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Opinion June 2015

Hire a Philosopher!

By Jim Cotsana

There are many more success stories among humanities grads which show that the development of critical thinking skills can be far more useful than practical skills when it comes to getting ahead. Hence, advocates for the humanities prove that employment, money, and success can come regardless of the degree.

There have been a number of recent articles about those who major in humanities may look forward to being unemployed for a very long time upon graduation. The only thing out there for them is part-time work or positions in the fast food industry. There is an old cliché I recently read that says “majoring in humanities is a lovely way to spend four years of college and a poor way of landing a lucrative job.” However, I believe the career progression for humanities graduates is more of a marathon than a sprint.

Granted, the more lucrative starting salaries are in the hard sciences and engineering fields where compensation ranges from the high $50,000 to the high $90,000. Also, the average salary for experienced family practice physicians and lawyers is $135,000 and $120,000 respectively. An MBA grad averages $90,000. Experienced high school teachers and PhD college professors average $45,500 and $90,000 respectively. However, liberal arts grads are closing the gap. One recent study found that 40% of humanities and social science students go on the graduate school while only 30% of the hard science students pursue graduate degrees.

What employers are looking for, and I found this to be true in my career with the Central Intelligence Agency, are people who have a broad knowledge base, who can collaborate to solve problems, communicate well, and think critically. These are skills that humanities programs insist students learn before they graduate. Humanities consist of areas of study about the human experience. For example, many of my colleagues who rapidly rose in the ranks majored in and went on to obtain advanced degrees in history, political science, literature, and philosophy which happened to be my interest. They demonstrated they could quickly analyze a situation and improvise when necessary. Furthermore, once they retired from the Agency, they were highly recruited by major companies in the defense industry with very lucrative offers.

History has also shown that humanities alumni have succeeded in the business world and are making more money than their peers. Look at the following examples:

  • Mitt Romney majored in English.
  • PayPal co-founder and CEO Peter Thiel majored in philosophy.
  • American Express CEO Ken Chenault majored in history.
  • CNN founder Ted Turner majored in the classics.
  • HP CEO Carly Fiorina majored in medieval history and philosophy.

There are many more success stories among humanities grads which show that the development of critical thinking skills can be far more useful than practical skills when it comes to getting ahead. Hence, advocates for the humanities prove that employment, money, and success can come regardless of the degree.  As an aside, several of my high school friends graduated from Ivy Leagues schools (not me) and other so-called prestigious universities.

Needless to say, some did very well but others really bombed when they entered the real world. They were able to get their foot in the door quicker than others but were not able to produce and were soon given a pink slip. In my opinion, it goes to show that it’s not that important where you go to school because if you don’t produce, your career will be cut short.

Don’t get me wrong. I have great deal of respect and admiration for those in the high-tech
fields and they do some very incredible work.  It is also important to note that they’ve told me the specific technical skills they graduated with become obsolete over time because technology advances very quickly. Hence, they have to keep up with these advances or get left behind. 

But the importance of critical thinking is everlasting even if it doesn’t pay as much right out of the starting gate. Majoring in humanities may be a lovely way to spend four years of college but it can also lead to a very rewarding, productive, and lucrative career. It’s all up to the individual depending on how he or she uses their respective degrees to succeed with motivation and determination. So, if you’re looking for someone with broad knowledge, problem solving and communication skills, and can think critically, hire a philosopher.

 

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