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Why Study Philosophy?

Studying philosophy develops skills that are useful in any chosen career.

A survey of employers conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that “the ability to effectively communicate orally and in writing” and “critical thinking and analytical reasoning” are the most important skills employers are looking for in potential employees. Another recent survey conducted by the AACU found that employers take these “capacities that cut across majors [to be] critical to a candidate’s potential for career success.” In fact, 93 percent of employers surveyed said that “a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major.” These general skills are precisely what the standardized exams for admittance to graduate, business, and law school are designed to test for, and the data demonstrate that philosophy majors do extraordinarily well on them.

Preparation for Graduate, Business, and Law School

Graduate Record Exam (GRE)

Philosophy majors outperform all other majors on both the Verbal Reasoning and Analytical Writing sections of the GRE. Here are the average scores for representative majors on the Verbal Reasoning section (click the link above for a comprehensive list):

GRE Verbal Reasoning graph

Here are the average scores for representative majors on the Analytical Writing section of the GRE:

GRE Analytical Writing graph

On the Quantitative Reasoning section of the GRE, philosophy majors outperform all humanities and social science majors except economics:

GRE Quantitative Reasoning graph

Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT)

Philosophy majors outperform business, finance, marketing, information systems, international business, and accounting majors on the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) and outperform every undergraduate major except mathematics and physics. Here are average scores for representative majors on the GMAT (click the link above for a comprehensive list):

GMAT graph

Law School Admissions Test (LSAT)

Of all the pre-law majors, philosophy majors have the highest average score on the LSAT (tied with economics majors). Here are the average LSAT scores for the 12 largest disciplines, with at least 1,900 students entering law school:

LSAT graph

The analytical skills you learn in philosophy courses are useful for legal analysis. As Judge Richard Posner, United States Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, says:

“The methods of analytic philosophy and of legal reasoning—the making of careful distinctions and definitions, the determination of logical consistency through the construction and examination of hypothetical cases, the bringing of buried assumptions to the surface, the breaking up of a problem into manageable components, the meticulous exploration of the implications of an opponent’s arguments—are mainly the same.” (Overcoming Law, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995, p. 9) 


And here’s what the American Bar Association says about the value of taking philosophy courses for admission to law school (you can also view the full publication):

“In assessing a prospective law student’s educational qualifications, admissions committees generally consider the chosen curriculum, the grades earned, and the reputation of the colleges attended. They also view favorably scholastic honors, awards, and special recognition. Solid grades in courses such as logic, philosophy, and abstract mathematics are generally considered a plus.
. . . Contrary to popular belief, law schools do not favor political science, criminal justice, and government majors over others. Choose major and elective courses that you will genuinely enjoy, instead of those you were told were required for prelaw students. You are likely to get better grades in a field you find interesting. And even if you don’t, law schools will respect your pursuit of subjects you find challenging. This is especially true if the courses you take are known to be more difficult, such as philosophy, engineering, and science. Also, look for courses that will strengthen the skills you need in law school. Classes that stress research and writing are excellent preparation for law school, as are courses that teach reasoning and analytical skills.”


(Note that although the data above demonstrate that philosophy majors do extremely well on standardized tests, the data does not show that their training in philosophy is causally responsible for their high test scores. There may be some self selection at work, i.e., students who choose to major in philosophy may tend to have strong critical reasoning skills.)

Give Yourself an Edge in the Job Market

Whatever your chosen career path, majoring or double-majoring in philosophy can give you a competitive edge in the job market. Philosophy majors are well trained in ethics and in critical thinking. Philosophy majors are good communicators and are well trained in the basic skills of reasoning and problem solving. They’re disciplined, determined, ambitious, agile, open minded, and highly intelligent. These are the traits that will take you beyond entry-level positions into mid- and high-level positions.

