In defence of the Arts degree: flexibility and change during life after school
When I left school I wanted to be ‘like, a serious literary writer’. I was a self-confessed literature snob who raved about Jane Eyre, and turned my nose up at young adult fiction (sorry Hunger Games). I had harboured aspirations to become a psychologist in my mid-high-school years, taking psychology as my ‘early’ VCE subject in year 10; but after excelling in English, and dedicating large quantities of my free-time in year 12 to developing my creative writing skills, I just really wanted to be an author.
After completing my VCE in English, English Literature (a second English to compensate for no maths subjects), Classics, Health, Studio Arts and Psychology, I decided a Bachelor of Arts (BA) was the most suitable degree. My parents were wary of me embarking on a BA. I remember going to an information session with my dad who was sceptical about the value of studying Arts at university; “they’re all having to do a further study”, he observed with disapproval, after listening to some Arts students speak about their degrees. He completed a BA after leaving school and struggled to find work in his field, eventually returning to university to gain qualifications in accounting. My dad encouraged me to major in communications or PR and said that psychology was a good way to go as far as acquiring vocational knowledge. Determined to continue on my journey to becoming a ‘proper writer’, while mindful that I needed expertise in something that would give me reliable employment and financial security, I settled on a double major in psychology and literary studies.
I did really well in my literature coursework in my first year at university and met a lot of cool people with similar interests to me (i.e. reading and talking (well, arguing) about books). The only problem – it was so, so boring. I realised that studying literature at uni basically consists of tonnes of required reading – that is, of books that I had very little interest in. This was a problem because I like to read what I like to read depending on my interests, mood, the time of year etc. and reading that is not prompted by an intrinsic desire to consume the story at hand can be torturous. I recall starting a Victorian literature unit, turning up to the first class and having our professor warn us that the unit would require a lot of long, dense reading of really old texts. Needless to say, I did not return to that class.
On the other hand, I was thoroughly enjoying my psychology classes. I spent lectures absorbed in the course content, and every chapter of my textbook unlocked great secrets of the human mind that just had to know. I was also excelling in sociology, which I had formerly intended to minor in. Upon the commencement of the second year, I decided that I would be far better off changing my literature major to sociology, which is a subject that I am passionate about and complements my psych major beautifully. I have now rekindled my dream of becoming a clinical psychologist, and intend to pursue further qualifications in this field. This does not mean I will not be a writer – quite the opposite, in fact. Now that I don’t have to waste my reading and writing time on topics and books that I do not care about, I can follow my interests to my heart’s content, and my writing has benefitted from this.
If you’re considering a BA, you are probably subject to sceptical family members, teachers and other snooty students pursuing more vocational degrees: ‘sure, if you really want to work at McDonald's for the rest of your life’. This disempowering attitude stems from a lack of understanding about what Arts degrees are in terms of their content and function. They are often slammed for being a bludge, and a ‘dead end’ career-wise, but this is not the case. For some reason, I always hear about people saying that Arts students should ‘go do something worthwhile’ and study engineering or something. The fundamental flaw in this logic is worthy of ridicule. Apparently I, a person who achieved 16% on my year 10 (and final) maths exam should go be an engineer. Thanks world, great advice. What happens when we have terrible buildings, and cars that don’t work because Arts students have been told to ditch their frivolous arty pursuits and take up engineering?
The fact of the matter is, no – most art majors are not ‘vocational’. That does not mean they are not valuable, it just means they don’t teach you how to do conventional jobs. So yes, you probably will have to do either a double degree or further study (i.e. Masters) to get work in your field. For me, the extra years of study I will have to complete to become qualified in my field are worth it. The most important thing about choosing a university degree is following your strengths and interests towards a fulfilling career. With this in mind, recognise that you will change, your interests will change – that is the only thing we can really be certain of.
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