From the ancient to the contemporary, history’s greatest minds have searched for answers to the big questions in life. Science can tell us how, but it can’t tell us why. Studying philosophy means exploring these challenges in theoretical, practical, logical, and historical contexts. Philosophers are trained big-thinkers, able to challenge commonly accepted ideas with their intellect and open-mindedness.
Students have been tackling philosophy for thousands of years – it’s one of the oldest academic subjects, which rose to prominence in Ancient Greece. These days, while it doesn’t have the most obvious pathway to a career, a philosophy degree will equip you with a vast amount of desirable skills that can be applied to any number of professions.
Like many other subjects which aren’t universally available at A level, you probably won’t find any strict entry requirements for a philosophy degree. Grade boundaries will differ between universities, but you can expect social science and humanities subjects (English, religious studies, psychology, sociology) to be the most useful in your application.
You should use what you know about philosophy to tailor your application to the subject. For example, you may want to focus on your critical thinking skills, or your knowledge of history and literature from other subjects – which will both be useful during a philosophy degree.
A levels – Entry requirements range from BCC to AAB, with the universities and colleges most commonly asking for ABB.
Scottish Highers – Entry requirements for Highers (the most common qualification) range from BBBB to AAABB, with universities or colleges most frequently requiring AABBB. Occasionally, universities ask for Advanced Highers to supplement Highers. If Advanced Highers are requested, universities or colleges typically ask for ABB.
Vocational courses – Other Level 3/Level 6 qualifications (e.g. Pearson BTEC Level 3 National Extended Diploma, or an SCQF Level 6) may be accepted as an alternative to A levels/Highers by some providers. It’s essential that you check alternative entry requirements with universities or colleges.
- Apply by 15 January
- Write a personal statement
- Submit a portfolio
- Audition for a place
- Attend an interview
- Pass an entry test
- Show work experience
It’s safe to say there aren’t many professional philosophers around nowadays, but that doesn’t mean it’s the wrong subject to study. The combination of logical critical thinking and big picture dreaming means that graduates are equipped for a variety of technical and creative roles. Popular routes include law, journalism, social services, and governmental positions.
Many graduates will also continue their studies, pursuing knowledge in a subject which evolves and adapts by the day. Philosophy is a popular course at master’s and PhD level, and many will remain in education to share and expand their knowledge simultaneously.
Some modules you may study are:
- Ideas of freedom
- Symbolic logic
- Reason, argument, & analysis
- History of philosophy
- Sartre and existentialism
- Social and political theory
- Engaging with the humanities
There are five main branches of philosophy, but each has its own sub-branches and are often combined with one another. Philosophy is such an individual subject, and each philosopher will collect their own sets of knowledge that resonate with them the most:
- metaphysics and epistemology
- value theory
- science, logic, and mathematics
- history of philosophy
- philosophical tradition
If you’ve enrolled on a philosophy degree, it’s likely that you have an active, wandering mind, and the good news is that your studies will perfectly suit your thoughts. Philosophy jumps around in the first year, giving you an overview and understanding of the most popular branches of the subject, from which you’d choose a few routes to dive more deeply into, in your second and third years.
You can expect to be spending a lot of your spare time reading and researching, as the canon of philosophy dates back thousands of years. Finding your niche requires a lot of exploration, so be prepared for big stacks of books to keep you company. In the classroom, you’ll also enter into a lot of debates and group work, as you hone your critical thinking skills and open-mindedness to your peers’ opinions.
Studying a philosophy degree will likely involve:
- writing reports and essays
- attending lectures and seminars
- debates and group projects
You’ll spend less time in the classroom than your friends on other courses – around nine hours per week. But you can expect to do a lot of reading in your spare time, and get lost in Wikipedia rabbit-holes as you attempt to understand a subject that’s been taxing the greatest minds for thousands of years.
If you want to combine work and study while earning a salary, you could consider an apprenticeship. Which apprenticeships are available, and how you apply, depends on where you live.
Each apprenticeship sets out occupational standards for specific job roles, designed by employers. The standards outline the skills, knowledge, and behaviours required to demonstrate that an apprentice is fully competent in the job role.
Higher apprenticeships (Level 4)
- Cultural heritage conservation technician
- Financial adviser
- Historic environment advice assistant
- Learning and development consultant/business partner