Why study the arts?

We’ve all heard it, whether from a Maths student or a University confessions page, that because an arts course doesn’t have 24 contact hours a week it can’t be considered a ‘real’ degree. There is a STEM vs Arts debate occurring on campuses across the UK, a debate that arts degrees are seemingly not winning.

As a History student myself, it can be daunting to think that the thousands of pounds that my course has cost could have been better spent on an Engineering, Law or even Physics course. However, on further consideration there are plenty of reasons why an arts degree is equal to any other degree – and for many students, the better choice.

Arts degrees should not be judged by their content but by the skills that they teach. I know full well that my recently gained knowledge of 17th century witch-hunts in England won’t be the deciding factor in my graduate job interview. It is the wealth of transferable skills that will make the difference.

An essay teaches you how to deal with a problem with limitless potential solutions.

Take the essay process: the common factor between all arts degrees, and the element that sets arts students apart from STEM students. It is easily applied as a metaphor for many different workplaces. The essay question is your business problem, deliberately vague and seemingly daunting. The reading is your research, there is no finite limit to it and the strength of your business solution is based on how applicable your research was. The essay structure is the presentation structure – you may have thought of the right ideas, but it is all about the way that they are presented. Unlike a maths question, there is no right answer to neither an essay nor a business problem, and an essay teaches you how to deal with a problem with limitless potential solutions –whereas a maths question testing a few complicated theories does not.

This is but one example of a transferable skill that arts degrees teach, including flexible working hours creating an ability to self manage, and even the infamous group project teaching students to work with others who may not share their enthusiasm or commitment.

There are also many different paths available that are based on the skills and not the content of the course.

The opportunities that arts degrees confer are far better than those that STEM degrees offer. Of course, for a History degree there are careers related to it, such as academia, teaching, and museum curation. But there are also many different paths available that are based on the skills and not the content of the course: journalism, civil service, and management, for example.

There is even significant opportunity in fields that at face value require other degrees. Potential lawyers have been encouraged not to study Law, but an arts subject. Unlike many other degrees, arts degrees give you plenty of freedom and don’t ‘lock you in’ to a specific career path.

There are over 400,000 university students studying Arts degrees today.

Arts degrees are defined by far more than their content, but concurrently their content is what makes them so popular. There are over 400,000 university students studying arts degrees today. For me personally, only an arts degree interests me; I’d rather risk the slightly lower graduate salary and pay money for a course that I enjoy and find fulfilling than take a STEM course that is dry, disinteresting, and forces me into a select few career paths for the rest of my life.

Arts degrees are only considered less important by those that expect them to confer all the advantages of a STEM degree without actually being a STEM degree. Arts degrees confer their own set of advantages in the skills that they teach and the wealth of opportunities that they create. For me, and for many other arts students, I not only feel that my choice to study an arts subject was the right one, but also the choice that sets me up best for post-university life.

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