What can I do with a degree in philosophy?
Most students who pursue a bachelor’s degree in philosophy would be expected to have one of the following options as their goal: 1) direct employment after completing the degree, 2) applying to graduate school in business, law, medicine or another professional field, 3) applying to graduate school in philosophy in order to become a professional philosopher.
Bachelor’s Degrees and Field of Employment
How central is the specific training in an undergraduate major related to the field of employment for those who earn a bachelor’s degree? Should earning bachelor’s degree be seen as training for a specific job, or as the acquisition of general skills that could be useful in any type of job? Abel and Deitz of the New Your Federal Reserve analyzed data from the US Census Bureau’s 2010 American Community Survey and found that only about 27% (roughly 1 out of 4) of workers whose highest education was a bachelor’s degree were working in fields that corresponded strongly with their college major. This data suggests that the general skills such as thinking, analysis, learning, and communication will be more important than specific degree-related information for most students earning only a bachelor’s degree.
Seeking Employment with a Bachelor's Degree in Philosophy
Some students worry that philosophy will be too abstract to prepare students for gainful employment, but several published studies find this is generally untrue. Research from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce entitled College Majors, Unemployment and Earnings (2013) using US Census Bureau data found that the unemployment rate among philosophy and religious studies majors to be about the same as the average unemployment rate for workers with a Bachelor's degree.
Lifetime Earnings for Workers with a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy
Very few people decide to study philosophy with the primary goal of getting rich. But the lifetime earnings potential of philosophy majors is competitive. A PayScale survey for 2012-2014 gathered data on majors and employment characteristic from 1.4 million workers whose highest level of education was a Bachelor's degree. In this survey philosophy majors were in the top half of wage earners both directly after graduating from college and in the middle of their careers. The average entry level salary for recent college graduates in philosophy was $38,000 per year. The average mid-career salary for philosophy majors was $72,600 per year. For comparison, some of the other majors with mid-career salaries most similar to philosophy majors included Nursing ($70,000), Marketing and Communications ($73,900), Biology ($72,600), Business ($70,000), and Political Science ($74,700). Similar trends are found each year in the PayScale study (sample size 1.4 million).
Why are philosophy majors competitive in the job market?
One clue to answering this question comes from the National Survey of Employers, commissioned by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and conducted by Hart Research Associates. The survey goes out to business leaders across the country and asks them to rate the most important skills they are looking for their perspective employees to gain from a college education. The survey consistently finds critical thinking and reasoning skills near the top of the list. In the chart below, notice the top 4 skills employers are looking to be increased in an employee’s education. All of them are major emphases in a philosophy education. The chart below is from the April 2013 survey publication by AACU.