Best Ways to Use a Philosophy Degree: Careers & Salary Potential
| Staff Writers
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Many students who pursue degrees in philosophy do so simply because it interests them, and they may wonder if there are any practical applications outside of academics. Philosophy doesn’t have to be confined to scholarly environments, and philosophy degrees can lead to a wide range of careers, both in and out of academic spheres. Philosophy coursework provides students with opportunities to gain fundamental skills, like critical thinking, logic and writing, that can translate to many fulfilling and lucrative careers. It’s an area of study that can prepare students to become assets in their professional fields, whatever they may be, and can provide an enhanced understanding of other disciplines, too.
Whether students choose to study philosophy exclusively or combine their studies with other academic pursuits, understanding the career and education options available to them and planning accordingly can be beneficial when it comes time to search for jobs. Learning about different types of philosophy degrees and the careers to which they may lead can help students plan early and ease into life after graduation.
Concentrations Available for Philosophy Majors
Philosophy students that study general philosophy can expect to take courses that explore topics in both practical and theoretical philosophy. However, many degree programs offer a selection of concentrations, allowing students to focus their studies on a particular aspect of philosophy. Choosing a concentration can enhance other academic pursuits and for philosophy majors, open doors to a wider range of careers. Learning about different concentrations within philosophy can help students see the many practical applications of a philosophy degree and its potential careers. Concentrations vary by school, but common ones include philosophy of education, science, aesthetics, ethics and cognitive studies.
Education Those who opt for an education concentration can gain unique insights into teaching and learning philosophy. This focused study is intended to help prepare students for careers as effective educators. A philosophy of education concentration may also pull in philosophies from other disciplines as they pertain to education and social sciences.
Science This concentration addresses topics relating to science and may also include philosophy of math, technology and engineering. Students may question the nature of science, the ethics of science and how science works in different contexts while learning about the development of scientific theories and examining the roles of experimentation and observation. This concentration pairs well with science, math and engineering courses.
Aesthetics (Humanities and the Arts) Students interested in the arts and humanities may choose to focus their philosophy studies on aesthetics. Students can consider philosophical issues related to art, history, language, literature and religion. It’s common for students in this concentration to solidify and provide additional background to their inquiry by also taking courses within the arts and humanities.
Ethics (Politics and Morality) The ethics, or politics and morality, concentration is ideal for students who want to pursue careers in political science, but its practical applications extend to many other fields as well. Students can examine the philosophy of law, ethics and morality while gaining insight into the fundamental principles of reality and rationality. These studies allow students to question the philosophies behind economics, political science, logic, psychology and computation theory.
Cognitive Studies The cognitive studies concentration is an interdisciplinary track that focuses primarily on the study of the mind. Students may question and gain insight into the ways people process and develop representation, thought and rationality. Cognitive studies can prepare students for careers in linguistics, computer science, psychology and neuroscience.
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What Can You Do with a Philosophy Degree?
Philosophy degrees sharpen students’ practical, foundational skills and make them adaptable to a diverse range of careers. Inquiry, critical thinking, research and communication are core components of philosophical study that have direct applications in the work world. Because careers for philosophy majors can vary widely, it’s difficult to pinpoint exact paths through income brackets and degree levels. In general, philosophy students will see an increase in income as they earn more advanced degrees, but their chosen field and the experience they have in other disciplines can affect graduates’ career options and potential earnings.
Many great careers are available to those who exclusively hold bachelor’s degrees in philosophy. However, the additional experience that comes with a master’s or doctoral degree can open up more desirable, varied and lucrative positions, especially if students study another subject in addition to philosophy. The following tables illustrate an array of careers for different degree levels and their average salaries.
Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy
Bachelor’s degrees in philosophy challenge students to develop and hone a range of highly practical skills. Regardless of the concentration they choose, if any, philosophy students can expect opportunities to increase their proficiency in critical thinking, problem-solving, speaking, writing, research and organization through research projects, essays, class discussion and analysis of complex texts. These assets along with an inclination toward logic and inquiry can prepare philosophy majors for careers in academics, political science, social science, business and many other fields. Pairing their philosophy studies with coursework in their intended field can help graduates increase job opportunities, too.
