Career Prospects for Philosophy Majors
What jobs or further education can one get with a BA in philosophy? Perhaps the best way to answer this question is to indicate what alumni of the Philosophy Department at Queens have done. In Fall 1998 the department surveyed 30 of its recent graduates and found that they had done a remarkably wide variety of things upon receiving their BA's: 2 went to graduate school in philosophy, 5 went to law school, 11 went to other professional schools (including schools of social work, clinical psychology, public policy, business, and graphic design), 4 went into school teaching, 4 went into business or industry, and 1 each went into government service, academic administration, museum work, and computer work.
How many of the 30 alumni were employed at the time of our survey (in Fall 1998)? Twenty-four were employed--20 full-time, 4 part-time. The 20 who were employed full-time included attorneys, paralegals in law offices, retailers, a U. S. Customs officer, Wall Street stock brokers, an accountant in an advertising firm, a psychotherapist supervising an outpatient drug-free program, a counselor for the vocational rehabilitation of Methadone clients, a case worker in a center for the elderly, a delivery worker, a member of the staff of Queens College, and an adjunct philosophy professor. The 4 who were employed part- time included a court reporter, a social worker, a member of the staff in the office of services for disabled students at Queensborough Community College, and someone of unspecified occupation.
So our evidence suggests that a BA in philosophy is a good basis for a variety of successful careers, especially if one goes on for a graduate or professional degree, whether in philosophy or in something else. The same conclusion was arrived at by the New York Times in a long article (of December 26, 1997) entitled "For Philosophers, the Degree Pays Off in Life." After interviewing twenty people who had gotten BA's in philosophy in 1977 at four universities--Princeton, Virginia, Nebraska, and Texas A & M--the Times concluded that "philosophy majors appear to do remarkably well." Sixteen of the twenty had gotten graduate or professional degrees after getting their BA's in philosophy. Law, medicine, and computing are the fields in which most of them wound up. "These 40-somethings," the Times said, "fell in love with philosophy almost by accident and went on to careers in other fields. But for the most part they are convinced that their studies, which covered logic and ethics among other topics, helped them in their jobs and their lives." The Times reported, by the way, that about 4,500 people get BA's in philosophy each year in the United States. On the average, Queens College graduates 12 or 13 philosophy majors each year.
Here are some observations offered by one of the alumni surveyed in Fall 1998: "During my time at Queens College I did not realize the quality of the education I was receiving. But now that it has been a few years since I graduated, I find that my wealth of general knowledge in the area of philosophy is really a treasure. . . . I realize and quite appreciate the fact that the basic logic and reasoning I've learned in philosophy have definitely propelled my professional development. I also find that I often reflect on the kindness and encouragement of faculty . . . the host of wonderful lecturers I had the opportunity to learn from. . . . The experience I had there has really changed my life for the better."
Not many of our recently graduated philosophy majors have gone on to get Ph.D.'s in philosophy.
(The Fall 1998 survey turned up two; one of them had obtained a Ph.D. and was
working as an adjunct professor of philosophy at several colleges in the
metropolitan area, and the other was still in graduate school). But a BA in
philosophy from Queens is good preparation for graduate work in philosophy,
and a Ph.D. can be very useful when it comes to a career. The Times article
mentioned above says that in 1995 the National Research Council conducted a
survey of holders of Ph.D.'s in various fields, including 7,500 with Ph.D.'s
in philosophy. The survey found that 92% of the philosophy Ph.D.'s had full-time
jobs, in contrast to 85% of Ph.D.'s in music and 87% of Ph.D.'s in art history.
The median income for philosophy Ph.D.'s in 1995 was $46,800, as compared with
$48,100 for engineers and $124,000 for family doctors. Of the 7,500 philosophy
Ph.D.'s, 64.5% were college professors, 9.7% were business executives, 3.3% held
management-related jobs, 3.0% were lawyers or judges, 2.6% were in computer
occupations, 2.3% were artists or writers, 1.5% were clergy, 1.5% were librarians
or archivists, 1.2% were social scientists, and 10.4% were in other lines of work.
Over the last twenty-five years, philosophy Ph.D.'s have had difficulty in finding jobs in college teaching. In 1996-1997, for example, some 448 openings were announced in the official jobs listings published by the American Philosophical Association, and about 1,000 people with Ph.D.'s applied for these openings. Of course quite a few of the applicants had jobs already and were just seeking better ones, but the figures are indicative of how bad the college job market has been for philosophers. Not that philosophy Ph.D.'s have had trouble finding other jobs; 92% of them have been gainfully employed, if not as college professors then as executives, lawyers, judges, writers, and so on (see the previous paragraph).
There is better news, however, for those who contemplate entering the academic job market in the first decade of the new millennium. A Times article of June 7, 2000, reports that jobs in college and university teaching are expected to increase from 1998 to 2008 by 23%, whereas the number of Ph.D.'s awarded annually is expected to remain flat through 2009, and many professors hired before 1972 are expected to retire in the next few years. (The Times article draws upon data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Center for Education Statistics.)
(Prepared by James N. Jordan)