Should you major in philosophy?
Deciding what you want to study in college can be tough; in this blog series, we examine and evaluate popular college majors. Today, we’re tackling philosophy!
As Stanford puts it, an undergraduate philosophy program “presents students with the perspectives of past thinkers and introduces students to a variety of methods of reasoning and judgment formation.” Does that sound thrilling? Boring? Confusing? Either way, read on to see if philosophy is the right major for you!
“I haven’t had much (or any) exposure to philosophy. Where can I try it out before making a final decision?”
Many high school curriculums are sadly devoid of philosophy, but don’t let that discourage you! At most colleges, students declare their major by the end of sophomore year, which gives you around 2 years to test out different majors (most students do). Even if you’re coming into college tabula rasa — aka with no prior knowledge of philosophy — you’ll have ample time to take philosophy classes and meet philosophy majors and professors.
If you’re hoping to try out the major before stepping foot on campus, check out the following:
Podcasts: Philosophize This!, The Partially Examined Life
Books/Reading: What Does It All Mean? by Thomas Nagel, Animal Liberation by Peter Singer, Plato’s Republic
Show/movies: Westworld, Blaise Pascal, Black Mirror
Free online courses on Coursera, Udemy, etc.
Not all of the recommended content above will perfectly reflect the rigor or content of an undergraduate philosophy education. They are, however, decent gauges of whether you might find the topics and questions of the major interesting. As a general self-reflection, do you spend a lot of time pondering life’s large questions, whether political or existential? Do you enjoy hearing and dissecting others’ arguments? And are you okay with a lot of reading and writing? (You’ll be doing a lot of both as a philosophy major.)
“Sounds interesting… but let’s be real. Can I make money with a philosophy degree?”
Late Jeopardy host Alex Trebek, activist and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, billionaire investor George Soros, former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina… what do they all have in common? You guessed it — they’re all massively accomplished! And they all majored in philosophy in college.
While philosophy degrees are a common punchline of jokes about un(der)employment, there’s no strong data to back up this stereotype. This WSJ chart tracks salary increases by major — while philosophy majors don’t start out making a lot of money, their mid-career median salary is on average 103.5% higher than their peers’. The trajectory for growth is steep for philosophy graduates. (Anyways, salary is one facet of many — personal fulfillment, room for growth, supportive teammates, etc. are other valuable factors of a job.)
“What kinds of classes will I take?”
This varies by school, but you’ll likely get a glimpse of logic, value theory, theoretical theory, and other foundational courses before narrowing in on your specific area of study. Here are some sample classes*. Do they sound interesting to you?
“Philosophy of Race”
“Ancient Greek Philosophers”
“Philosophy and the Constitution”
“What is Meaning?”
*These are real philosophy classes offered at the University of Pennsylvania, but you’ll see similar courses wherever you end up!
“What else will I learn?”
As a philosophy student, you’ll probably dabble in many fields. Philosophy is not a silo: it influences and is influenced by other fields of study, such as:
“What can I do outside of class?”
Joining these philosophy-related clubs will allow you to engage with class content from different lenses. You’l