High school teachers work with teenage students and teach one or more subjects. They must be able to work with and understand diverse groups of people as well as identify student assumptions and dispel them to aid in learning. Being able to communicate, reason, problem-solve, write, speak and deliver complex information to different audiences are essential skills used daily and practiced in philosophy education.
Paralegals help lawyers conduct research and prepare cases. These professionals must be able to accurately interpret legal texts and research laws and previous cases. Conducting interviews and preparing briefs, pleadings and other documents require strong writing, editing and speaking skills, which are developed in philosophy study.
Human resources managers work to ensure employees and their workplaces are in compliance with the law and workplace policies. These professionals must be diplomatic and able to assess workplace and worker needs and ideals and find a common ground between them. HR managers also research laws, programs, insurance, wages and more, and they offer guidance and suggestions to individuals and the workplace as a whole. Organization, communication and ethics are skills that HR managers practice daily.
Source: BLS, 2017 Median Yearly Salaries
Master’s Degree in Philosophy
Earning a master’s degree in philosophy can be an excellent opportunity for students to deepen their philosophical study and home in on a specific area of philosophy. Those with undergraduate backgrounds in different disciplines may find that a master’s degree in philosophy is a great way to gain practical skills and see their previous discipline through a new lens. A master’s degree in philosophy provides many of the same benefits as a bachelor’s degree, but the opportunity to gain a more focused or nuanced understanding of an area of study can give philosophy majors an edge when job hunting. Students seeking careers in law, higher education, management and research may consider pursuing a master’s degree in philosophy.
Post-secondary professors teach one or more subjects at the college level. Conducting research; preparing lesson plans, activities and assignments; listening to and providing engaging, thoughtful feedback on student comments; and delivering information clearly and effectively are essential professorial skills that are developed and honed through advanced philosophy education.
Logic, reasoning, careful research and persuasive speech and argument are a handful of the skills philosophy majors who pursue careers in law will use regularly. Lawyers must be able to think through problems and solutions; reason with clients, jurors, judges and other parties; and communicate effectively in order to make strong cases. Studies in philosophy of law and morality can be an extra boon for prospective lawyers.
Project managers may work for a wide range of companies and organizations, designating tasks to others and overseeing various projects. Critical thinking and problem-solving are key in successfully carrying out projects, as are strong communication skills and the ability to understand and work with diverse groups of people. Budgeting, managing timelines, foreseeing issues and providing solutions are typical job requirements that can be enhanced by a philosophy degree.
Source: BLS, 2017 Median Yearly Salaries; PayScale 1/2019
PhD in Philosophy
Those who are interested in teaching philosophy or conducting philosophy-driven research may find that a PhD in philosophy is the best route for them. Technically, all PhDs are philosophy degrees, so a PhD in any subject will give students the chance to explore philosophical inquiry, conduct research and sharpen their writing skills. However, a PhD in philosophy is intended to let students dive more deeply into philosophy itself and its specific branches. Often, the most significant part of a PhD in philosophy is writing a doctoral dissertation, which serves as a student’s first contribution to philosophical scholarship. PhD students may also have to help teach philosophy classes as part of their program. While generally directed toward students seeking academic and research-driven careers, a PhD in philosophy may also benefit those in the cognitive sciences.
Research scientists may work in academic or applied scientific setting conducting research on topics related to their expertise. They use the critical thinking, analytical, research, writing and problem-solving skills developed in philosophy study. Specialized philosophical study related to their research field, such as medical science or technology, can help guide research scientists through their exploration.
Psychologists conduct research or work directly with clients to diagnose and improve mental health and related issues. A good understanding of people and thought paths, strong research and interpretation skills, clear verbal communication and the ability to write detailed and accurate reports are necessary for psychologists. Psychologists can apply their philosophy education in a variety of settings, including schools, medical facilities and private practices.
