Why Not Major in Philosophy?

I wanted to share an email that I got recently from Mark Couch, an assistant professor of philosophy and director of the Liberal Studies Program at Seton Hall University. He was reacting to a post that I wrote for my CBS MoneyWatch college blog.

I thought what the philosophy professor had to say was worth sharing because too many parents and students think that the liberal arts, such as philosophy, should be avoided if you want to secure a good-paying job after graduation. I think this aversion to the liberal arts is absolutely misguided.

A Philosophy Major and Careers

Here’s what the Couch had to say:

I read your article on “Kicking Unpopular College Majors to the Curb,” and I was pleased to see that you were moderately supportive of philosophy in particular.

I’m a philosophy professor and there is a lot of misinformation about the discipline.

Famous Philosophy Majors

As a matter of fact, there are many well-known people who studied Philosophy and who are anything but unsuccessful. I include here U.S. Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer and David Souter. Recent U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina, who was former CEO of Hewlett Packard. Former President Bill Clinton (a Rhodes Scholar–which is a degree in philosophy). Amartya Sen, economist and philosopher at Harvard and Nobel Prize winner. Bertrand Russell, Albert Camus, and Jean-Paul Sarte (who all won Nobel Prizes–does this sound like they were slackers?). Not to mention Thomas Jefferson, who was a major in philosophy.

There are many examples of very successful people in addition to these that studied philosophy and did very well in their later pursuits.

It is also worth nothing that philosophy majors outperform almost all other majors on entrance exams to graduate school. This is including law school (ranked #2) graduate school in arts and sciences (ranked top 3) business school (where Philosophy majors score 15% higher than Business majors) and medical school.

I’m told by the Chair of Biology in my university that philosophy majors have the highest acceptance rate of ALL majors. Apparently, they are not so unsuccessful after all, and I would hope that your viewers would be made aware of these common, but false, stereotypes that are still existent in our society. All of this challenges the conventional wisdom that I’m sure many of your readers share.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution, an Amazon bestseller and a workbook, Shrinking the Cost of College: 152 Ways to Cut the Cost of a Bachelor’s Degree. Follow her on Twitter.

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10 Responses to Why Not Major in Philosophy?

  1. kelly February 15, 2011 at 10:04 pm #

    I have a son who is going on to grad school. He is also getting married prior to going to grad school and will be completely emancipated from us (his parents)financially. How can he alter or appeal for Federal Aid when his FAFSA will have our income on it? The aid is based on last year’s income and his will be DRASTICALLY less than ours.

    Help!

  2. Vincent January 28, 2011 at 3:16 am #

    I cannot agree more with the merits of a philosophy degree, but I have to say it is the Rodney Dangerfield of degrees. It gets no respect! I received my BA in Philosophy in 2001 and it has been impossible to find a career. Most of my job prospects did not require a college degree and were limited to sales, customer service and administrative assistant.

    All my co-workers and many of my supervisors did not hold a college degree, and none of my managers appreciated the amount of work I put into my degree. Moreover, these positions offered zero chance of a promotion, because these unskilled entry-level positions do not provide the opportunities to gain experience needed for positions that require a degree.

    It is too easy, and I think unethical, for advocates of a Liberal Arts education or Philosophy professors to only promote the winners, or the select few graduates that have risen to prominent positions in their fields. The winners are outliers and do not portray the reality of the average liberal arts graduate. Equal time should be provided to the liberal arts graduates that are struggling to compete in the workforce.

    I firmly believe in the benefits of a liberal arts education, but I would cautiously recommend it to prospective students. Liberal Art programs need to do more to prepare their graduates for the competitive job market.

  3. Mark Dean January 22, 2011 at 1:29 am #

    Show me the job postings requiring a philosophy major or any other liberal arts major. I have been searching and I haven’t found any. Mark Couch is just trying to protect his cushy job.

  4. Daneille January 19, 2011 at 4:00 pm #

    That’s great and all, but if you don’t plan to pursue an advanced degree, a philosophy degree is still pretty much a degree in being unemployed.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    […] That statistic drives me nuts. Contrary to conventional wisdom, students don’t need to major in business to succeed. Frankly, I believe students often enjoy a better chance at landing good jobs if they major in a liberal art like economics, history, chemistry, a foreign language, English lit or philosophy. If you missed it, I shared some thoughts about philosophy as a major a few days ago: Why Not Major in Philosophy. […]

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