A degree in ethics can prepare you to work in a variety of fields advising and writing about ethical dilemmas. Some hospitals and corporations, for example, hire ethicists. If you're interested in graduate school, your ethics degree can help you make decisions about your chosen field, or can serve as a springboard to a graduate degree in ethics or philosophy.
Ethics represents a sub-field in philosophy, so many people interested in ethics pursue philosophy degrees and take multiple classes in ethics. If your school doesn't offer an ethics degree, this might be a viable option. Some colleges, however, offer undergraduate and graduate degrees focused on ethics. You won't typically need to meet strict prerequisites, but you will need strong reading, writing and analytical skills to succeed in ethics classes.
Ethics programs typically give students a survey of ethical philosophies, the history of ethics, guidelines for making ethical decisions, skills for analyzing decisions and writing and rhetoric skills. At Carroll College, for example, students take classes in philosophy as well as courses in ethics, ethical theory and issues. They can also choose from a wide variety of topics such as business, environmental and communication ethics. An introduction to basic ethical issues is a common component of most ethics programs, so you'll probably take classes in which you're presented with common debates in ethics and typical ethical dilemmas.
An undergraduate degree in any field can greatly boost your earning potential compared with what you'll make with no college degree. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2013 that the average college graduate makes $1,066 per week. However, there are few jobs that require a degree in ethics, and many ethicists attend graduate school. Some companies hire graduates with ethics degrees to advise about ethical dilemmas and review company policies; you might also work in human resources. Writing on ethics is also an option, and some newspapers have columns written by ethicists.
If you plan to attend graduate school, you face a wide variety of options. Biomedical ethics is a rapidly growing field, and some schools offer programs in this specialty. A degree in ethics can also be useful if you plan to go to law school or if you want to join a helping profession such as medicine of psychology. Professional ethics play key roles in these jobs, and a strong foundation in ethics can enable you to make good decisions. A wide variety of graduate programs address specific types of ethics. American University, for example, offers a master's degree in ethics, peace and global affairs.
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.