Philosophy graduates can apply their analytical skills and study of human thought and belief systems toward a career in anthropology. Anthropologists study various aspects of human behavior and development through research, fieldwork and developing relationships with the cultures and people they study. Diplomacy and communication skills are essential in anthropology.
Source: BLS, 2017 Median Yearly Salaries; PayScale 1/2019
Unexpected Careers for Philosophy Majors
Philosophy students may initially think that philosophy is a purely academic pursuit, but there exists a huge range of careers across many fields that philosophy majors can pursue. Philosophy degrees of all levels provide students with desirable skills that employers value but also have a hard time finding in their applicants. Because philosophy helps students develop their own thinking and analysis skills, philosophy majors can be extremely adaptable. Many industries and companies know they can teach necessary job skills to an employee, but to be adept at critical and creative thinking, organization, problem-solving, communication, identification and interpretation and looking at issues from multiple angles makes for a highly valuable employee. Graduates seeking nonacademic jobs with a philosophy major can look in just about any field, even those outside the liberal arts, like finance and technology. Below is a small sample of the types of nonacademic careers for philosophy majors.
Management consultants work with companies and organizations to help them make improvements, like increasing profits or enhancing their public image. Philosophy students are well suited to this business career, which often involves heavy research, data interpretation, problem identification and solution and strong verbal and written communication.
Software engineering may not be the first career philosophy students think of pursuing, but philosophy education provides many skills essential to software engineering, like logic and analysis. Those with philosophy backgrounds can also use their deep understanding of thought, history and aesthetics to make software more lifelike and enjoyable to use.
Information technology is another field that benefits greatly from the logic and analysis skills gained through philosophical study. Students who concentrate on philosophy of science and math and take courses in computer science can be particularly valuable IT managers, who may take on many tasks and projects to ensure a company’s computer infrastructure runs smoothly and effectively.
While financial advisors generally need some business and finance training, a philosophy background can be a great benefit to these professionals, who work with individuals and companies to help them meet their financial goals. Logic, organization and the ability to explain difficult concepts and understand people’s thoughts and emotions regarding the future of their finances are excellent philosophy skills that transfer well into financial advisement.
Marketing managers utilize many of the right and left brain skills developed in philosophy courses. These professionals help organizations develop effective marketing and advertising campaigns, so studies in the philosophy of ethics and aesthetics along with organizational and communication skills, a general understanding of human thought and the ability to make informed decisions are helpful.
Source: BLS, 2017 Median Yearly Salaries; PayScale 1/2019
Professional Resources for Philosophy Majors
The American Philosophical Association The American Philosophical Association is a comprehensive resource for philosophers of all disciplines. The organization works to increase understanding of the value of philosophical inquiry and supports the professional development of philosophers. The APA provides a wealth of resources, publications and guides to help philosophy students and professionals succeed and grow.
Phi Beta Kappa Phi Beta Kappa is a prestigious academic honor society for those in the liberal arts and sciences, including philosophy. The society, which champions free expression and inquiry, aims to support high-achieving students, providing them with scholarship, fellowship, networking and travel opportunities. Alumni associations provide benefits even after graduation.
A Philosopher’s Take This blog is a collection of posts from different contributors posing questions and thoughts that come up when addressing issues in philosophy. Topics are wide-ranging but tend to focus on current events and issues. The blog aims to promote intellectual online discussion for those with and without philosophy backgrounds.
International Directory of Philosophy The Philosophy Documentation Center’s International Directory of Philosophy provides over 37,000 listings for philosophy departments, professionals, journals, publishers research centers and societies. Philosophers looking for a contact or a place to find specific information should give this directory a look.
The Versatile PhD Philosophy students who are thinking about or preparing for nonacademic careers can take advantage of The Versatile PhD. While not exclusive to philosophy majors, this online community for PhDs can help students explore career paths, find jobs and connect with other professionals online and in person.
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