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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 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.

If you are interested in careers in public service, such as government, philosophy helps you breakdown some of the most complex problems in society and the world. Check out this video about how philosophy can prepare you for an active role in government. 

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.

Job Prospects for Philosophy Majors: Perception and Reality


The number of philosophy majors in the U.S. is down 35% since its recent peak in 2007, and today, philosophy majors make up only around 0.137% of the student population.

These figures, based on data from Humanities Indicators, are among those discussed in a recent article in The Atlantic by Benjamin Schmidt, assistant professor of history at Northeastern University. 

Over the past decade there has been a significant decline in the numbers of all humanities majors. Though numbers in philosophy are less volatile than in some of the other humanities disciplines, there is the possibility that the recent steeper decline can be informative for those interested in the long term prospects of philosophy offerings in U.S. colleges and universities.

Professor Schmidt thinks that the culprit is not a general sudden decline in people being interested in the humanities, nor is it politics (“Do you think students are put off by liberal pieties in the classroom? It’s difficult to square that argument with the two decades of stability that followed the beginning of the culture wars in the late 1980s”).

Rather, he says: “In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, students seem to have shifted their view of what they should be studying—in a largely misguided effort to enhance their chances on the job market… Students fled the humanities after the financial crisis because they became more fearful of the job market.”

The students are misinformed, he argues. The “actual career prospects of humanities majors” don’t do the explanatory work:

Evidence does indicate that humanities majors are probably slightly worse off than average—maybe as much as one more point of unemployment and $5,000 to $10,000 a year in income. Finance and computer-science majors make more; biology and business majors make about the same. But most of the differences are slight—well within the margins of error of the surveys. One analysis actually found that humanities majors under the age of 35 are actually less likely to be unemployed than life-science or social-science majors. Other factors, like gender, matter more: Men with terminal humanities B.A.’s make more money than women in any field but engineering. Being the type of person inclined to view a college major in terms of return on investment will probably make a much bigger difference in your earnings than the actual major does.

In other areas of the economy, we view these kinds of differences with equanimity. The difference between humanities majors and science majors, in median income and unemployment, seems to be no more than the difference between residents of Virginia and North Carolina. If someone told to me not to move to Charlotte because no one there can make a living, I would never take them seriously. But worried relatives express the same concerns about classics majors every day, with no sounder evidence.

This suggests that efforts by philosophers, philosophy departments, and organizations such as the American Philosophical Association to provide more information about the employment prospects of philosophy majors could be an effective part of a strategy for increasing the number of students studying philosophy—especially since philosophy majors seem to do pretty well compared to other humanities majors.

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, 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] 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