What courses? Philosophy; mental philosophy; natural philosophy; plus a plethora of joint degrees.

What do you come out with? Usually BA, occasionally BSc. MA in Scotland.

Why do it? "How do we understand the world, make ethical judgements, and express our identity? Philosophy stands back from the everyday to reflect on underlying issues and assumptions in relation to ethics, aesthetics, politics, sciences, identity, meaning, mind and body. It involves the analysis and creation of concepts: the creation of new understandings and perspectives about the world. Philosophy means love of wisdom and enables a passionate engagement with ideas and arguments about how to live. Although often seen as esoteric, the study of philosophy develops the critical skills needed in all disciplines." - Dr Linnell Secomb, head of department, social, political and cultural studies, University of Greenwich

What's it about? Philosophy asks the big questions of why we are here and what underlies human thought. It’s thinking about knowledge, value, interpretation, explanation, morality, beauty, and whether they are true or false, exist in our minds or are really there. It is abstract, a study of ideas that has been going on for thousands of years. No right and wrong answers but a chance to make your argument. Much philosophy is linked to another subject, so you may study the history of philosophy (the Greeks, for example), moral philosophy or ethics (examining goodness, rights, duty) and political philosophy (liberty, justice, and the nature of the state). Aesthetics addresses beauty, expression and form, and ethics looks at what is relevant to society. Philosophy of the mind debates the arguments for and against the existence of God, the relationship of mind to body, and the immortality of the soul. You will be expected to develop sharp analytical skills when dealing with abstract problems, and be imaginative in the way you approach problems. There will be plenty of reading – Aristotle, Plato, Kant, Russell, Descartes, Locke, Spinoza, Wittgenstein and Nietzsche are names which will soon trip off your tongue.

Study options: Three years or four in Scotland. Joint degrees with classics, maths, physics or modern languages at Oxford can also take four years. In many universities it can be studied as a single degree, while at others, such as Oxford and York, it is offered as part of PPE (philosophy, politics and economics). It can be combined with any number of subjects in a joint honours degree, with popular combinations including maths, English, modern languages, ethics or history. Many universities still opt for the written exam, and most will usually be the option to do a dissertation.

What will I need to do it? Cambridge likes a mix of arts and science subjects and asks for A*AA. You’ll need AAA for UCL and a more modest BCC for Dundee.

What are my job prospects? Good, despite being a firmly non-vocational degree. Employers value transferable skills, clear and creative thinking, analysis, and the ability to express an argument. Potential careers include law, journalism, management consultancy, charities management, publishing and business. According to The Times’ Good University Guide 2012, 27 per cent of leavers go straight into graduate-level jobs, earning an average starting salary of around £20,000.

Where’s best to do it? Oxford came top of the Complete University Guide 2012, followed by LSE, Cambridge and UCL. Students at Greenwich, Trinity St David, Stirling, Manchester Metropolitan, Sussex and Dundee were the most satisfied with their courses however.

Related courses: Politics and international studies; psychology; sociology; theology and religious studies; law; history of art; history.