February 14, 2014, by Stephen Mumford

Philosophy is not only good in theory

I wrote the very first blog in the Study What You Love campaign and emphasised love of the subject as the best reason to choose a degree course. I think philosophy has huge intrinsic value and appeals to our natural sense of wonder. As I mentioned, however, this is perfectly consistent with a philosophical training having practical value too: a practical value understood by most of the best employers.

It seems perfectly understandable that in difficult economic times, prospective students and their parents might think more of the likely pay-off from a degree rather than simply how interesting and enjoyable it is. But there is ample evidence that the skills acquired in philosophy are indeed widely recognised and that they do pay dividends.

In testing, philosophy graduates emerge with a better all-round skill-set than any other type of background. Results from the Educational Testing Service and various graduate admission tests corroborate this. And there is corresponding evidence that this excellent balance of abilities does result in financial rewards (see ‘The Power of Philosophy’). Philosophy feeds the mind but not only the mind. It can put bread on the table.

One source of nervousness might be that there is no clear career path at the outset of the degree, in the way that you get if you study medicine, law or veterinary science. This is true, but it does mean that you keep your options open a bit longer and are left with a degree for which there is a broader range of possibilities. All sorts of careers can be filled by philosophy graduates. The reason is simple. Most employers want graduates who are clear, rational, independent thinkers, problem solvers, and able communicators: all skills that philosophy gives you in abundance.

I would still maintain that you should study what you love and enjoy. That is the best recipe for success. But reassurance that a philosophy degree is a good career choice might also remove any lingering doubt. And that will make it even more enjoyable.

Read more from other students, academics and employers on the Study What You Love pages.

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