Battling with the inevitable stigmatisation of your degree choice

Tip number one: Don’t study Law just because you watched Suits

This time two years ago, I was pouring myself into my personal statement and spending my time refreshing UCAS, hoping some inspiration (or at least a good reason) for choosing my degree would strike.

I had never been someone who had genuinely no idea what to study at university, but naturally I had my doubts. These doubts were also undeniably heightened by the fact that I went to a school that smugly lit the spark under the backsides of the STEM students, leaving the humanities students to fend for themselves.

But as the January 15th deadline approached, I began to question whether I should be passionately articulating my love for the law instead of babbling on about novels and The New Yorker. Not so coincidentally, I happened to be deep in the sensationalized legal world of Suits, wondering if a Manhattan apartment bared any resemblance in price to Edinburgh’s Kincaid’s Court.

I had now found myself deep in the courtroom of own my mind, playing the lawyer on each side – was it to be Harvey Specter or Jane Austen?

To cut the most frustrating, inconvenient and unrealistic internal deliberations short, I went ahead with choosing to study English. And luckily, I don’t regret it (at least not yet). However, I’d be lying if I said I was 100 per cent confident in my decision, and didn’t often think about what would have happened if I had chosen to study Law.

Firstly, I think about how a Suits style Manhattan apartment might actually be a realistic prospect, and secondly, I think about how differently I would be treated if I told people I’m a Law student, rather than an English Lit one.

Over the past two years, I have learned to not be embarrassed by my chosen degree, reminding myself that I should never make choices for myself based on someone else’s preferences. I also remind myself that I didn’t suck up to my traumatising English teacher for years for no reason.

From my experience, English is one of those degree choices that garners very mixed reactions

From my research, I have found that I will usually get an eyebrow raise and an “Ah, okay” from most males and an “Ah, nice” from most females. I’ve also had some people completely blank me and then go on to tell me they do Chemistry. But, I’ve also had some people express genuine interest and proceed to tell me all the books that they have read recently. Honestly, this is even worse than being blanked. Yes, I have read Normal People and no, I have not read They Both Die At The End, I am too busy trying to convince myself that Shakespeare is indeed worth the hype.

Although I try not to let the disappointing looks affect me, I can’t help but fantasise about the impressed looks that I would probably receive if I were to say that I study Law, especially because I considered it to be a genuine possibility at the time. Not to mention, it does look more impressive to be at the Old College every day, rather than the back-alley of 40 George Square.

Ironically, studying a traditionally prestigious subject like Law is the easy way out – for reputation, not workload! I find myself persevering through the defence of my chosen degree rather than Hard Times, so there’s the sign that I’m focused on the wrong thing. The stigma of studying English revolves around unemployability and Waterstones, whereas the reputation that comes with a Law degree is probably something along the lines of money and a therapist.

Every degree has its negative connotations, but you’ll only find the genuine positive ones from your own perspective

Although you can’t prevent uncomfortable and disappointing reactions, the reality is that after a few bottles of Glen’s in a random accommodation kitchen, the stranger you’ve mentioned your subject to won’t have remembered what you said. And if they did remember, they probably didn’t care.

As corny as it is, the most important thing is that you’re doing a degree that you somewhat enjoy. I have never met anyone who was 100 per cent content with the decision they made at 17 years old, and most students have questioned whether they’d find it easier to study if they’d picked a different subject. So my advice is don’t question it too much.

And if you’re doing a subject that you absolutely hate, at least be doing it for the millions, because in some cases money can buy happiness. The harsh truth is this: if there’s no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for you to find, there will definitely be a deep money pit of almost £40k in student loans. So pick your courses wisely.

Related articles recommended by this writer:

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I study humanities and I’m tired of people making fun of my degree

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