A recent PayScale Inc. study on college graduates across the disciplines revealed some surprising facts about the earning power of a Philosophy degree. Fifty different bachelors’ degrees were compared in terms of average incomes for recent graduates and for those a decade after graduation. The study found that the highest average percentage of salary increase is achieved, that’s right, by Philosophy majors—a whopping 103.5%. In terms of raw numbers, Philosophy majors’ average salary upon graduation is $40,000, and ten years later the average jumps to $81,000. And when average salaries in the 75th and 90th percentiles of all majors are compared, Philosophy graduates are actually near the top—neck and neck with electrical engineers and computer scientists—averaging $168,000 in the latter case. Hard to believe? Perhaps. But as Ronald Reagan used to say, facts are stubborn things.
So much, then, for the tired cliché: What can you do with a Philosophy major? Evidently a lot, even in terms of income. As I reflected on this data—which I must admit, surprised even me, though probably not as much as most folks—I did a mental inventory of my own former students whose careers I’ve monitored over the years. These impressive numbers began to make more sense, even on my anecdotal scan: Several of my former students are attorneys, thriving financially while (I like to think) helping to redeem a field which, well, needs some redemption. Some are college professors like me, enjoying the best job in the world while making a decent living. Others work in publishing, as marketers, editors, and, in one instance, as a literary agent. A few others started their own businesses and are doing quite well, thank you, beating the business majors at their own game. All of these folks and others like them drive the numbers up, averaged against the income of other Philosophy majors who now serve as pastors, missionaries, or non-profiters—whose income is more modest but whose vocation is no less rewarding, all things considered.
How to make sense of this? Why would a Philosophy major, of all things, be so lucrative over the long haul? Again, just a little reflection explains what should have been more obvious. In Philosophy one develops several skills which are crucial for success in whatever field one ultimately chooses to pursue: critical thinking, conceptual analysis, problem-solving, and skills in oral and written expression. Try to think of a career in which excelling in these areas will not put one at a distinct advantage over one’s peers. Add to this the fact that Philosophy majors tend to be more morally circumspect than most, having been trained in the art of moral-decision making and especially encouraged to be persons of integrity. Put these ingredients together and you have a pretty good recipe for success and even leadership in most fields.
So the next time you hear someone insinuate the impracticality of a Philosophy major from a career standpoint, you can set them straight. You might even dare to inform them that if they really want to make the big money, then they should be a Philosophy major!