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LesPierreCustom's avatar

Philosophy major?

Asked by LesPierreCustom (83points) September 16th, 2007

I’ve done a lot of research on various philosophies from many cultures. The topic interests me, and I enjoy reading Plato. The question is, though, is majoring in philosophy a good idea? Or does majoring in that field tend to be tedious, boring, or otherwise turn philosophers away from the field? I don’t intend on a career in philosophy, and actually I’m thinking of taking a pre-med concentration so I can go to medical school, but i want an undergraduate education in something that can expand my mind in different directions. So, mostly to people who have tried majoring in philosophy or have taken a variety of philosophy college courses, what do you think?

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18 Answers

LesPierreCustom's avatar

If it makes any difference, by the way, I’m looking at more liberal arts schools that tend to have more competitive reputations.

hossman's avatar

If you are sure you want to go to med school, you’re going to need a lot of science or you’ll be way behind, thus if you want to take philosophy, you’ll need to do it in addition to the premed. How about a philosophy minor? You could always use that to sample philosophy, then change it to a major later. While philosophy might not be great preparation for med school, it would be good preparation for law school.

bob's avatar

If you want to go to medical school, you should choose pre-med (or possibly another hard science) as your major.

However, all the philosophy majors I knew in college really enjoyed philosophy. I took 4–5 philosophy classes in college, and it was very enjoyable. It didn’t turn me off to philosophy. I don’t know how many philosophy classes you’ll be able to take as a pre-med major, but you could probably take quite a few. Plus, philosophy might be more enjoyable as a serious hobby than as a major.

hossman's avatar

I agree with bob. I’ve found a lot of things are more enjoyable if I don’t rely on them as my career, like acting and writing.

theabk's avatar

I can’t give advice about philosophy in particular, but you should know that you definitely don’t need to major in science or pre-med to get into medical school. Med schools want intelligent, thoughtful people who do well in their classes, (including science classes, of course), and you’ll probably do best in college if you’re doing something you’re interested in. The rigorous thinking patterns you’ll develop by studying philosophy will probably be helpful in medical school and in college science classes anyway.

In fact, American Association of Medical Colleges stats show that philosophy majors have the highest rate of med school acceptance of all majors!

Also check out this page from Clemson about pre-meds majoring in philosophy:

Good luck!

hossman's avatar

Thanks, theabk. If I mistakenly gave the impression it would be difficult to get into med school with a philosophy major, I apologize, because I know better and that was not what I intended to say. I think philosophy, like law school, teaches very valuable intellectual discipline and approaches to learning.

What I’m concerned about, and if anyone has any studies I would appreciate them posting it, as to how well the philosophy majors do in med school after they are accepted, compared to science or other majors. Because acceptance is only the first step, and I have a friend who did major in philosophy, went to med school, and while he was able to catch up, was very swamped at first to teach himself material that med school assumed he had already acquired.

Poser's avatar

I was considering a major in Philosophy for a while. My main concern was what to do with it when I was done. Now I wish I wouldn’t have worried so much on that and pursued something I was more interested in, rather than settling for something I liked less but thought I could make a living doing. I don’t know any stats, but I’ve always been told that most people don’t end up with a career in their major anyway. I’m in the “follow your passion” camp.

As for medical school, I can’t comment intelligently, as my brain seems to have some sort of aversion to the hard sciences. I’d tend to think hoss is right, though—getting into med school is only the first obstacle.

And, the great thing about philosophy classes—there are no wrong answers!

finkelitis's avatar

This doesn’t directly answer your question, but if your priority is to expand in different directions, as you said, then my advice to you is to not worry about what the classes are called but who is teaching them. Find the best professors at the school (ask around), and take their classes. When you find a department that has a couple of people you really like, or if the subject has grabbed you, think about majoring there. Philosophy can be great or terrible, depending on who is teaching it.

