You’re doing Arts? So when did you decide to become a waitress?
“Arts? Oh. Well. And you do think that’s useful?”
Even my friend’s practiced British politeness couldn’t cover up his disdain. Social etiquette forbade me from thrusting a boiled potato up his nose. I forced a laugh, made some comment, and pretended not to hear him ask for the salt.
This conversation happened between a family friend and me, when he came for dinner this time last year. He was talking about my decision to do an arts degree at university.
About this time now, hoards of high school graduates will be looking at their Uni choices and trying to work out what to do. And everyone, from the postman to your parents to your pet’s vet’s daughter, will feel entitled to give you their opinion.
The general consensus is that if you’re smart you’re going to uni. You’re going to do something sensible like med or engineering. Arts degrees are for lazy, druggie, greenie types who care more about the Somalian sea snake than getting jobs.
And the problem is that this advice comes from people like your parents, or family friends, who genuinely care about you. So not only do you feel you have to listen, you start to feel that it’s right.
Now I could rant on, from a completely un-bias perspective, about why arts degrees are amazing. But that’s not why I’m writing this. I’m writing this article, because I want students to feel they have a choice about what they want to do at university.
I want to reclaim the choice to do arts.
In any degree the most important thing is to want it. “The only degree worth doing is the one that gets you out of bed in the morning” says Hamish Coates, research director of higher education at the Australian Council of Educational research.
If you don’t care about your degree, you won’t bother to put in the effort. You’ll just waste your uni experience running away from work, when you could really embrace and enjoy it.
So if you really want to do arts, but your parents want you to med, be brave. Do arts. It’s the only way you’ll get the most out of uni.
Now you’ve probably heard the line “but employers don’t want arts degrees.”
But isn’t a good degree, in something we care about, more impressive to future employers than a half arsed degree in something we don’t? A good degree in arts shows that we’re intelligent, motivated and thoughtful people. A crap degree in commerce says that we flubbed through it, hung over from trying to forget our nightmares of being crushed by IRD forms.
“But Arts degrees have no practical use in real life” is the other wail.
Firstly, this statement is wrong. Arts degrees teach you how to form solid and persuasive arguments. That’s something we use every day.
But even if this statement was right, I would argue that maybe this is the beauty of university.
University is the last chance we get to stretch our minds to the very edges of our intellectual ability. University is about learning! And socialist Marxist gender norms! And beer pong! But it’s mostly about learning.
When we go into a job, we’re not going to be encouraged to solely stretch our minds. This is last chance!
Now it’s totally fine to subscribe to the modern approach, where university should give us practical benefits, like a job…which I admit would be nice…
But arts degrees still get you get a job. Think about it. The University of Melbourne Arts degrees remain the most popular degree in Victoria. All these graduates don’t just fall into homelessness because their Arts degrees repel employers like cheap aftershave.
They might not get you the prestigious jobs, and the nice salary, nice house and nice nod of normality from the neighbours. But do you care about that?
You only get one life. Wouldn’t you rather be happy in your job, even if it wasn’t so prestigious?
80% of people are unhappy in their jobs, according to Deloittes 2010. I personally don’t want to be. I don’t want to grind away at something respectable, only to end up with a mid-life crisis and kitchen full of organic pasta.
And that’s why I’m happy I chose Arts. It’s the only thing I want to do, because it makes me happy.
So if you’ve just left school, and are burning with a love of classical roman architecture…follow it. You, and only you, have the right to decide your life.