Can I Study Philosophy and Still Get a Job?
We recently did a survey of UM-Flint Philosophy graduates, and discovered that they had landed in a variety of interesting occupations. For example:

  • Law
  • Medicine
  • Business
  • Hollywood Screenwriting
  • Academia

Interestingly, all of these students felt that Philosophy had helped prepare them for their (non-philosophical) careers. This is perhaps confirmed by a roundtable discussion by various employers in Genesee County that aired on a local radio station. When asked what criteria they sought in prospective employees, they specifically mentioned the following:

  • Ability to write clearly
  • Good oral expression
  • Ability to analyze a problem from a variety of perspectives
  • Ability to think logically

These are the very skills that Philosophy teaches. 

In a similar vein, the “Education Life” section of the New York Times (Sunday, August 5, 2002) states that “In 1999, a report by the Business-Higher Education Forum condemned graduates for lack of skills in problem solving, time management, analytical thinking and basic writing and speaking, calling for restructuring curriculum and teaching.” [page 27] 

Does this sound familiar? It's what we stress in all of our Philosophy courses. No wonder, perhaps, that Philosophy majors nationwide are among the top scorers on the Law School Admissions Test. In fact, two of our own recent graduates have been accepted by the prestigious UM-Ann Arbor Law School. Here’s what Jon Kelley, J.D. said after his first year there: 

As for philosophy - I can't imagine a major that would have left me better prepared. Philosophy is critical reading, analysis of logical structure, and plenty of persuasive oral and written communication. Such is law school. The method of teaching used by law professors is Socratic, after all. Philosophy should be required reading in every pre-law program. 

And here’s some news that may surprise would-be physicians. The New York Times section referenced earlier also reports that: 

Many pre-meds declare a major in biology or chemistry because they think that medical schools prefer applicants in those disciplines. They are wrong. Data collected by the association of medical colleges demonstrates that there is no meaningful correlation between a major and the likelihood of admission. Of the applicants to medical school in 2000, a letter of acceptance went to 44.9 percent of applicants majoring in the biological sciences, 50.9 percent in the physical sciences and 50.5 in nonscience subjects. “In my years of medical school admissions work,’ says David Owen, health professions adviser at the University of Chicago, ‘never once have I witnessed an applicant’s major to be influential in a decision for admission.” Pre-med science courses are all the preparation that is needed for the science portions of the MCAT’s – science majors do not post higher scores than Shakespeare specialists. 

Medical schools encourage undergraduate students to major in subjects they like most and are best at. Interest in what is being learned enhances performance. Medical schools, Mr. Owen adds, favor applicants who can analyze moral, ethical and cultural issues with the same facility they bring to scientific problems. [page 13] 

Another direction is described in comments from Jason Baumbach, a Philosophy major who graduated from UM-Flint. He writes:

  • I am a computer programmer.
  • I work at the New Jersey City branch of CheckFree Corporation.
  • I landed this job after only 2 interviews with CheckFree personnel.
  • I was being interviewed by 3 other potential employers at the same time.
  • I felt that all my interviews were going well and credit U of M for part of that.

I included the last three items because I feel that my background in philosophy helped me hone the skills easily projected in a face to face interview. That is, I was used to talking to others in defense of my ideas. And in an interview one must defend one's background, ability, and skills by way of examples and outward body language. I feel that philosophy helped me acquire the ability to explain my ideas with confidence, which translates into confident body lingo, i.e., no fidgeting. 

I also feel that I am deeply indebted to the Flint branch of the U of M for giving me the opportunity to say that I graduated from the well respected University of Michigan. 

Our most recent testimonial comes from Eliot Rendelman, who submitted the following material on January 26, 2007: 

As I got ready to start the next draft of my Ph.D. prospectus, which I should complete in about a month, I ... thought I would write ... to thank you for giving me the “tools” to continue my success. Currently, I am a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Nevada, Reno, where I also earned my M.A. in writing in 2000....I am also the co-coordinator of the Tutoring and Learning Center at Truckee Meadows Community College, and just received a pay grade increase. What made me think of that was the UM Flint Philosophy Web site question: “Can I study philosophy and still get a job?” Yes, and not only in the academy. I was also a tech. writer for online applications and robotics companies. The question-asking and organizational skills I gained from the [UM-Flint] program have been invaluable to my personal happiness and financial success. 

For more on this topic, see the eloquent address that Mark Danner gave to graduating students of the English Department at the University of California-Berkeley.