Students in philosophy think about important issues that underlie everything else — ethics, the foundations of science and religion, to name a few. But our majors soon realize that their studies help develop skills in critical analysis and problem-solving, as well as their ability to communicate ideas clearly and logically. These skills and abilities are valuable and applicable in virtually any career.
The American Philosophical Association compiled a list of stellar figures in government, academia, business, arts and entertainment, sports and other disciplines who had studied philosophy in college. The list includes U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, President Bill Clinton, Stephen Colbert, Harrison Ford, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger.
Graduates agree about value of philosophy major
Our own graduates and current students can testify to the value of their major, as well as how UC Davis philosophy professors have helped them prepare for a career:
“Studying philosophy refined my ability to ask the right questions and approach problems in novel ways. The analytical skills that I developed served me well in my other studies and in my job search.” (Katherine Anderson, ’13, now a public relations and communications professional with Strategic Education Services in Sacramento.)
“My professors not only knew me by name, but they became my mentors and my friends. I owe a lot of my success to the intimate class settings, the phenomenal professors who made time for me and the professors’ continued commitment to their students. . . The philosophy degree I obtained has fully-prepared and given me the necessary skills to be a strong and competitive applicant for law school starting this fall.” (Mirna Champ, ’16)
“Philosophy sharpens your argumentation. This is helpful not only for succeeding at almost any job you might take, but also for succeeding in getting your family or friends to go along with your pick for movie night. Philosophy is one of the best choices for guaranteeing your college experience comes with nights of ‘deep conversations.’” (Jasmine Gunkel, a graduating senior)
What is the nature of truth, the good life, reality?
Philosophy studies recurring questions about the nature of value, the good life, right conduct, knowledge, truth, language, mind and reality. It also investigates the methodologies and assumptions of the major disciplines in the university to deepen our understanding of the sciences, mathematics, art, literature, history, and of religion and morality. It leads us to contemplate the nature of these subjects and the contributions they make to our understanding of ourselves and our world.
Students develop intellectually and refine their thought processes through the study of philosophy. This ability can apply to a remarkably broad range of career options including business and law.
Corporate executives who majored in philosophy
A 2014 article in Business Insider focused on nine corporate executives who majored in philosophy, including Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard and 2016 presidential candidate, and Peter Thiel, venture capitalist and founder of PayPal.
The interest of employers in philosophy majors is not a new or whimsical trend. Forbes Magazine made note of it back in 2008, in an article titled “Selling Your Philosophy Degree.” The article reported that “philosophy students fit a profile that employers are seeking more and more,” according to Mark Charnock, president and general manager of MonsterTRAK, a division of Monster.com. MonsterTRAK connects college students and recent graduates with well-matched employers. “First and foremost, they’re looking for ‘change agents,’” Charnock told Forbes.
Philosophy is also a foundational element of legal practice. The “Socratic method,” a standard teaching approach in American legal education, is derived from philosophy, as explained in a Huffington Post article titled “Why philosophy has been central to legal education for more than a century.”
Philosophy majors among the highest for LSAT scores
Former students find the training in logical reasoning and critical thinking that are core elements of the philosophy curriculum to be indispensable to their successful performance on the LSAT, the law school entrance exam, and in their practice as attorneys. The average score of philosophy majors who take the LSAT is among the highest average scores of any major. And one study reports that students who major in philosophy are admitted to law school at a higher percentage than any other major.
For these and numerous other reasons, majoring in philosophy may prove to be the opportunity of a lifetime for you. We encourage you to explore Daily Nous, a blog about the philosophy profession, for additional observations about the value of an education in philosophy.
David Copp has been a philosophy professor for many years, teaching and mentoring hundreds of students at UC Davis and four other universities. He himself was a philosophy major. He received help on this post from many colleagues.