Advice for Undergraduates

Advice for Undergraduate Students

Sometimes I teach in a business school, and I hear the question "Why should I study philosophy" or "Why should I study cognitive science"? I'm not much inclined to answer--people should do whatever they want. But I also teach many students who come from immigrant families or are immigrants themselves and have to worry about making money. I had the same worries, from a similar background. The fact is only a very few things one can study can come close to providing a straightforward path to a middle class existence. If you find these things interesting--say engineering, or accounting--then OK, do that. Still when you're in college, you are given an opportunity you rarely get anywhere else--to be able to think about whatever you'd like and expose yourself to things you wouldn't otherwise get exposure to. Thus regardless of what one majors in I'd recommend taking classes outside of your comfort zone and knowledge base (whether in philosophy, psychology or art history or geology--you never know what will catch your attention). You'll be exposed to a broader array of subjects in college than at any other time in your life--take advantage of the opportunity.

Most people don't know what they want to do, and most people who do something very interesting with their life didn't get their by following a straightforward path. Even if you take a rather straightforward path--say you go to law school--you aren't guaranteed any job, and you are most likely to have huge loans (also I know many lawyers, but very few happy lawyers). Skills are what matters. I'd recommend getting statistical or programming skills, as they are useful in a host of fields. Equally useful is thinking clearly and not being a moron--that is eminently transferrable (except in politics). I think that's a pretty good reason to study philosophy, but I see no reason to be dogmatic about it. But I'm sort of pained to add: philosophy students do better than most other majors on many metrics people deem important. I won't rehash the data here, but see Dan Kelly's page where he walks you through a bunch of links and data to this effect.