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Philosophy Major Overview

The famous philosopher Socrates once said that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” If you’re looking to follow in Socrates’ footsteps and contemplate life’s most head-scratching questions, then a philosophy major might be the way to go. Students in this field grapple with age-old topics such as free will, morality, and consciousness. You’ll become skilled at analyzing and presenting arguments, solving problems, and critically thinking and writing. And who knows? You may even discover the meaning of life along the way! 

Also read: How to pick a major

What is a philosophy major?

Philosophy is a field of study that examines fundamental topics such as knowledge, ethics, and reality itself. Students become familiar with the ideas and theories of notable philosophers both ancient and modern. Most programs introduce students to the work of philosophers like René Descartes, Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, John Locke, Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and more. 

Throughout their studies, students often form their own philosophic ideas and beliefs. They learn to tackle broad and abstract questions using logic and ethics. For instance, students may contemplate the best ways to live, the relationship between the mind and body, or the existence of God. Philosophy majors spend much of their time reading, writing, and discussing their ideas in group settings.

Read more: Top 15 college majors for the future

Coursework to expect

Students can expect to receive a broad overview of philosophy’s history and fundamental ideas, while also getting the chance to explore specific areas of the field that interest them. For instance, some classes are dedicated to the work of individual philosophers such as Immanuel Kant or Friedrich Nietzsche. Other classes focus on particular topics within philosophy such as metaphysics, ethics, or relativism. Although they must complete general education and major requirements, philosophy students have a lot of freedom to shape their own education. 

Here are some potential courses you may encounter as a philosophy major: 

  • Ancient and Medieval Philosophy 
  • Modern Philosophy 
  • American Philosophy 
  • Systematic Ethics 
  • How Should We Live? 
  • Existential Metaphysics 
  • Philosophy of Religion 
  • Philosophy of Law
  • Health and Human Rights
  • Theory of Knowledge

Opportunities after graduation 

Unlike some fields of study that are more career-oriented, there’s no clear-cut path for philosophy majors after graduation. Some graduates immediately enter the workforce, while others pursue advanced degrees in fields such as law or social work. Others may obtain their master’s degree in philosophy and become college professors. The bottom line is that there’s many post-graduate paths you can take as a philosophy major. Some paths require advanced degrees, which we’ll discuss later on. In the next section, we’ll highlight some specific jobs you can pursue. 

Jobs you can get with a philosophy degree

If you’re looking for a job as an actual “philosopher”, you probably won’t have much luck. However, the skills you gain as a philosophy major translate well to a variety of fields. Below are a few examples of professions you can pursue with a philosophy degree, along with median annual salaries according to the 2020 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

1. Lawyer

Lawyers advise and represent clients on legal issues and disputes. This field is well-suited for philosophy majors because of their ability to analyze and present arguments, think critically, and write clearly. To become a lawyer, you must attend law school and earn a Juris Doctorate degree.  

2020 Median Pay: $126,930 per year
Projected Growth (2020-2030): 9% (As fast as average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

2. Journalist

Journalists research and produce news stories for television, newspapers, radio, and websites. They keep the public informed on important local, national, and international news. Students majoring in philosophy gain writing, communication, and investigation skills that translate well to the field of journalism. 

2020 Median Pay: $49,300 per year
Projected Growth (2020-2030): 6% (As fast as average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

3. Philosophy professor

These folks are philosophers in the truest sense of the word. They pass along their knowledge of the subject to students, while furthering their own philosophical explorations by conducting academic research. A master’s degree is required to teach philosophy at the college level. 

2020 Median Pay: $80,560 per year
Projected Growth (2020-2030): 12% (Faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

4. Social and community service managers

This line of work involves coordinating programs that support public well-being. Social and community service managers often work for non-profit foundations that provide services to children, senior citizens, veterans, or individuals dealing with homelessness, mental health issues, or chronic hunger. This field is ideal for philosophy majors looking to apply their knowledge of ethics to real-world issues. 

2020 Median Pay: $69,600 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 15% (Faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

5. Public relations specialist 

PR coordinators create and maintain a positive public image for companies, brands, or individual clients. They write press releases, manage social media posts, and handle face-to-face engagement at special events with journalists and media professionals. Philosophy majors gain communication skills that are crucial to this line of work. 

2020 Median Pay: $62,810 per year
Projected Growth (2020-2030): 11% (Faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 

Also see: What are the fastest growing careers?

Advanced degrees you can pursue 

It’s common for students to use their bachelor’s degree in philosophy as a stepping stone towards a master’s degree. Because philosophy doesn’t really have a direct application in the job market, graduates often enjoy better career prospects when they double up on degrees. One option is to obtain a master’s degree in philosophy and pursue a career as a college philosophy professor. Alternatively, you could get an advanced degree in one of the following fields if you’re interested in a different type of career. 

  • Juris Doctor (Law)
  • Business Administration 
  • Education 
  • Law
  • Journalism

Related: Top 20 highest paying careers

How do I know if this major is right for me? 

If you’re considering a major in philosophy, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Are you a naturally curious person? 
  • Do you ever try to find answers to unanswerable questions? 
  • Do you enjoy gaining knowledge and discussing your ideas with others? 
  • Are you interested in examining issues and finding solutions to problems? 

If you answered yes to most of these questions, then a philosophy major could be right for you!

For information on more college majors: Scholarships360 major guides