operations management is the ability to impact the business in multiple areas. I’ve had the opportunity to work in planning, inventory, finance, and contract management, as well as managing programs and projects with cross-functional teams. There’s never a dull moment and I’m always learning something new, which really excites me personally.
What types of people excel with a philosophy degree?
You have to be curious. Not only about the world around you, but also about your own self. Much of philosophy, at least in my experience, arises from introspection. You need to enjoy writing and reading and thinking, as you’ll do a lot of all three. You should also enjoy sharing your thoughts with others and be willing to discuss and refine your thoughts based on additional input and points of view.
What was the job search process like after earning your degree?
My job search process was always guided by “does this sound interesting?” If I stay in a position for too long, I find myself stagnating. Lifelong learning really is something that I’m dedicated to, and if I’m unable to find new challenges where I am, I want to move on. My undergrad degree is often something that comes up in interviews, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the MBA goes a long way to getting my foot in the door. A liberal arts degree demonstrates you’re a well-rounded individual who is capable of learning new things, not merely being a narrowly focused contributor.
What challenges do you face at work on any given day?
My day is filled with managing processes and ensuring that the projects that I manage are on track. There is plenty of cross functional discussion on deliverables, running status meetings, presenting findings to senior leaders and recommending solutions to challenges. I’ve found I need to be confident in presenting my opinions and strong in my convictions. In my particular position there is also a lot of transition between 30,000 ft strategic thinking and down-in-the-weeds tactical alignment. These switches can occur multiple times a day and are probably the most difficult thing I face.
What additional advice would you give to a philosophy student looking to start their career?
If you actually persevered to the end of a philosophy degree, you’re obviously a well rounded individual who isn’t afraid of a challenge. Make sure that comes through in your discussions with potential employers. Because you do have the ability to understand problems at a fundamental level, employers will be able to use you in a multitude of positions. You’ll be able to assimilate information learned in one position to lead projects in another. Best of luck!
What are the Best Careers for Philosophy Majors?
Some degrees prepare students to work in a certain industry, or for a range of jobs in a particular industrial sector. A philosophy degree, like many liberal arts and humanities programs, instead helps you build a skill set applicable to a range of careers. Unless you’re planning on earning a PhD and teaching philosophy yourself some day, you’ll probably wind up having a career outside of philosophy itself. While that may initially sound intimidating, many graduates find that they’re able to pursue a broader range of jobs than they otherwise might be, and they feel liberated to pursue positions in a variety of fields.
Common Career Paths
Though applicable in any professional field, philosophy skills are especially transferrable to industries that require the kind of soft skills students develop in schools. To this end, “obvious” career paths for a philosophy major might include journalism, politics and public policy. With additional education and experience, philosophy majors may also pursue careers in law, while others may remain in academia and education. The following are just a few of the common occupations for philosophy graduates.
- Journalism and Writing
Journalism and writing are a natural fit for philosophy majors. Both professions lean heavily on the advanced communication and language skills one develops while studying philosophy. While journalists and writers typically have expertise in both written and verbal communication techniques, they may also rely on the critical-thinking, analytical reasoning, and research skills they learn while studying philosophy. Ideal candidates for journalism and writing positions are excellent communicators with above-average research and critical-thinking skills. Job options include:
- Technical writer
- Non-fiction writer
- Broadcast news analyst
With additional education and experience in legal studies, philosophy majors may be eligible to become paralegals, legal assistants, or lawyers. Law professionals rely heavily on the advanced research skills and debate techniques that can be learned in philosophy. Philosophy majors interested in law should concentrate on building strong communication, organization, problem-solving, and critical-thinking skills. Ideal candidates for law careers are able to gather research and construct powerful arguments using persuasive language and expressive communication techniques. Philosophy majors with a concentration in politics or public policy may be prepared to go on to pursue a law degree. Lawyers are required to have a formal law degree and extensive professional experience, in addition to a passing score on the national bar exam in order to receive the licensure necessary to legally practice in their state. With supplemental education and experience, career options for philosophy majors may include:
- Paralegal/legal assistant
- Government aide/attorney
While this may seem like a stretch, math and philosophy share much in common. In fact, many schools offer dual degrees in these subjects. Both math and philosophy incorporate the use of logic and reasoning to explain ideas and validate formulas and theories. The concept of abstract or “pure” math explores the origins of advanced logic and problem-solving and their applications in the modern world. Ideal candidates for philosophy careers in mathematics are organized and solution-oriented, interested in conducting research, and capable of engaging in critical discourse. Students in this specialty may also seek additional experience and training in computer programming and information technology to learn about math and statistics software and programs. Job options include:
- Politics and Public Policy
Philosophy majors interested in politics or public policy may pursue interdisciplinary study in politics, social work, and business. In addition to advanced critical-thinking, analytical research, and communication skills, politics and public policy jobs require detailed knowledge of political theory, international relations, and policy formation and statistics. Depending on the student’s individual career aspirations, they may seek additional education political science, sociology, economics, or a related field. Ideal candidates for positions in politics and public policy have exceptional management and leadership abilities, and strong objective decision-making skills. Philosophy majors in this concentration may be eligible for careers in politics, public administration, or social advocacy. Job options include:
- Political scientist
- Urban and regional planner
Some philosophy majors pursue an advanced degree in this subject in order to teach high school or college students. Philosophy students with an undergraduate degree may be eligible to teach high school students, provided they also have the certification or licensure required to do so in their state. Students aspiring to become postsecondary teachers are typically required to hold a PhD in philosophy. Some community colleges and technical schools will accept a master’s degree for teaching candidates. The best careers for philosophy teachers are available to those with exceptional communication, critical-thinking, and interpersonal abilities. Aspiring teachers are typically required to gain extensive classroom experience and training in addition to completing an advanced degree. Job options include:
- Postsecondary teacher
- High school teacher
- Associate professor
Outside-the-Box Career Paths
With limitless opportunities to pursue unexpected fields from marketing to medicine, philosophy students with creative initiative can find the right niche market to highlight their unique skills. Some of the best careers for philosophy majors are those that allow them to forge their own path, whether pursuing a career in a unconventional field or becoming a self-made entrepreneur. Below are just a few examples of “outside the box” career that philosophy graduates can pursue.
