Reader Mailbag: What Major Should I Choose and is Philosophy a Good Choice



I’m a student that needs to decide on a Major. Besides my credits being in a complicated mumbo jumbo from transfers and other what-have-you’s I’m a normal student. I was doing some searching about philosophy majors and found your article on “Why I Should Major In Philosophy”. So you have good things to say about the Majors. I’m split between a decision to major in phil or to major in phil/pol-sci/econ (a major that puts an equal, but diminished, emphasis on all three). After getting my bachelors I’m considering joining the military for the funding to get a masters degree, in something….I checked what you had to say about yourself and your career and despite being from opposite coasts, your interests are not dissimilar to my own (especially a love for garlic). You have a philanthropic blog and perhaps you could just help shed some light on my situation. How has a phil major helped you, has it been a burden ever, yada yada yada.

Andrew asks some good questions and I thought I would address some specifics below.  
1. Major in one subject or do a combination of double majors or multiple minors?  
The first thing to realize about an undergraduate education is that it’s opportunity for students to study a subject that they are actually interested in and that the first couple of years of an undergraduate education are going to be fairly broad (from a course selection perspective).  That is to say, most colleges and universities require that a student take a minimum amount of general education credits.  If it were up to me, I’d make it a requirement for all undergraduate students to obtain a dual major and, specifically, one major would be in the humanities and the other would need to be in some applied field such as Engineering, Agriculture, Economics, etc.  Universities should be producing thinkers and doers (not just one or the other).

2. I’ve talked about the benefits of completing a Philosophy major (Bachelor of Arts degree) in detail.  However, the prospective Philosophy major should also be forewarned in terms of:

– You will need plenty of self discipline to distil the real gold nuggets from a philosophy major; viz, critical thinking skills and ability to clearly write and communicate. 

No one is going to hand you a job after you graduate with your degree and you will need to work extra hard to turn the skills you learned as a Philosophy major into practical, applicable, knowledge that translates well within the marketplace (sorry, this is just a reality).

– You may need a professional degree if you can’t apply skills learned as an undergraduate into a job category that is in demand.  That is to say, you may need to quickly aquire an MBA, JD, or other professional degree to get a job.  I graduated from University in the late 1990’s and the .com boom was underway and many jobs were available (this is currently not the case in the US) and I had a practical skill set thanks to work-study position I held for a number of years.

3. Has Your Philosophy degree ever been a burden?  
I think the only time I’ve felt negative about studying Philosophy as an undergraduate was during my first two years at University.  Studying Philosophy comes with lots of criticism from peers, parents, professors, etc. and it’s especially tough to ignore the negative comments when you’re still new to campus and college life, in general.  A typical scenario is your Engineering major roommate constantly bombarding you with questions on why you’re wasting your time studying something so obtuse and unimportant (be ready with thick skin and a couple of good arguments).

4. I recommend doing a full Philosophy major because only then will you get to take some intense seminar level classes on specific philosophers and topics.  You may even become interested in some specific aspect of Philosophy (such as Philosophy of Mind) and may want to write a senior thesis (this is great practice for the real world in terms of thinking through an idea, justifying the idea, and thereafter defending the premise of your argument).  In addition to my Philosophy major I have two minors in Linguistics and Psychology.  Looking back, I may have opted for a dual major in Philosophy and Economics.  


  1. Good viewpoints Vin. I think that the double major has a lot of benefits. Perhaps one good piece of advice is to try to think in practical terms about education – to think forward to the job would like to have after graduating. The kind of curriculum you describe – humanities plus an applied field – sounds really challenging but would also develop a lot of critical / analytical thinking and writing skills, which could be useful in a variety of ways in the job market or in further study.

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