Just because I’m not doing a ‘traditional course’, doesn’t mean my degree is worthless

Ask yourself: why are you *really* judging that Classics student?

Is every Fine Arts student unemployable? Is everything a History student studies completely irrelevant? Are STEM degrees the only respectable ones? If you agree with those statements, chances are your opinions are biased. Also, you don’t know anything about the Arts.

If you watch Netflix every day, it would be kind of strange to say that Film Studies is irrelevant. And if your main hobby is going to concerts, it would be even weirder to think Music students have no clue what they’re doing with their lives. If you just love going to art galleries… you get the point.

Arts and Humanities education is necessary for so much of what we love. Ultimately, however, our negative perceptions of certain degrees boil down to inaccurate stereotypes, and a lack of knowledge about how education helps with our careers. “Non-traditional” courses are as important (and employable) as “traditional” ones, and our biases are stopping us from seeing them for what they are. Here’s a breakdown of why this needs to stop:

What is a “traditional” course, anyway?

The idea of which course is “traditional” or “non-traditional” is extremely limited. The only degrees that are categorically useful, are those leading to careers that absolutely require licensing (like Medicine and Law.) You could argue that every other degree is redundant– but this would be far from the truth.

So if it’s not about the necessity for the course, what defines a “traditional” course? If a degree is only worthwhile when it has high employability, then many “non-traditional” degrees can be considered worth it. 92.6 percent of teaching graduates in the UK receive job opportunities, or continue on to postgraduate study after their first degree. 86 percent of language graduates do the same within just six months of graduation.

“Non-traditional” courses provide multiple career options

Most people assume “non-traditional” degrees are worthless because they don’t lead directly to a specific career. Degrees like Law or Computer Science have a predefined career path attached to them. For example, if you do a Law degree, you’re almost always going to work as a lawyer of some kind. Additionally, “traditional” degrees have a fixed area of study, not moving beyond one or two fields contained within the scope of the course.

“Non-traditional” courses like Music or History are extremely interdisciplinary. You learn about your chosen course and about all fields possibly related to it. Music students, depending on the modules they choose to take, can learn about the history of music, notation and composition, or music recording and production software. History students can choose to learn about politics, theory, or philosophy as part of their degree. This is simply because the field of study for most “non-traditional” degrees is vast.

Often, the interdisciplinary nature of these “non-traditional” courses provides a variety of knowledge that appeals to students who want to make the most of university. Because these courses teach lots of different things, they open up multiple career paths, rather than a few. An English student like me could be a journalist, teacher, academic, social media content creator, and so much more.

Stereotypes about courses are often not true

Think about the last time you joked about an unemployable Film Studies student, or a dim-witted Geography student. What are these jokes actually based off of? Most of them rely on stereotypes that simply cannot be applied to all students, and are often proved untrue.

The idea that students who study the Arts will never earn enough money to sustain themselves is one many of us cling to without knowing anything about the specifics of Arts degrees, or how they translate to careers. Similarly, labelling students who study courses like Geography as ‘dim-witted’ shows a fundamental ignorance of what these courses entail. Some of the most influential individuals in history, like philosopher Immanuel Kant and naturalist Hugh Dennis, have graduated with a degree in Geography. Their existence is one of many reasons stereotyping students who do specific courses is not only annoying but also inaccurate.

Believing that Arts and Humanities courses are easier than STEM courses is unfounded, too. There’s no one way to equate creative study to scientific study: it’s like comparing apples to oranges. Both need a different kind of aptitude and expertise, and neither can be done well with the knowledge required for the other.

Some courses exist for specialised learning early-on

Not everyone goes to university to acquire the same kind of knowledge. For those studying to be doctors, university education is about a mix of practical and theoretical knowledge, full of opportunities to work in labs and at hospitals. For those studying philosophy, university education is all about reading, writing, and theorising. Each course uses a mix of practical, theoretical, and creative education to provide the learning that fits it best.

Some courses are broad and aim to give students an overview of their specific subject. Students can choose to build on this knowledge by specialising later on. However, more niche courses like Ancient History serve the purpose of providing specialised learning to students early-on.

Almost every job or career necessitates expertise in a specific field, and if you know exactly what it is you want to do after university, a specialised “non-traditional” degree can get you there faster.

Education isn’t what matters most in your career

Your skills do. Teamwork, dealing with deadlines, logic and reasoning skills– these are absolutely essential to finding a great job, yet none of them come with a degree certification. The best things I’ve learnt from my English degree aren’t about Shakespeare or the Odyssey: they’re actually the communication, writing, and critical thinking skills I can apply to almost any field. (there they are, those ‘transferable skills’ everyone keeps going on about!)

At the end of the day, not everyone wants to study what you want to study. The idea of what a worthwhile university degree should be is purely individual, and varies based on interests and career plans. The sooner we can recognise that our beliefs about other students’ degrees are a reflection of our own biases, the more understanding we can be towards the interests of others, and what motivates our own.

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