Indeed, a recent study of 1.2 million people reported in the Wall Street Journal found that the mid-career median salary of philosophy majors is $81,200—the highest among all humanities and social science majors except economics, and seventh overall among majors offered at IUP, behind economics, physics, computer science, mathematics, finance, and MIS. As a recent article in Forbes magazine points out, “if you looked at the pay of people 15 years out, philosophy is in the top 10%.” Whether you’re headed for a career in business, information technology, social services, law, or the health professions, having majored or double-majored in philosophy can help distinguish you from the pack.

We're extremely proud of our alumni, who are professors, talent agents, attorneys, restaurant managers, analysts at the Federal Reserve, B2B account managers, Army officers, medical students, web developers, biotech researchers, employees at homeless shelters, and account executives at consulting firms. Please check out our alumni page, as well as what some of our alumni have said about studying philosophy at IUP.

Philosophy as a Second Major: A New Perspective on Your Primary Major

Coursework in metaphysics (PHIL 420), the philosophy of science (PHIL 330), and the theory of knowledge (PHIL 421) can deepen your understanding of the methods and assumptions of natural science and social science. Coursework in the history of ideas can deepen your understanding of academic pursuits, generally (PHIL 324, 325, 326, and 410). Coursework in ethics (PHIL 122) and political philosophy (Phil 323) will provide you orientation for work in social science, business, criminology, the health professions, or safety science. Philosophers also take a distinctive perspective on aesthetic questions of interest to fine arts majors (PHIL 223) and questions about the mind of interest to psychology majors (PHIL 360).

Articles on the Value of a Philosophy Degree:

Salary by Major” — Wall Street Journal. Of the undergraduate majors offered at IUP, Philosophy majors are seventh overall for mid-career median salary, behind Economics, Physics, Computer Science, Mathematics, Finance, and MIS. 

The Unexpected Way Philosophy Majors Are Changing the World of Business” — Huffington Post. “[M]any leaders of the tech world—from LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman to Flickr founder Stewart Butterfield—say that studying philosophy was the secret to their success as digital entrepreneurs.”

Be Employable, Study Philosophy” — Salon. "The discipline teaches you how to think clearly, a gift than can be applied to just about any line of work."

9 Famous Execs Who Majored in Philosophy” — Business Insider. The list includes: Carly Fiorina, former Hewlett-Packard CEO; Sheila Bair, former FDIC chair; George Soros, chair of Soros Fund Management; Herbert Allison Jr., former Fannie Mae CEO; Gerald Levin, former Time Warner CEO; and Peter Theil, former CEO of PayPal. 

In a New Generation of College Students, Many Opt for the Examined Life” — New York Times. “If you study humanities or political systems or sciences in general, philosophy is really the mother ship from which all of these disciplines grow.”

Where the Smart Kids Are” — New York Times. "Even in the 21st century, smarts matter — to lawyers, to doctors, to problem-solvers in all fields, as well as to a good life. After nearly 20 years in law teaching, I can confirm that no one is smarter than the serious undergraduate philosophy major." 

Top Students Commit to Using Their Knowledge” — USA Today. "I honestly believe philosophy better prepared me for a career in public service than any other major could."

I Think, Therefore I Earn” — The Guardian. “A philosophy degree has trained the individual’s brain and given them the ability to provide management-consulting firms with the sort of skills that they require and clients demand. These skills can include the ability to be very analytical, provide clear and innovative thinking, and question assumptions.”

Philosophers Find the Degree Pays Off in Life and Work” — New York Times

The Management Myth” — The Atlantic. “If you want to succeed in business, don’t get an M.B.A. Study philosophy instead.”

The College Degrees with the Biggest Salaries” — Forbes. "For starting salaries, engineering and things like nursing are pretty strong. ... But the list reorders further into people's careers. ... If you looked at the pay of people 15 years out, philosophy is actually in the top 10%."

50 Ways to Improve your Life.” On the list? Study Philosophy. — U.S. News and World Report  "Those tools [that philosophy teaches] include critical thinking, logic, and analytical writing, which have practical applications in a range of careers—such as law, teaching, medicine, business, and management—and are valuable to have in times of economic (and employment) uncertainty."

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