Why study a philosophy degree? Our essential guide to what you will learn on a philosophy course, what you should study to get your place on a degree, and what jobs you can get once you graduate.
What is philosophy?
Philosophy is the study of the nature of existence, knowledge, truth and ethics. It involves consideration of the most fundamental questions about who we are, and examines philosophical thought across the breadth of history right up to the present day.
It hones your ability to reason effectively and form coherent arguments, to write persuasively, and improves your logical and critical thinking. It challenges your understanding and assumptions of concepts like human nature and whether God exists. The diverse sub-sections of philosophy address questions ranging from why we dream to whether free will exists.
Expect lots of essays, chances to debate different philosophical theories and set texts, and the opportunity to diversify your studies to explore philosophy further.
Explore top universities that offer philosophy degrees
What do you learn in a philosophy degree?
Typically on a philosophy degree, the first year will have broader modules, offering you a solid grounding in fundamental ideas and arguments. From second and third year, students tend to begin to specialise or choose a particular pathway or modules that best reflect their interests.
Undergraduate courses tend to take three but sometimes four years. Modules can include logic, philosophy of mind, metaphysics, ethics, philosophy of science and political philosophy. Many modules are heavily essay-based, which can lead to independent research and dissertations towards the end of your degree.
Philosophy is often classed as a humanities degree, although there are strands that are in fact closer to mathematics and science. It can be taken as a single honours subject or in addition to another subject. It is particularly complemented by humanities courses like history, politics, English literature, law, a language or classics, but also by science subjects like maths, computer science, physics and psychology. For example, at the University of Aberdeen, you can take Behavioural Studies and Philosophy; the University of Brighton offers Philosophy, Politics and Art; the University of Nottingham offers a Physics and Philosophy course; and the University of Manchester offers Philosophy and Criminology.
Consider the size of the groups, whether you want to be part of a smaller or larger department of philosophy, whether it’s more lecture-led or focused on smaller seminars, and the links the department has with other faculties. Look closely at the modules on offer and don’t be afraid to chat to department representatives about the aspects you’re particularly interested in.
What should I study at high school if I want to study philosophy?
In Greek, philosophy means ‘love of wisdom’. Philosophy is offered as a subject at most universities. Entry requirements vary but range from A*AA to BBB. Students who like reading, analysis and forming arguments should enjoy undergraduate philosophy. No specific subjects are necessary to pursue it at university, but you may find English, a science subject, mathematics or a language helpful. Your lecturers will give you a thorough introduction to philosophy as part of your first year course. Many lecturers say that studying mathematics at a high level in school is better preparation for studying philosophy at university than studying philosophy in high school.
What do people who study philosophy do after graduation?
Philosophy graduates have highly transferable skills that are valuable to employers. The skills learned on a philosophy degree, including clear and analytical thinking, persuasive writing and speaking, innovative questioning and effective reasoning, give a solid foundation for entering the workforce and are very beneficial in careers that require problem-solving and assessing information from various angles.
Graduates secure work in a variety of disciplines after their degree, such as teaching, PR or politics. Communications, publishing, HR and advertising can be attractive options for philosophy graduates, as well as law, banking, the civil service, business and science. Others go on to further study, research, academia and/or lecturing in philosophy or a related field.
Those who specialise in ethics, for example, have opportunities do apply their knowledge to medical ethics committees, while those who studied political philosophy may veer towards journalism.
Which famous people studied philosophy?
Among those who studied philosophy at university are former US president Bill Clinton, who spent time at Oxford doing the subject with politics and economics and actress Rashida Jones, who took it with religion at Harvard. Director Wes Anderson, who studied it at the University of Texas as did actor Ricky Gervais, who graduated from University College London with a degree in philosophy
Novelist Dame Iris Murdoch, who studied at the University of Cambridge; writer and political activist Simone de Beauvoir, who completed her studies at the Sorbonne; co-founder of PayPal Peter Thiel, who did philosophy at Stanford; former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, Carly Fiorina, who studied it with medieval history at Stanford; and TV reporter Stone Phillips, who graduated in philosophy from the University of Yale.