Careers | Are arts & humanities degrees useless?

are arts degrees useless

An increasing number of students are asking the same question: are arts degrees useless? If you’re going to pay a university £9,000 per year at the very minimum, you want to know the worth of your course. A degree, such as Art History, French or English, doesn’t have a direct career path. So, what you can do with your bachelor of arts degree afterwards? What skills will you learn? Do employers value an arts degree?

If you’re thinking about studying an arts degree, or already are, the news is good! I’m an arts graduate myself, who has seen huge value in my Liberal Arts degree. I’ve been hired because of it. I’ve persuaded clients to work with me because of it. And today, I work with cultural organisations who all want to recruit arts students.

I’ve also seen many success stories of arts graduates being hired in exciting and varied organisations, from charities to advertising agencies and investment banks. So, for anyone with doubts or questions, here’s why an arts degree is extremely useful.

You learn important skills during an arts degree

You learn a load of skills which are super useful in the workplace. Here are 5 of the top skills which most employers want, and which you’ll develop during your arts degree.

1. Communication skills: from writing essays, giving presentations and discussing topics in seminars you will have learnt to communicate clearly and effectively. Strong writers are especially rare and in demand.

2. Organisational and time management skills: you’ll have to balance different deadlines, taking charge of your independent research and writing, library trips and lectures, and hand work in on time.

3. Creativity: You’ll need to think creatively (and critically). There’s no right or wrong answer in the arts. Hiring managers want to find creative problem-solvers, which you will become throughout your degree.

4. Analytical and evaluation skills: you’ll have to assimilate, mediate and evaluate large amounts of complex information, presenting this concisely. Trust me, it’s the same in many jobs.

5. Independence: much of your work will be done independently. You’ll have to evaluate your own performance and take steps to improve it if needs be. Employers appreciate this sort of self-discipline and drive to keep going.

Arts graduates go into a diverse range of jobs

Are you wondering what jobs you can get into with an arts and humanities degree? It turns out that most employers don’t focus so much on your specific degree, as much as the skills you have learnt and what work experience you’ve gained (more on how to get into the arts via work experience here).

Popular jobs for arts and humanities graduates include: Writing, Journalism, PR, Management Consultancy, Events Management, Marketing, Advertising, Heritage and Museums, Publishing, the Civil Service, and the list goes on.

are arts degrees useless

Use the Alumni Tool on LinkedIn to see arts graduates’ careers

I recommend looking at what alumni (graduates) from your course/university have gone on to do. You can do this on LinkedIn. There is a specific Alumni Tool which allows you to search for graduates from your university, and filter by career sector, location and year of graduation. This sort of stalking is acceptable – really!

In the Search box enter the name of your university – when it pops up click on it and follow to the University’s page.

You will then see a blue button ‘See Alumni’. Follow it.

This brings you to the Alumni search tool. Now the fun begins!

At the top of your Alumni page you’ll see three subheadings: “Where they live,” “Where they work,” and “What they do.”

You can also enter degree type into the search box, pulling up all alumni from a specific course.

Happy searching!

Following your heart is important

If you’re going to study a subject for 3 or more years, you need to be interested in it! This may sound pretty obvious, but I’ve met plenty of students who decided to study Law because they thought it would lead to a successful career and well-paid job. They then realised they had no interest in Law.

As an aside: did you know that you can study an arts or humanities subject as your degree subject and then take a one-year conversion course in Law? Plenty of successful lawyers have taken this route.

But back to the arts.

I was told by many people that Art History wasn’t ‘a proper subject’ and an arts degree wouldn’t lead to a good job. It was hard for me to tell teachers, and even parents, that I was going to go against their advice. But I am very glad I did. You see, I had no idea what job I wanted at the end of my course. Specialising in art history, I started to realise that I wanted to work with artwork after graduation.

Work experience was a great way to confirm what sort of roles I should apply for. And I need to stress that work experience is essential alongside your degree.

