Philosophy students' employability

Some advice for philosophy students suddenly wondering how a degree in philosophy, of all things, might help them get a job ...

Be optimistic and confident! Philosophy graduates are eminently employable. Some find this surprising. They think few employers -- except universities -- seek detailed knowledge of philosophy. They're right. But all employers seek skills that philosophy distinctively hones, e.g. the abilities to articulate complex views precisely and clearly, to see the nub of a problem, to draw distinctions, to think carefully and rigorously, to weigh evidence, to make sound and persuasive arguments, to see strengths and weaknesses in opposing positions.

A 2007-08 report on the major aptitude test for American graduate schools (the GRE) is illuminating. It grouped examinees according to the subjects they intended to study (which correlates closely with their undergraduate subjects). In the test's verbal and analytical sections, the philosophy average was highest of all subjects. In its mathematical section, the philosophy average bettered all other humanities subjects. In aptitude tests for American law and business schools (the LSAT and GMAT), average scores for philosophy undergraduates also tend to be in the top four, higher than other humanities subjects and -- even in the GMAT -- higher than business studies.

Partly because of data like these, students and employers increasingly realise that philosophy is good for the brain. So, while you might well experience set-backs and rejections, especially in these hard economic times, don't be embarrassed by, or apologise for, your degree. Be aware that it makes you a valuable commodity, and be prepared to explain that. Let me emphasise that: you really do need to be prepared to make the case, explaining (modestly) why you should be hired and how your degree equips you to do a lot more than think about Hume, as interesting and valuable a thing as that is.