Philosophy is all about asking questions about the nature of existence and everything within it. It involves all sorts of intriguing topics, including epistemology (theories of knowledge: what it is, whether it exists, methods of finding it etc.); metaphysics (does anything exist beyond the physical, and if so, what, and in what sense?); philosophy of mind (the nature of the mind, e.g. whether it is physical or not, how it works, whether consciousness exists as a separate metaphysical entity etc.); the history of philosophy (looking at the works and theories of famous philosophers and philosophies throughout time, e.g. the Ancient Greeks including Plato, Socrates and Aristotle, early modern philosophers such as Descartes, Hobbes and Hume, contemporary philosophers such as A. J. Ayer and B. F. Skinner, etc.) and many other subjects.
Other topics may include: - Philosophy of Science - Philosophy of Religion - Reasoning and Argument - Logic - Artificial Intelligence - The philosophy of certain cultures, e.g. Western philosophy, Eastern philosophy, Continental philosophy etc. - Ethics - Social and Political Philosophy - Aesthetics
The subject teaches the student about the rules and structure of arguments, to analyse theories critically and in depth, to write clearly and effectively, to question even the most universally accepted statements, and to assess arguments and their evidence. It also delivers plenty of fascinating information about philosophies throughout history and the philosophers that produced them, as well as current debates and issues.
Philosophy courses are often structured into modules. Each module will cover a certain key area of philosophy, e.g. Philosophy of Mind, Philosophy of Science, Logic etc. Each university will have its own unique philosophy course, both to give a solid foundation of knowledge on philosophical themes and theories, but also with specialisations that the professors themselves are researching. As the course progresses, the student will usually have the opportunity themselves to specialise in key areas that particularly interest them.
There are typically the most compulsory modules in the first year when the university wishes to give the student the opportunity to experience numerous general areas of philosophy. Second year is more specialised with more - if not all - modules being optional. Third year is often entirely optional as the student chooses a particular area of philosophy to narrow down on and perhaps do a dissertation on.
Some universities allow students to take one or two modules from other courses, or it can be taken as a joint honours course with another subject. Philosophy is commonly teamed with Classical Civilisation, English, Maths, Physics, History, History of Art and Psychology.
These will depend on the institution applied for, but it is also a good idea to read around the subject (particularly if you haven't taken the subject before) so that you have at least some knowledge of key philosophical issues. I'd recommend reading some of the best known works of philosophers such as Descartes, Kant, Hume, Plato, Aristotle, John Stuart Mill and Locke, as well as some contemporary philosophy, such as A. J. Ayer, Karl Popper and Paul/Patricia Churchland. My best advice, however, is to read what really interests you, as many philosophical texts will be quite a slog otherwise!
Examples include (true of March 2013): (All grades listed below are for straight honours Philosophy V500 unless otherwise specified.)
- University of Gloucestershire (for Religion, Philosophy and Ethics): 320 UCAS points
- University of East Anglia: ABB-BBB
- University of Kent: ABB
- University of Reading: ABB/AAC/BBBB
- University of Southampton: AAB
- University of Exeter: AAA
- University of Bristol: AAA
- University of Oxford: AAA
- Heythrop College, UoL: ABB-BBB
- Royal Holloway, UoL (for English and Philosophy QV35): AAB with an A in English, or equivalent
- Birkbeck College, UoL: AAB
- University College London: AAA
- King's College London: AAA
- The London School of Economics (for Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method BSc): AAA
- Anglia Ruskin University: 220-260 UCAS points
- Nottingham Trent University (for a number of joint honours philosophy courses): 260 UCAS points
- University of Nottingham: AAB/A*AC/A*BB
- University of Birmingham: AAB–ABB
- University of Cambridge: A*AA
- University of Leeds: AAB-ABB
- University of Manchester: ABB
- University of Sheffield: AAB
- University of Lancaster: AAB
- University of Liverpool: AAB - ABB
- University of York: AAB
- Durham University: AAA
- University of Aberdeen: BBB
- University of Glasgow: AAB
- University of St. Andrews: AAB
- University of Edinburgh: AAA
UCAS Form & Personal Statement
Read sample personal statements written by people applying for philosophy related courses.
Life as a Philosophy Student
Philosophy, like many arts and humanities subjects, is one that is not usually given many contact hours at universities. In the first year, you'll probably be looking at something like 8-10 hours of contact time a week, these being in lectures (situated in large lecture theatres with many other students, taking down notes from a lecturer; limited discussion is involved) and seminars (smaller groups in classrooms where discussion and debate is far more important, and there is less note-taking). However, if you're planning on the full-time philosophy course, you will be expected to do a lot of independent reading and research outside of contact hours. You'll also be expected to do small homework tasks and revision for tests (especially in logic) as well as coursework tasks and essays, which can be very time-consuming, so it's a good idea to organise your time in advance (I learned the hard way that it is not fun at all to be rapidly trying to finish an essay with 10 minutes to go till the deadline!).
Also, be prepared to answer the questions, "What is Philosophy?" and, more commonly, "Why are you taking Philosophy?" over and over again. There are many sceptics who think the subject has no worth and you're bound to bump into them. I'm nearly at the point where I'm prepared to hit these people with the nearest heavy object, but I wouldn't recommend this (or would I...?).
In general, university life is what you make of it. As you will have a lot of free time, get involved in societies, clubs and volunteering, but make sure you have enough time set aside for study, as you will need a lot of it. Also, have a game-plan to fend off procrastination, as this is a danger of having so much free time, especially on sunny days. Allow yourself regular breaks but don't go overboard. I can't really talk as I'll write the title of an essay and then wander off for a 'well-deserved' (or not) cup of tea. But you won't get much done this way, and it's far nicer to do the activities you like to do without the heavy burden of an essay or two on your shoulders.
I'm not a great party-er (understatement of the year) but I know people who have shown up to lectures/seminars still drunk from the night before, or at least with a horrific hangover. This is also not recommended, even in first year when people use the excuse that the first year marks don't count towards your final grade. This may be true of most philosophy courses, but you won't particularly endear yourself to the seminar tutors and lecturers who will be marking your work, and in any case, you want to be fully focused so you can understand clearly and in depth what is often complex material.
What I'd advise most is to make the most of your university years and throw yourself into the course, because it is a fascinating subject with so many possibilities.
Graduate Destinations and Career Prospects
Philosophy gives the student many skills that will be beneficial in a work environment. It combines skills such as the writing skills of English, the analytical and logical thinking of maths, and the questioning and experimental aspects of science, that constitute a course which produces very well-rounded individuals with numerous skills and abilities.
Philosophy graduates may go on to further study, but career destinations include:
...and many more.
Like most humanities and arts subjects, philosophy leaves many doors open, but is also useful for those who have decided which career they'd like to pursue and have a real interest for the subject.
- Philosophy University Forum - discuss philosophy courses at uni in here.
- Philosophy and Religious Studies Study Help - ask questions about your homework, coursework and your revision.
- Philosophy Revision Notes - read and share revision notes on philosophy topics.
- Philosophy Personal Statements - part of the TSR personal statement library
- Recommended Philosophy reading - suggestions for material to read for anyone interested in philosophy.