Once I had identified the sorts of jobs I was after, my arts degree was crucial in getting me there. My motivation and very real interest in my arts degree came across in interviews with employers. I talked about essays I had written on modern Italian art and got a job at that Italian art gallery. Selling artwork to clients came easily because I had learnt a great deal about art history during my degree. They valued my knowledge.

Today I am a freelance art blogger and writer. I always mention my degree when pitching for new projects.

are arts degrees useless
Charlie Price is an entrepreneur and founder of Culture Cake | Jess Barber performs in her theatre company LYNNEBEC at the Lapworth Museum

Arts graduates make excellent entrepreneurs

A good number of arts graduates go on to become entrepreneurs because of their self-drive, creativity and independence. Meet Charlie Price,  Entrepreneur and CEO of Mini Screen Pictures. Charlie studied Ancient History at the University of Birmingham, graduating in 2011. Last year he launched an app called Culture Cake, which connects people to Art and Culture, wherever they are.

“A key take-away for me when reading Ancient History, was how it taught me to analyse sources, and interpret historical information, without projecting any preconceptions onto it. Often, these sources would have information that could be misinterpreted at first glance, and developing this appreciation for sources has made me naturally more inquisitive of information I have to analyse today – whether that’s analysing new business opportunities – or just reading the news”.

Consider creative freelancing as a career

Jessica Barber (BA Hons, Drama and Theatre Arts, 2016) is a creative freelancer. She is a Volunteer Coordinator at BE FESTIVAL, which she balances alongside working as a Drama Facilitator, creating workshops at arts organisations such as Secret City Arts and Ikon Gallery. She also runs her own Fitness Classes (Fitsteps) and is one half and a founding member of theatre company LYNNEBEC.

“During my degree I was heavily involved in extracurricular activities at the Guild of Students whilst making new networks across Birmingham which meant I was out most evenings either rehearsing or at a workshop/class. This meant I had to be super organised with paperwork and delegating my time strategically so that I met all of my course deadlines.

My course gave me huge amounts of creative courage. The variety of modules meant I could explore aspects of theatre I hadn’t engaged with before which opened a whole new world of appreciation and a platform to demonstrate this.
As a creative freelancer, these skills are pretty essential”.

Are arts degrees useless
Black Panther star and arts graduate, Chadwick Boseman, told students to find and focus on their purpose

Find and follow your purpose

The Black Panther star, Chadwick Boseman, made headlines earlier this year for doing the “Wakanda Forever” salute at Howard University. His speech was also profound. Boseman, a Howard arts alumnus himself, told graduates that they won’t regret taking a harder, longer path to success.

“When you are deciding on next steps, next jobs, next careers, further education, you should rather find purpose than a job or a career. Purpose crosses disciplines. Purpose is an essential element of you. It is the reason you are on the planet at this particular time in history. Your very existence is wrapped up in the things you are here to fulfil”.

Success stories

If you still don’t believe me, I’ll just leave this list of successful arts graduates here:

J.K.Rowling studied a BA in French and Classics at the University of Exeter.

Oprah Winfrey secured a full scholarship to Tennessee State University, where she studied communication.

Howard Schultz, Starbucks CEO, has a degree in Communications from Northern Michigan University

Susan Wojcicki, YouTube CEO, has a B.A. in History and Literature from Harvard University.

Hannah Witton is a recent History graduate from the University of Birmingham. She is a successful YouTuber, broadcaster, and author.

Matt Carey-Williams who studied Art History at the University of Birmingham, is a leading expert in contemporary art. He has been a Director at galleries including White Cube, Deputy Chairman at Philips Auctioneers and represents artists including Damien Hirst.

There are many, many more. Feel free to add to this list by leaving a message in the comments section.

Invest in yourself with an arts degree

So, consider what motivates you and invest in it. If that’s an arts degree, it won’t be useless. Trust me, and trust yourself too.

But remember, you will need to gain work experience during your time at university too. I explain how you can do that here. 

Ruth x

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *