There is often confusion surrounding the various types of degrees one can get in philosophy. As with most educational programs, the time required to obtain a philosophy degree depends on the student's ability or availability to complete the coursework.

Generally speaking, it takes about four years to earn a bachelor's degree in philosophy, two years to earn a master's degree and six to eight years to earn a doctorate.

How to Get a Degree in Philosophy

Before discussing the ways that someone can earn a degree in philosophy, it is helpful to explain the subject. Philosophy is a field of study concerned specifically with the exploration and examination of the experience of being alive, and the variety of human feelings that an individual experiences as he or she seeks to understand the meaning of his or her life. The study of philosophy not only encompasses the exploration of questions related to existence, but it also requires the study of the history of the discipline, which reaches far back to the earliest recorded writings of thinkers from the ancient world.

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Generally, people who are seeking to get a degree in philosophy are hoping to explore the questions surrounding the nature and purpose of humanity's existence on earth. This sounds like a daunting undertaking, and it certainly can be. However, it is perfectly normal for undergraduate students who are fresh out of high school to pursue a degree in philosophy. The study of philosophy typically begins with introductory courses that walk students through the history of the field, its origin, the key thinkers, writings and ideas.

If I Get A Bachelor's Degree in Philosophy Do I Have to Get a Ph.D?

Many people assume that getting a degree in philosophy means going to school for a Ph.D. or doctorate. However, this is not always the case. Bachelor's degrees in philosophy are common and are roughly obtained in the four years that it takes most people to earn other degrees.

Once a student has graduated with a bachelor's degree, he or she may choose to pursue further study in philosophy and decide to apply to or enroll in a master's degree program. In some other cases, the student may be so enamored of the discipline that he or she chooses to enroll in a Ph.D. program.

How Long Does A Bachelor's Degree in Philosophy Take?

Studying for a bachelor's degree in philosophy usually take four years of full-time classes. In some cases, a student has prior credits from high school or a baccalaureate program that is applicable to his or her undergraduate study. In cases like these, or if a student takes a particularly heavy course load, he or she may be able to complete their undergraduate study in only three years, but this is generally not the norm.

Not every school offers an undergraduate degree in philosophy, but most schools do have majors and a high concentration of undergraduate coursework in philosophy. This generally means that a student can graduate with a B.A. in philosophy or with a "concentration" in philosophy.

How Long Does A Master's Degree in Philosophy Take?

Students enroll in master's degree programs after completing their undergraduate degrees. Master's degree programs are like the stepping stone to a Ph.D., but there are some Ph.D. programs that allow students to apply without having earned a master's degree. Generally, these programs are longer than traditional Ph.D. programs because the idea is that the student will be making up some of the masters-level coursework to attain the status necessary to move on to further study.

Master's programs typically take about two years of full-time study. Because most master's candidates are working full-time or at least part-time, many of them take about three or four years to earn their degree. If you are in a situation where you do not need to be generating income and can just study, you may be in a position to earn your degree in the minimum time required.

How Long Does A Ph.D in Philosophy Take?

Ph.D. programs in philosophy vary in length and duration. Most of the time a student is enrolled in a Ph.D. program he or she is given a stipend and is expected to pursue the degree as a full-time student, thus refraining from protracting the years of study necessary to obtain the degree. Getting a Ph.D. in philosophy can take between six and 10 years, depending on the program of study, and whether a student's dissertation has been defended, which is a requirement for graduation in virtually every Ph.D. program. Another aspect of Ph.D. programs is that students in them are often required to teach undergraduate classes in order to fulfill the requirements for their degree.

How to Get a Doctorate in Philosophy

Earning a doctorate or a Ph.D. is the highest degree bestowed on someone studying a particular discipline. A Ph.D. is the ultimate academic achievement and represents the most thorough examination of a subject that is possible for a student to have undertaken. Earning a doctorate makes you eligible to be a professor or attain the highest levels of pedagogical instruction. Ph.D. programs often feature extensive research and teaching as part of the program, rather than simply the traditional method of coursework. A Ph.D. program also requires that the student be writing and publishing in academic journals.

What is the Purpose of a Ph.D Program?

More than simply the acquisition of knowledge, a Ph.D. program requires that the student make active contributions to the field of scholarship. This includes, but is not limited to, the student's dissertation, which is meant to be an extensive piece of scholarship that adds something new to the discipline, and ideally pushes the level of understanding of the topic at hand further than it has been pushed before.

Most people pursuing a doctorate in philosophy embark on their Ph.D. program after their course of study in a master's program is complete. However, this is not a requirement. Many people who do not complete a master's degree in philosophy enroll in Ph.D. programs that allow them to enter the course of doctorate study holding only a bachelor's degree. These Ph.D. programs tend to be longer and more demanding of the students because they will need to complete more work than traditional programs that require you to have completed a master's degree.

What Can You Do With a Bachelor's of Philosophy?

Many people dismiss the degree of philosophy as being inapplicable to life in the working world. However, while philosophy is harder to monetize than a business, sports medicine or dentistry degree, there are many things you can do with a bachelor's of philosophy that are highly desirable in the world of professionals.

Most people are aware that a bachelor's degree or B.A. is awarded upon completion of an undergraduate course of knowledge that requires the study of a variety of subjects. When a student holds a bachelor's in philosophy it means that philosophy was the student's major. This means that the student has proven him or herself as a good writer, reader and communicator. These skills are valuable both in academia as a teacher or an administrator, in public health as someone who works in the nonprofit sector, and in private sector jobs such as media, publishing, business, human resources, and any other fields that require a solid base in the humanities.

About the Author

Ashley Friedman is a freelance writer with experience writing about education for a variety of organizations and educational institutions as well as online media sites. She has written for Pearson Education, The University of Miami, The New York City Teaching Fellows, New Visions for Public Schools, and a number of independent secondary schools. She lives in Los Angeles.