Skip to main content

Reasons for and against pursuing graduate school in Philosophy

ยท 4 min read

I'm thinking about whether to apply to PhD programs in Philosophy. My intention is to study the ethics of privacy, artificial intelligence, punishment/incarceration, surveillance, search engines, research ethics, and more. Below are my personal reasons for and against pursuing graduate school in philosophy

Reasons forโ€‹

  • Graduate school would be fun. I can learn philosophy with other people who like philosophy. To me, one of the best parts about college is learning what I want with people who have similar interests. Five years of graduate school means five more years of fun learning.
  • I won't need to pay for tuition, and grad schools pay for my housing and food, so I probably won't be accumulating additional debt.
  • If I focus on ethics and technology as I intend to, then I could potentially find employment as a consultant in ethics and policy at tech companies. I can help prevent ethical crises that tech companies often cause.

Reasons againstโ€‹

For the vast and overwhelming majority of people, pursuing a PhD in philosophy is a terrible financial decision.

  • I probably won't live in a place where I like, and I probably won't be able to spend much time with my family because I don't get to choose where I attend graduate school because they need to accept me. The number of applicants is as high as hundreds of times higher than the number of available seats, so the possibility of me going to a school in a location that I like to study the topics that I want are slim.
  • I'm not committed to pursuing a career in academia, and it doesn't make financial sense for me to pursue a PhD in philosophy if I don't intend on pursuing academia.
    • I won't get paid much as a graduate student. I will probably get paid just enough to pay for food and housing but not much more, so I will be saving very little money, and that's bad for my future self, spouse, and family.
    • A PhD in philosophy won't help me very much in getting a well-paying job doing something outside of philosophy/academia. Employers probably want more direct work experience.
    • Spending five years in my 20s doing a PhD has a tremendous opportunity cost. If I'm smart enough for a top graduate school to accept me, then I'm likely smart enough for a well-funded company to hire me for a well-paying job doing doing something interesting.
  • Graduate students need to teach to get paid, so I probably won't have the full flexibility to spend my time studying what I want.
  • It's difficult to get accepted to any graduate school, but usually only the top ones are good enough for graduates to seed in the academic job market. The chances of me getting accepted to a top graduate school where I'm positioned to do well in the academic job market is very low, and the chances of me succeeding in the academic job market is even lower. The academic job market is likely to further shrink as a result of the recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Even if I get a job in academic philosophy, my life probably won't be great.
    • I probably won't get paid very much compared to what I could get paid if I were to commit myself to pursuing something else, such as law or technology.
    • Because the academic job market is so competitive, I probably won't get to choose which geographic regions I want to live at or which institutions I want to work at.
    • I will forever be tied to academic institutions because I won't be able to survive without them. They pay me to do philosophy, but probably anyone else won't.
  • Companies tend to hire attorneys, not philosophers, because companies are more interested in making money, following laws, and looking like they are doing good than determining what is good. Attorneys can do stuff with the laws when philosophers usually cannot. So, if I'm interested in using my studies make an impact, I should probably go to law school instead.


As a curious and sociable person, there are probably many other things to do in life than pursue graduate school in philosophy. There are many other ways for me to enjoy my work, meet interesting and passionate people, and earn enough money to support myself and my dependents and still have enough to donate to charity. Graduate school in philosophy sounds fun to me, but the reasons against pursuing it seem to outweigh the reasons for.