- Marketing and Business
Journalism and writing are a natural fit for philosophy majors. Both professions lean heavily on the advanced communication and language skills one develops while studying philosophy. While journalists and writers typically have expertise in both written and verbal communication techniques, they may also rely on the critical-thinking, analytical reasoning, and research skills they learn while studying philosophy. Ideal candidates for journalism and writing positions are excellent communicators with above-average research and critical-thinking skills.
Job options include:
- Technical writer
- Non-fiction writer
- Broadcast news analyst
- Counseling/ Psychotherapy
In addition to having strong listening, speaking, and research skills, counselors are required to practice discretion and be compassionate when processing sensitive information. Regardless of their specialty, professionals are typically required to have at least a master’s degree in psychology and state licensure. With additional education and experience, job options may include:
- Mental health counselor
- Marriage and family therapist
- Social psychologist
Philosophy coursework explores the relationship between scientific theory and philosophical concepts, providing the skills required for a successful career in research and analytics. Ideal candidates for science jobs with a background in philosophy may specialize in biology, physics, sociology, or cognitive science. Aspiring scientists with philosophy training may choose to work in either a theoretical or practical capacity, from performing scientific research to working in a scientific laboratory. Potential job options include:
- Cognitive scientist
Technology-inclined students in philosophy programs build advanced analytical and creative skills. Philosophy professionals working in a technical field may also be able to use logic and cognitive science to solve technical problems. Philosophy majors in technology may pursue certification and/or licensure in a particular area of specialty, such as healthcare information management systems or finance analyst software, to have an advantage over competitors in their field. A broad array of jobs are available in technology, from entry-level to senior positions. Career options include:
- Computer systems analysts
- Tech instructional specialist
- Software quality assurance analyst
- The American Philosophical Association: Among the largest and most well-known membership organizations for philosophy professionals and academics, the APA promotes awareness of the importance of a philosophy education, offering continuing education and advancement opportunities for practitioners.
- Talking Philosophy: The official blog component of The Philosophers’ Magazine, Talking Philosophy provides an online forum for philosophers to discuss everything from student loans to politics to current events.
- American Council of Learned Societies: The ACLS is the governing body of the American Philosophical Association, as well as a host to other organizations created to promote advancement of the humanities, including art, history and literature, in society and academia.
- Philosophy of Science Association: Overseeing a collection of organizations specializing in the philosophy of science, the PSA promotes dozens of specialty groups worldwide supporting education, employment and professional resources specifically for science-based philosophers.
- American Association of Philosophy Teachers: The AAPT supports philosophy teachers and educators by offering a biennial workshop and conference, awarding the Lenssen Prize, and publishing Teaching Philosophy magazine.
- Journal for the American Philosophical Association: Through a partnership with Cambridge University Press, the APA offers both a print and electronic version of this industry publication which includes contributions from both early-career and established philosophy scholars.
- PhilJobs: Jobs for Philosophers: This site for philosophers allows job-seekers to search by location, contract type and area of specialty/concentration to find the right match for their professional skills, level of education and experience.
- American Philosophical Practitioners Association: The American arm of this global organization of philosophy practitioners is governed by an assembly of directors, all with terminal degrees in the field, as well as several international and national Boards. The association distributes scholarly books, journals and other membership publications, as well as promotes education and awareness programs to support philosophy and philanthropy worldwide.
- Ancient Philosophy Society: The Ancient Philosophy Society focuses on promoting classical Greek philosophy programs and keeping the tradition of ancient philosophical concepts alive through national conferences and events, specialty scholarly publications and placement opportunities for aspiring professionals.
- American Society for Bioethics and Humanities: The ASBH is the premier national membership organization for philosophy professionals and scholars specializing in science and the humanities. The society offers job opportunities, access to informative journals and career resources to facilitate continuing professional development.