Students need to learn philosophy

By Anna Popnikolova, assistant editor-in-chief

Would it surprise you, the reader, to learn that philosophy majors are the highest-earning of the humanities major at all stages in their career after graduating with their degree? Would it surprise the reader to learn that the average median salary for a philosophy major after 10 years of job experience should be around $82k?

According to an article in “The Atlantic,” by Bourree Lam, titled “The Earning Power of Philosophy Majors,” “[a]lthough philosophy majors rank 75th on PayScale’s overall list of majors at mid-career earnings, it’s the top humanities bachelors degree in their ranking—from early career all the way to later career.” Employers search for individuals to hire who graduated with degrees in philosophy for their advanced creative problem-solving skills and the ability to deal with ambiguity. Philosophy majors are well equipped to think critically and creatively, and are clearly becoming more and more desirable in the workplace. According to a PayScale graphic, compared to other non-STEM majors like Business Economics, Marketing, Political Science and Business Administration, Philosophy hauls in the highest in salary, with an average of a little less than $85k per year mid-career. 

Would it further surprise the reader to learn that students who study philosophy do statistically better on standardized tests than students with other areas of focus? According to figures provided by the Graduate Management Admission Council, a group of people who administer the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test, a test aimed at assessing your critical thinking skills) Philosophy majors score within the top five of high scoring majors—below Physics, Mathematics, Engineering, and above Economics and Computing Science—with a mean score of a little less than 590, out of 800.

On the LSAT, Philosophy 423 just above Economics and History majors, with an average score of 159, according to the Law School Admission Council. On the GRE (Graduate Records Examination, a test used to supplement grades/undergrad records and other forms of assessment), Philosophy majors score an average of 0.71 standard deviations from the mean, scoring above Physics & Astronomy, Economics, and Mathematical Sciences majors, with 0.65, 0.50, and 0.49, respectively. On the GRE further, the average Verbal score for a Philosophy major is 160, highest scoring out of 170. Philosophy lands 5th on the Quantitative section of the GRE, with an average of 153, and lands highest on the Analytical Writing section, with an average 4.4 out of 6. 

Based on these statistics, wouldn’t the reader wonder why philosophy seems to be an area of study which is generally laughed off? Why do schools tend to neglect teaching it?

While researching for this editorial, I myself was thoroughly surprised. I was planning to make the claim that philosophy helps individuals understand the world around them better; it helps people develop critical thinking and find value in their lives. I didn’t particularly expect to find statistical data to help me back up my claims. Like much else surrounding philosophy, I expected this argument to be one that I would make with my words and reason; with subjective opinions.

To find the overwhelming amount of evidence backing my claims was surprising to me. And it further surprised me that I’m here, making this argument. If there is this much information showing us that philosophy is a major worth pursuing, and a study that has existed since the times of Camus and Nietsche, why aren’t we talking about it more? Why are we turning up our noses at philosophers when there are so many benefits to the cerebral pursuit? Why isn’t it being taught in schools? Why aren’t high students learning philosophy and being taught that it is a feasible option for their future? Why aren’t we talking about it more?

Since I have become interested in philosophy, I have found that a lot of different areas of my life have improved—not just personally, but academically as well. I have found that the critical thinking skills carry over from the readings and the discussions into my discussion skills in the classroom, as well as my writing and analytical skills. For English especially, this has helped in text analysis and annotations. Even in just day-to-day life, though, philosophical concepts I’m interested in become big parts of my life, and influence my mindset. 

High school is a transitional time for lots of kids; you enter high school as a kid, spend it as a teenager, and leave it as an adult. What I’ve realized thus far in my high school career is how often I hear other kids ask what the point of all this is. We’re sitting in class, learning something particularly complicated, and the question is asked from all angles: what are we doing this for? How is this going to help me in life? How is this going to change my future?

In all honesty, it’s probably not. A lot of the things I’m learning in my classes right now most likely aren’t going to carry over into my future career, simply because they’re not what I’m planning on focusing on. Personally, I just enjoy learning; even if it isn’t necessarily going to be useful to me twenty years from now, I’m still interested in learning right now. And that’s something that certain philosophies have helped me with. I realize that sometimes, the moment is what’s important. Things like existentialism have helped me try to make sense of things that don’t make sense — feelings, the future, everything going on around me. That’s not to say I have any idea what’s going on right now. Not in the slightest, I don’t. But at least I’m more aware. I think about it. I realize it. I’m aware, even if I still have no idea what I’m doing. 

School can’t give kids all the answers they need. It is preparation for the real world, but in no way is it 100% effective. Nothing is. Some things are just learned with experience, and that’s alright. High schools can’t teach kids how to live their lives, and what to think—that’s for kids to figure out ourselves. But I believe that schools should at least offer the chance to find awareness. To read and learn and discover these ways of thinking.

They don’t work for everybody. For some people, thinking about everything too much makes their head spin, makes their eyes hurt, and that’s alright. And for others, it gives a sense of stability almost, and comfort. Realizing that this didn’t make sense for people 100 years ago, either. Not even 200 or 300 years ago—not ever, and it probably never will. That’s scary, and it’s comforting. It can be cool or it can be terrifying, and it’s alright either way. Students should at least be given the chance to explore. The opportunity to learn, to discover. It’s a whole new world once it opens up; and no, it doesn’t work for everyone, but for some people, like me, it’s a way to at least try to make sense of a world that doesn’t make sense.

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