skfinkel's avatar

It sounds to me like your instincts about philosophy are sound—you enjoy the subject and realize it will give you a great base educationally whatever you decide to study in the long term. I would far rather be treated by a doctor who studied philosophy as an undergraduate, than one who had never veered from science (assuming both are great doctors). There are also intensive pre-med courses one can take after a classic undergraduate education that will catch you up in all the sciences before med school. That way, if you want a really rich undergraduate education, you can study philosophy as well as subjects like literature, economics, math, social sciences, etc. So much to learn—why not really get stretched as an undergraduate, and then focus in graduate school on the career part? I also agree with the previous writer about always finding the best teachers you can find.

hossman's avatar

The wealthiest (not necessarily the happiest or most successful) doctor I know started as a carpenter, then became a mechanical engineer, then started designing artificial joints, then became an orthopedic surgeon. There are many routes to the same destination.

theabk's avatar

Hossman – I actually did find a study which found no difference in med school performance (based on grades, licensing exams and residency placement) between science and non-science majors:
Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that people with non-science backgrounds didn’t have to work harder to catch up. However, the content in medical school is really pretty different from most of what people study as undergrad science majors and requires somewhat different thinking skills (and almost no math beyond basic algebra!), so I think most people end up feeling that they’re in the same boat when they start med school. (Full disclosure – I’m biased because I was a classics major and am now in med school and enjoying it. I did a post-bacc like skfinkel mentioned, which can be a great idea.)

hossman's avatar

Thanks for the link theabk, it is rare to get a direct response to this type of question here. I had not been able to find anything like that. Without the underlying research and full text of the study, I can’t evaluate its credibility, but it’s a step in the right direction, and I’m willing to accept it at face value.

A lot of people take philosophy or pre-law to prepare for law school. In my perception, neither gives you much preparation to be a lawyer (neither does law school in many ways) but they do at least give an introduction to the type of thought process that good lawyers should at least be able to use.

cwilbur's avatar

One thing to be aware of is that medical school will expect you to have taken several science courses before you apply, and the MCAT exam requires subject knowledge in several sciences. This isn’t incompatible with being a philosophy major, but it does mean you will need to plan ahead: you’ll need to take organic chemistry at some point, which means you’ll need to take introductory chemistry, which may require calculus as a pre- or co-requisite, and so on.

Pre-med majors (if your school offers a pre-med major; many liberal arts schools don’t) will have this planning done for them; science majors will often have advisors who know what’s required, and preparing for med school will likely mean taking an additional course or two for a science major.

So if you plan to go to med school, and don’t plan on taking an extra two years of college just to round out the science requirements (something a friend of mine did), you need to make sure your advisor knows what’s going on or work closely with another advisor from a science department.

That said, there’s no reason you can’t major in philosophy and go to med school.

Kurtosis's avatar

Is “pre-med” a common major now? I always had the impression that people chose an actual major (chem,bio,etc) and followed a pre-med track (organic chem, anatomy,etc)

I think you should be realistic about what your pre-med courseload will be, and figure out if you can fit in a philosophy major as well. As I recall though, the phil major had a relatively small number of requirements so it is easy to combine with other things. Philosophy is great to study, but you will probably have to go through the standard ancient/modern phil intro courses, which are not always the most interesting.

Num1BAMF3's avatar

I am a history/philosophy double major. To some degree a lot of what these post are addressing is true (in terms of having to take the required science, English, and math courses for a given medical school), but, assuming your grade point average in those science classes stay at a competitive level, you will be in a better position for medical school acceptance.

There is no cookie-cutter approach to becoming a doctor. I am interested in reaching my potential as a human being and, in a sense, history and philosophy are getting me there. If being a philosophy major is a passion of yours, then follow the philosophy track; however, I can name a few times that I had been writing a couple papers and finishing a few books while getting ready for an organic chemistry exam the same week.

Study philosophy out of a personal interest, not necessarily a personal gain that you may receive on an application.

Good luck!

answerjill's avatar

Any updates on your decision? Thanks!

LesPierreCustom's avatar

well, it’s been a while, but if anyone is following this, i’m into my second year at Columbia University now, and i’ll soon be declaring a philosophy major. and med school is still a seemingly distant goal.

answerjill's avatar

@LesPierreCustom – Thanks for the update!

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