Career Paths for Philosophy Majors

Students of philosophy learn to understand and evaluate arguments and to think and to express themselves cogently. These analytical skills are assets in numerous professions.

Many students who completed the UC Davis Undergraduate Program in Philosophy have pursued graduate study in philosophy and have become philosophers in their own right.Others have pursued academic careers in a wide variety of other disciplines.

Career fields

Students who majored in philosophy are well prepared for the job market in a surprisingly broad range of professional disciplines, including:

  • the legal profession
  • business management
  • information technology
  • government service
  • public policy analysis and development
  • teaching at the primary, secondary and university levels
  • medicine
  • social work
  • the ministry

The interest of employers in philosophy majors is not a new or whimsical trend. Forbes Magazine made note of it back in 2008, in an article titled "Selling Your Philosophy Degree." The article reported that "philosophy students fit a profile that employers are seeking more and more," according to Mark Charnock, president and general manager of MonsterTRAK, a division of Monster.com. MonsterTRAK connects college students and recent graduates with well-matched employers. "“First and foremost, they’re looking for 'change agents,'" Charnock told Forbes.

Philosophy is a foundational element of legal practice. The "Socratic method," a standard teaching approach in American legal education, is derived from philosophy, as explained in a Huffington Post article titled "Why philosophy has been central to legal education for more than a century." Former students also find the training in logical reasoning and critical thinking that are core elements of the philosophy curriculum to be indispensable to their successful performance on law school entrance exams and in their practice as attorneys.

Be employable, study philosophy

The discipline of philosophy "teaches you how to think clearly, a gift that can be applied to just about any line of work," according to an article titled "Be employable, study philosophy" by journalist Shannon Rupp of the news magazine The Tyee. "Undergrad philosophy classes taught me something applicable to any and every job: clarity of thought," wrote Rupp. "Name me one aspect of your life that doesn’t benefit from being able to think something through clearly." She added, "I tell people the most useful classes I took were all in philosophy."

The undergraduate study of philosophy prepares students particularly well for law school. The study of logic, one component of the discipline of philosophy, helps develop analytical reasoning skills. Because philosophy is the only undergraduate program that devotes part of its curriculum to the study of logic, students who major in philosophy score higher on the LSAT than do students of any other major. Essays on the Daily Nous site discuss how majoring in philosophy enhances employability, and document the ways in which students who majored in philosophy are influencing important changes in the business world.

For these and numerous other reasons, majoring in philosophy may prove to be the opportunity of a lifetime for you. We encourage you to explore Daily Nous for additional observations about the value of an education in philosophy. Daily Nous is a weblog for and about the philosophy profession. Its editor and contributors have compiled statistical evidence showing that philosophy majors score highest on the verbal reasoning and analytical writing portions of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) among all majors. That's important because students who plan to attend graduate school must attain high scores on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Philosophy majors score higher on the quantitative reasoning portion of the GRE than accounting majors, business majors, and all other majors in the liberal arts.

High-achieving philosophy majors

Many successful, prominent leaders earned their undergraduate degree in philosophy. They include:

  • Stewart Butterfield, cofounder of both Flickr and Slack Technologies, profiled in the August 17, 2015, issue of Forbes magazine
  • Patrick Byrne, chief executive of Overstock.com, completed a double major in philosophy and Asian studies, according to a Forbes Magazine article.

An article in Business Insider focused on nine corporate executives who majored in philosophy, including:

  • Herbert Allison Jr., former Fannie Mae CEO
  • Sheila Bair, former chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)
  • Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard and presidential candidate
  • Carl Icahn, activist, investor and chair of Icahn Enterprises
  • Gerald Levin, former Time Warner CEO
  • George Soros, hedge fund manager and philanthropist
  • Peter Thiel, venture capitalist and founder of PayPal

The American Philosophical Association compiled a list [link to http://www.apaonline.org/?whostudiesphilosophy] of stellar figures in government, academia, business, arts and entertainment, sports and other disciplines who had studied philosophy in college. The list includes:

  • William Bennett, former U.S. secretary of education
  • Stephen Breyer, U.S. Supreme Court justice
  • Pearl Buck, Pulitzer Prize winning writer
  • Stokely Carmichael / Kwame Ture, civil rights leader
  • John Chancellor, broadcast journalist
  • Noam Chomsky, author, activist and professor
  • President Bill Clinton
  • Stephen Colbert, television host
  • Wes Craven, filmmaker
  • Angela Davis, social activist and university faculty member
  • Ken Follett, author
  • Harrison Ford, actor
  • Richard Gere, actor
  • Ricky Gervais, comedian and TV show creator
  • Rudolf Giuliani, former New York City mayor
  • Philip Glass, composer
  • Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons and Futurama
  • Phil Jackson, retired Los Angeles Lakers basketball coach
  • President Thomas Jefferson
  • Rev. John I. Jenkins, president, University of Notre Dame
  • Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights leader
  • Michael McCaskey, president and chairman of the Chicago Bears NFL team
  • Larry Sanger, co-founder of Wikipedia
  • Susan Sarandon, actor
  • Gene Siskel, film critic
  • Susan Sontag, writer
  • David Souter, U.S. Supreme Court Justice
  • George F. Will, political commentator and author