Last year, venture capitalist Marc Andreessen said that he believed in the value of college, but only for maths-based majors, rather than the “softer stuff,” like English or philosophy.
“I’m sure it’s fun, but the average college graduate with a degree in something like English is going to end up working in a shoe store,” he said.
Andreessen’s comments ignore the fact that you get more out of college than job-specific skills. You learn how to think critically, write well, sell ideas, and interact with people. And the statistics on humanities majors’ ability to secure jobs aren’t as bad as people think.
Even philosophy, one of the more cerebral and seemingly less practical majors out there, has produced some incredibly successful people. Here are some of our favourite examples.
Icahn is the chairman of Icahn Enterprises and is one of the most well-known and aggressive activist investors of our time, buying and eventually folding Trans World Airlines, and more recently trying to take over Netflix.
His philosophy thesis for his 1957 degree was titled 'The Problem of Formulating an Adequate Explication of the Empiricist Criterion of Meaning.' He also went to New York University's Medical School, but dropped out without graduating.
Until last summer, Bair served as the chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, having been appointed by George W. Bush in 2005. She helped prevent the financial system from collapsing in 2008. She's since written a book, 'Bull by the Horns: Fighting to Save Main Street from Wall Street and Wall Street from Itself.'
Bair received her B.A. in philosophy from the University of Kansas and later got a J.D. from the same school.
Soros, the chairman of Soros Fund Management, is one of the most successful hedge fund managers of all time. He's particularly well known for a 1992 bet against the pound, which earned him the nickname 'the man who broke the Bank Of England.'
In college while studying under renowned philosopher Karl Popper, Soros worked as a railway porter and a waiter to pay his tuition.
Allison Jr. rose through the ranks at Merrill Lynch, eventually becoming its chief operating officer. He left the company in mid-1999 and went on to serve as CEO of Fannie Mae and to oversee the Troubled Asset Relief program.
He earned a B.A. in philosophy from Yale, served four years in the Navy, and then got his MBA from Stanford.
Levin joined Time Inc.'s HBO in the 1970s and helped develop the business model that made HBO a huge success. He later engineered the merger with Warner Carner that turned the company into a true media giant. He became CEO in the early '90s. However, his tenure ended less positively with a disastrous merger with AOL.
As a philosophy major at Haverford College, Levin studied the continuity between Jewish and Christian theology.
Byrne almost made philosophy his career. After getting an undergraduate degree from Dartmouth in Chinese studies, he went on to get a doctorate in philosophy from Stanford.
Byrne did teach at Standford briefly but ultimately decided to pursue a career in business. He helped found Overstock in 1999, took over as CEO the same year, and took it public in 2002.
Thiel is a co-founder and former CEO of PayPal. He currently serves as president of Clarium Capital and as a managing partner at venture capital firm the Founder's Fund. He was also the first outside investor in Facebook.
Despite his well-publicised criticism of higher education, Thiel got his undergraduate degree in 20th century philosophy at Stanford in 1989, and a law degree in 1992. His pronounced libertarian streak came out at the school, and he co-founded the conservative/libertarian Stanford Review newspaper in 1987.