Are humanities and art degrees worth the student loan?

What do you want to be when you grow up? How many times are you asked that throughout your life and expected to have a solid answer, as if life isn’t constantly in flux.

It’s an anxiety-inducing question, especially for people who haven’t figured it all out yet. Maybe your answer to this unoriginal question has changed from astronaut to accountant through the years. Of course, if you really want to be an accountant, that’s fine: numbers appeal to lots of people.

While it’s smart to see where the gaps in the market are and learn the requisite skills, what if you dream of becoming an artist or are really interested in learning about Vikings, where does that leave you? Are humanities and art degrees worthless?

CASH IS KING

One of the reasons humanity and art degrees get criticised is the perception that the jobs you’ll get after your graduate won’t pay that much, and you’d be better off financially studying law. There is some truth in this: there is a lot of competition for creative jobs and that often leaves graduates with unpaid internships as your time isn’t as valued as if you were working for a financial services company. Taking out a big student loan to slog away for four years to work for minimum wage isn’t anyone’s ideal situation, but that’s not always how the cookie crumbles.

Here’s the thing: if you’re really interested in your arts degree, then you’re invested emotionally in it and will work harder for it than something you’re only doing because it’s what you feel you should do. You’ll do work placements in the creative sector you’re interested in.

And it’s not like studying history at university means you have to become a historian. 60% of industry leaders including MPs and CEOs have humanities degrees. How do you like them apples?

JOB FOR LIFE

It’s not a choice between pursuing your passion and choosing a more stable career: that’s a total oversimplification. The world is changing faster than ever. Do you love social media? You could end up running social media campaigns for your fave brands – and the technology didn’t even exist ten years ago.

But parents and teachers are concerned for your future, and don’t want to hear about how your Snapchat obsession will bring in the big bucks when you graduate. Things do look precarious: we’re on the brink of Brexit and living in an age of austerity, but that doesn’t mean that studying fine art because you want to be Frida Kahlo should be nixed.

“An art degree is quite an academic subject, especially at honours,” says Joyce Cartwright, assistant director of curriculum and quality at Moray College, who is keen to dispel the myth that a degree in fine arts is simply a passion project. “A lot of our students are unsure of where they are going to go after university,” she says, but that’s very normal. You don’t have to choose rightaway and it’s good to be flexible.

Many art students end up in galleries and museums as you would expect, and graphic designers are involved in promotional material and marketing. You might end up as creative director for your fave fashion house – seriously.

Involvement with the arts community is becoming increasingly popular for art grads. Teaching basic art skills to children or adults with learning problems, or who have suffered a trauma is called art therapy and can be just as rewarding as working on your own art.

“As art is such a wide ranging subject, there are a lot of career opportunities,” says Joyce. “We just did a project with NHS Grampian: taking art into hospitals, community centres and schools is really important,” she says, noting that one graduate went on to work with special needs adults and children.

There are a lot of career choices out there for arts that may not be obvious to everyone. While becoming an artist might be the dream, Joyce points out that having a part-time job is the reality and all the teachers at Moray College are practicing artists. And in fact, this is true across a lot of industries – millennials have a couple of jobs often in totally different lines of work, and three side hustles to boot.

GET HUSTLIN’

It doesn’t really matter what you choose for your degree: it’s all about the experience you get. Sadly, not many of us get handed anything on a plate, so you gotta go out there and grab the bull by the horns. If you want to be a writer, join your student rag, pitch to your favourite newspapers and magazines, and ask for work experience. If you’re interested in becoming a book publisher, join Scottish Young Publishers. If you want to become an artist or designer, show off what you can do on social media and start creating a buzz about your talents.

As for me, I studied English at university, and I’ve not done too badly.

Words by Laura Hamilton, Source Editor

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