Studying Ethics: Degrees at a Glance
Many colleges and universities across the country feature ethics degree programs. Some programs are offered as concentrations within a philosophy program, while others take a more business-oriented focus to the study of ethics. An example of the latter would be a program in organizational management (or leadership) and ethics. In some cases, ethics programs are more focused on global affairs and peace studies or law.
Because of the variation in ethics degree programs, it's important to choose one that matches your career goals and interests. Those who graduate from ethics programs often pursue careers in business, government, journalism, public policy or management. Employers in these fields might be inclined to hire an ethics graduate since the discipline helps individuals develop skills in research, critical thinking, communications and information management.
Here's a quick, side-by-side look at two types of ethics degrees:
|Who is this degree for?||Individuals looking for a solid liberal arts education and hoping to enter the workforce in a business or management position||People seeking advanced academic or applied careers in which ethics plays a major role|
|Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary)|| - Public relations specialist ($60,000)* |
- Public relations and fundraising manager ($106,000 - this salary is more common for people with 5-10 years of experience)*
- Human resources manager ($109,000 - this salary is more common for people with 1-5 years of experience)*
|- Same as bachelor's degree; higher-level positions and advancement more likely with master's degree|
|Time to Completion||Four years, full-time||Two years of graduate study, full-time|
|Common Graduation Requirements|| - Courses in philosophy, sociology, history and economics |
- Capstone project
| - Roughly 30-36 semester credits of graduate coursework |
- Thesis or capstone
|Prerequisites||High school diploma or equivalent||Bachelor's degree in any field; GRE scores|
|Online Availability||Yes||Some programs offer some classes online|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures)
Bachelor's Degrees in Ethics
Studying ethics at the undergraduate level can take on many different forms and focuses. Bachelor's degrees are available in ethics and public policy, as well as organizational management and ethics, to give a couple examples. Other types of ethics programs are offered under different majors with concentrations in ethics. Programs like these might be geared toward a particular application of ethics, such as business or politics.
Pros and Cons
- Can provide adequate preparation for a human resources or public relations career
- Undergraduate ethics programs typically offer a solid liberal arts education
- Some programs allow you to design your own curriculum
- The wide variance among ethics programs might make it difficult to choose a program
- You might need to turn to out-of-state schools to find a specialization that meets your interests and goals, resulting in higher tuition expenses
- Some career options might require experience along with your degree
Courses and Requirements
Core courses commonly found in ethics programs cover philosophy, sociology, history and politics. Some courses also might focus on topics related to religion. Depending on the program, you might be able to choose a specialization in one of these areas.
Online Course Info
Individual courses and full degrees are available online. Distance learning programs are generally geared toward the business side of ethics and are often designed with business professionals' schedules in mind.
Stand Out with this Degree
You might look for an ethics program that allows you to develop your own curriculum. This gives you an opportunity to choose courses that pertain to your interests, values and career goals. While completing your studies, you also might look for opportunities to gain experience, which is required by employers in some fields that incorporate ethics. For example, if you're interested in working in human resources, you might seek out a related internship or human resources assistant position.
Master's Degrees in Ethics
If you're looking to advance to higher-paying positions, you might wish to consider a master's degree. Studying at this level can also increase your chances of obtaining more advanced human resources and public relations positions. As such, a master's degree can potentially offer a solid return on your educational investment. Examples of ethics master's degree programs include those in organizational leadership, applied ethics and legal ethics.
Pros and Cons
- A master's degree can boost your chances of career advancement and a higher salary
- More specialized programs are available at this level, allowing you to gain marketable expertise in a particular aspect of the discipline
- Some specialized programs can bolster your current credentials or help prepare you for further studies, such as law school
- You might be competing against applicants who have an ethics bachelor's degree along with experience
- It might be difficult to complete your studies while continuing to work
Courses and Requirements
Since many different specialization options are offered, courses and degree completion requirements will vary considerably. Programs that focus on business and organizational ethics might include courses in organizational behavior, team development and leadership strategy. Applied ethics programs often take a more philosophical approach, covering such concepts as classical and contemporary theories on morality and research ethics. A master's degree program in legal and ethical studies might explore how morality and law intersect and examine ways in which laws originated.
Online Course Info
Although limited in number, online master's degree programs focus on different areas related to ethics, such as equity in education and the law. In some cases, programs only offer a few courses online. If you're interested in related programs, you can also find graduate-level online programs in health care ethics.
How to Stand Out
If you're obtaining your master's degree in ethics after gaining experience in human resources, you might consider professional certification. One option to consider is the HR Certification Institute's Professional in Human Resources (PHR) credential, which requires at least one year of experience. If you're interested in public relations, you might join a professional organization to couple your ethics background with professional development. Organizations like the Public Relations Society of America provide seminars, webinars and other similar training courses.