Philosophy Degrees: Doctorate, Master's & Online Course Info

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Master's degrees and PhDs in philosophy can lead to careers in and out of academia. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and career options, and find out what you can do with your degree.
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Studying Philosophy: Master's and PhD Degrees at a Glance

If you'd enjoy the opportunity to engage in lively debates with your classmates and professors, a master's degree or PhD program in philosophy could fit the bill. Beyond work in academia, a philosophy degree could offer entry into many professions. However, you'll probably have to use some creativity to make your degree fit the job market.

A philosophy degree can prepare you for careers requiring strong writing skills, but growth is expected to be slow and there could be competition from applicants with English, journalism and communications degrees. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, editing jobs are expected to grow about 1% over the 2010-2020 decade, while writing positions are projected to increase 6% during this time. Another drawback is that entry-level positions in writing and editing require only a bachelor's degree. With a PhD, you could work as a university professor, but competition for these positions could be intense.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in working in any field requiring writing and analytical skills People who want to work as professors in universities
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) Experience may be required for some positions:
- Editors ($60,000)*
- Writers and authors ($68,000)
- Postsecondary education administrators ($97,000)*
Experience or additional coursework may be required for some positions:
- Postsecondary philosophy and religion teachers ($72,000)*
- Clergy ($48,000)*
Time to Completion About 2 years (full-time) About 5-6 years (full-time)
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 8-10 graduate-level courses
- Master's thesis/research paper
- Knowledge of a foreign language
Most (or all) of the master's degree requirements, plus:
- Roughly 6-9 more graduate-level courses
- Knowledge of a foreign language
- Comprehensive exams
- Dissertation
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree in philosophy or related area Bachelor's degree in philosophy or equivalent
Online Availability Limited None found at this time

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's in Philosophy

If you've decided to earn a master's degree in philosophy, you can expect a very flexible academic experience. Philosophy is an extremely broad discipline, and many programs will let you either study across the entire range of the academic field or choose a specific subfield. Philosophy coursework is frequently combined with other disciplines, resulting in classes such as political and social philosophy, philosophy of language or even philosophy of science. No matter what you choose to study, expect a challenging program that will exercise your writing, analytical and creative thinking skills. Most master's degree programs in philosophy require you to have a solid academic record on the undergraduate level. At least a 3.0 grade point average is usually expected.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Often, employers feel that learning philosophy demonstrates that you're capable of learning complex topics
  • You could qualify for many administrative positions in postsecondary education
  • The degree program is flexible and can be combined with other academic disciplines to create a customized education plan

Cons

  • You may be competing against PhD holders for teaching positions in higher education
  • For some suitable jobs, such as writing or editing, you don't need a master's degree, and you'll be competing against people with preferred degrees, such as journalism
  • Some schools don't provide financial assistance to students in master's degree programs

Common Courses and Requirements

The courses required for a master's degree in philosophy frequently include the following:

  • Symbolic logic
  • Ethics
  • Epistemology
  • Empiricism
  • Rationalism
  • Existentialism

You'll probably also complete courses focusing on individual philosophers, such as Kant, Aristotle and Plato. Additionally, most master's degree programs in philosophy require either a thesis or the completion of at least 2 shorter research projects. Overall, philosophy places heavy emphasis on writing, reading and research. You may also be required to pass a comprehensive examination to earn your degree.

Online Degree Options

Online degree programs leading to master's degrees in philosophy are not widely available. However, though relatively rare, you may be able to find some online options. Your online program may be interdisciplinary and require that you study another subject in addition to philosophy. While an online program can give you the flexibility to study when it is convenient for you, there are some disadvantages. You may not be able to choose from as wide a selection of courses in an online program as you would in an on-campus program.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

There are several ways you can personalize your master's degree program to highlight your academic strengths and help future employers notice you.

  • Take advantage of opportunities to present your research at conferences in philosophical topics of interest. This can help you become more comfortable with both writing proposals and speaking in public, which could be useful skills for many of your career options.
  • Write your thesis with an eye toward possible publication. It could end up being your first journal article or book, which could help in obtaining a writing job.
  • Keep up-to-date with technological tools, such as computer applications, that will make you more efficient in researching, writing and editing your work. Being well-versed in technology could be helpful for performing high-level administrative tasks if you decide to work as a postsecondary education administrator.

PhD in Philosophy

If you decide to pursue a PhD in Philosophy, you'll be joining a hard-working group since these programs are very academically rigorous. You may be expected to maintain a grade point average significantly higher than a 3.0. It's not uncommon for philosophy students in PhD programs to be required to maintain a 3.5 grade point average. Many philosophy students earning PhDs have plans to acquire positions as a university faculty members. More than 3/4 of graduates of philosophy PhD programs work in higher education. Some students decide to earn a PhD after completing a master's degree program, while others enroll in the program after earning a bachelor's degree.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • You will be qualified to teach at any level in a college or university
  • Professors who can teach philosophy courses in certain niche areas, such as African-American and feminist philosophy, are in demand
  • Many programs will offer you financial support, such as waived tuition, a stipend and paid teaching experience during attendance

Cons

  • Admission to a good PhD program in philosophy is very competitive
  • There's fierce competition for teaching positions at prestigious universities
  • A PhD could take at least 5 years of study to complete

Courses and Requirements

As a PhD student in philosophy, you'll be required to take classes in a variety of topics. The coursework requirements for PhD programs in philosophy usually include such subjects as:

  • Ancient philosophy
  • Modern philosophy
  • Metaphysics
  • Logic
  • Aesthetics

Additionally, you may be required to know at least one foreign language. If you enroll in a PhD program in philosophy, you'll almost certainly be expected to write and successfully defend a dissertation based on original research to graduate. Sometimes PhD students also must pass comprehensive exams during their 2nd and 4th years as further proof of their mastery of the subject. Some programs also require that you participate in teaching assistantships.

Online Degree Options

No information was found about online PhD programs in philosophy. Teaching and research assistantships or other types of financial support, such as stipends to help with your living expenses, are nearly always provided to PhD students in philosophy programs. Assistantship duties make it necessary for you to attend school on campus. Additionally, doctoral students are usually offered other types of perks, such as office space, that can only be used if you're attending school on campus.

Get Ahead with this Degree

Put your PhD in Philosophy to work before and after graduation. Check out a few of the suggestions below to help you move to the head of the class.

  • Consider a concentration or at least a course or two that examines science or modern technology from a philosophical perspective to stay up-to-date your discipline.
  • Utilize your degree's flexibility to concentrate on an up-and-coming niche within your discipline, such as feminist or African-American philosophy. You'll be better able to compete for a professorship with an in-demand area of expertise.
  • Take advantage of opportunities to write papers that could result in publication in academic journals. If you hope to be a professor, publication will give you an advantage in obtaining employment and gaining tenure.

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Johns Hopkins University

  • Master of Liberal Arts
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What is your highest level of education?

Southern New Hampshire University

  • MA in History
  • MA in History: American History
  • MA in History: Public History

What is your highest level of education?

Indiana Wesleyan University

  • M.A. Ministry - Spiritual Formation

What is your highest level of education?

Excelsior College

  • MA in Liberal Studies

What is your highest level of education completed?

Yeshivah Gedolah Rabbinical College

Yeshiva University

Yeshiva Shaar Hatorah