Jazz Up Your Job Search: Philosophy Degrees and Urban Planning

Written by Marcella Brylski

If you’re a humanities major, you probably can’t keep track of the number of times people have asked whether you’re going to be a teacher after Hillsdale. And often, it can seem that your options are, in fact, limited—what else can you do to use your hard-earned skills in the humanities besides teach or go to grad school? While these are both great options, I’m here to point you toward humanities students who stepped outside the box. Hillsdale humanities majors have put their skills to work in many creative ways, from selling Turkish rugs to starting a record label to opening up a small farm. I interviewed three of them to see what they’re up to, and (a bonus for us current students) each has a few tips for starting your own job search.

Madeline Johnson, Philosophy, ’17 | Urban Planning

In her senior year, Maddy knew that, though both are great options, she didn’t want to teach in a classical school or go straight into graduate school. She had a nagging sense that there were a lot of interesting and engaging things to do out in the world, things that would allow a Hillsdale student to put her creativity and critical thinking skills to work in a unique way. Senior year at Hillsdale, however, didn’t afford much time for the kind of outside-the-box research she wanted to do. So, to find the time and space to explore those options, she took a year abroad teaching English in France.

The year Maddy spent in France ended up being ideal for her for several reasons. In addition to improving her French language skills and gaining valuable professional experience, Maddy found that she did actually have the time and mental energy to put into her job search. She watched a series of documentaries about design jobs called Abstract (which she highly recommends as inspiration for starting to think creatively about career paths), conducted informational interviews, and perused London College’s extensive listings for two-year technical masters’ programs. It was during this time that Maddy discovered Urban Planning, a career that would allow her to level her critical skills at real-world problems in a creative and visibly impactful way. An urban planner works with land use, city infrastructure, and the placement of built structures (think buildings, parks, transportation, walking paths) to best suit a community’s needs.

The job offered a way for Maddy to use her skills as a student of philosophy to problem solve and create a balance between political, humane, and practical concerns—and, perhaps most importantly, to help build community, something that’s near and dear to most Hillsdale College students’ hearts. In the end, this discovery, along with the tangible benefits of her time abroad itself, outweighed any concerns she had about taking a year “off,” so to speak. Concerns that she had early on about whether it was wrong to take time away from the community she wanted to eventually settle down in (her hometown of Minneapolis, MN), if she would be too lonely, and if she was needlessly putting her life on hold, were answered by her experience. In addition to taking the time to sink down roots in Paris and engage in community there, she poured into her future by continuing her job search; and the time abroad itself, both teaching and traveling, was well worth the time and effort.

After discovering Urban Planning, Maddy looked around for people who worked in the field and started reaching out for more information. Once back in the states, she started to look into two-year professional programs in Urban Planning. After being turned down once or twice for her lack of experience in the field, an admissions officer suggested that she rely more heavily on her informational interviews; while she had no undergraduate experience in the field, her demonstrated, proactive interest in the field would go a long way. She eventually managed to land a spot in McGill University’s two-year program for urban planning on the strength of those informational interviews and, of course, her hard academic work. She now looks forward to working as an urban planner in Minneapolis, a job she has secured even before finishing her two-year program.

Marcella BrylskiMarcella Brylski, ’20, grew up in the great state of Minnesota, where she learned to love sunny fall days and distance running along the Mississippi River. She studies English and Greek at Hillsdale and takes great joy in unexpected conversations with friends, discovering contemporary poets, and unearthing treasures at the local thrift store.

Published in July 2020