If a classroom full of children is asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" the children will shout out numerous, common answers. Children are likely to yell out occupations such as a doctor, a football star, and on a rare occasion, even, a teacher. What children will never say they want to be when they grow up is a philosopher.
As a matter of fact, if that same classroom full of children is asked, "What do philosophers do?" those same excited voices will immediately hush. Even adults are unlikely to know what philosophers do. So why study philosophy? Why study something that no one seems to have an idea about? The deep answer is, "Because philosophy is the study of the most important stuff that humans can think of." But, what is the practical payoff, especially for an international student? Well, the payoff is a good one. Studying philosophy is likely to help a student succeed in their career and find happiness.
To really answer the question, "Why study philosophy?" one should first answer, "What is philosophy?" Philosophy is the study of the deepest questions humanity has been able to conceive. Philosophy has been around for at least 3,000 years, before the studies of science, math, and literature. The reason why philosophy existed before the study of science, math, and literature is because philosophy is where all of those studies started. Science began with philosophers who asked questions about the nature of the universe. For example, Democritus started physics when he asked, "What is the smallest anything can be?" He then came up with the idea of the atom. Trying to understand the nature of math, and what makes a story, a story, also started with philosophers. While they were not necessarily the first people to do math or write a story, they were the first people to ask what math and literature are and what uses they have. Philosophers are the people who articulate the ideas that all of our technology, science, and inquiry are based upon.
Ask Questions and Consider All of the Answers
The fundamental questions that philosophers ask include the following: what is the nature of the Universe, what is my place in the Universe, who am I, what is right and wrong and how can I learn the answers to those questions. Some of those questions lead to the exploration of religion, others to the exploration of science, and still others to the exploration of literature. Philosophy is open to all questions, as long as one is willing to consider all possible answers, logically. The only true rule in philosophy is that philosophers must use reason and logic to try to come to the best possible answers.
To look at the questions more closely, philosophers study the following: is abortion wrong, how do we know God exists, what is art, should animals have rights, what is the purpose of education and what is happiness. This leads us to one important answer to the question, "Why study philosophy?" Because philosophers study those things that are essential to knowing who one is, what one should do, and what makes one happy. To be a happy person, it is probably a good idea to learn as much about oneself and one's place in the world as possible. That is the career of a philosopher, to know as much about everything as possible.
"But how could students, especially international students, make money by studying philosophy?," one might reply. Why study philosophy when there is no immediate philosophy career that comes to mind when we talk about philosophy? How can a student make the money necessary to eat and have a nice life when he or she is just thinking about ideas all the time? Consider the famous story about an ancient Greek philosopher named Thales. Thales was famous for being one of those philosophers who always had his head in the clouds. As a matter of fact, once he was so busy thinking that he fell down a well. After a while Thales got tired of people telling him that he would never make money as a philosopher so he made some very wise investments, so wise, in fact that he made a tremendous amount of money, and his friends found themselves having to ask him for financial help. After a short while, Thales gave the money away, arguing that money really didn't make anyone happy and he was content that he had proven his point—philosophers can make money; it just isn't that important to them.
Philosophers are Valued in Many Fields
It is true, philosophers can make money. Although one of the only job that states, "looking for philosophers" is as a philosophy professor, many career fields seek students with degrees in philosophy. Law schools tend to value applicants with philosophy degrees because philosophers have spent so much time with logical thought, argumentation, and intellectual rigor. Philosophers are also in demand as diplomats, writers, journalists, and policy-makers. Philosophers find themselves suited well for careers in business, computer science, healthcare, communications, and public relations. Whatever career it is that a student with a philosophy degree pursues, he or she is likely to do well in it because philosophy programs are focused on helping students learn to think well, logically, and rigorously. As a matter of fact the GRE, LSAT, and GMAT all report that philosophy majors test in the highest percentiles in those exams.
Focus on Critical Thinking, Reading and Writing
International students are likely to benefit by studying philosophy. Philosophy focuses primarily on critical thinking skills, reading, and writing. Everyone is likely to benefit from improving their critical thinking skills. International students who have trained their minds to be extra-sharp will find themselves in a better position than many to find jobs and succeed in their careers. Many fields are looking for people who can think quickly, creatively, and from many perspectives, and that is exactly what philosophers are trained to do.
International students will also find themselves benefiting from philosophy's focus on writing and reading. Students of philosophy learn how to read critically, and are taught to write with a focused and well-thought-out style. Any student, international or otherwise, who needs to brush up on their writing, will find that philosophy programs are an excellent place to improve and hone their skills. Not only will these writing skills help students in their chosen fields, it will help them get the jobs they seek, as they will be given the skills to write stronger resumes and cover letters.
Understand Your Place in the World
The best answer to why international students, and all students, should study philosophy, is because it is the one field that is focused completely on helping the student better understand his or her place in the world. While most fields train students to do something outside of themselves, philosophy is about learning to do something for yourself. The skills philosophy teaches do not always seem as if they will lead to money-making immediately. But what students find is that their self-reflection, critical thinking, and improved literary and communication skills make getting and excelling a job much easier. Students find that once having studied philosophy, they look at the world with a new wonder, and have a much better idea of what really makes them happy.