good defences of Arts degree

Fresh out of university and hunting for a job, the process seemed simultaneously daunting and exciting. People had said it was hard, it was competitive, and to stay at uni for as long as possible, so as to avoid the whole ordeal.

But after three years, it seemed time to become a grown-up. To have a job that didn’t pay cash in hand. To wear a pencil skirt.

What did it matter if my degree was one of those with an unnecessarily long title to mask the fact that it was, in fact, an arts degree in disguise?

Unfortunately, my Bachelor of International and Global Studies fooled no one. After three years of university, no one, myself included, was convinced the investment in my education was worthwhile.

Anger ensued. Anger at my teachers and my mentors. Anger at my parents and at employers. Anger at the university, and more than anything, at myself. For “wasting” three years of my life. For listening to people who advised me “keep my options open”, or “find what I was passionate about”.

The value of my undergraduate degree was unclear when I was being turned away from job after job. Or when it was 2am and there was an essay on the impact of religiosity on the American political system due the following day. Or when the final exam was over and everyone threw down their pens and headed straight for the pub.

Almost a year on, the value of my degree is obvious. Outside of an arts-based degree, there are no opportunities to sit in lecture theatres and listen to the merits of free versus fair trade. No one considers it necessary for you to spend hours researching the United States pivot towards Asia. You never again stumble into classrooms, half asleep and are asked to offer your opinions on biological warfare or transgender rights or food security.

An arts degree is an opportunity to spend three years having your mind cracked open, being challenged and tested and frustrated about the state of the world.

The concepts and theories that you learn in an arts-based bachelor degree might seem pointless to an outsider. Friends of my parents would tilt their head and ask, “and what exactly do you do with that?” Their scepticism was familiar, and to an extent valid. What wasthe point of learning about national security strategies and health crises, unless you wanted to spend your life in the public service?

The point is that the things you learn will shape the causes you involve yourself in and of course, the way you vote. They’ll make you speak up at a dinner party or a work function and defend the positions you formed at university. And perhaps, most importantly of all, they’ll help you to analyse the news, rather than just believe whatever the media wants to tell you.

At the beginning of your degree, it is easy to read the set texts and take the position presented as fact, to take the authors’ opinions and make them your own. The HSC is an exercise in regurgitating the information that your teachers feed you – you become unaccustomed to having thoughts of your own. By your final semester there are insults to the author scribbled in the margins of your readings. Without even realising it is happening, you will have thrown off the dichotomy of high school, where your answers were either right or wrong, and learned that as long as you can support it, your opinion is just as valid as anyone else’s. They are opinions that are your own, borne out of facts and research rather than prejudice or ignorance.

Arts-based degrees force you to broaden your mind, before the world around you tries to stitch it closed again. It’s hard to find the time to think about global inequality or indigenous affairs when there are bank accounts to balance and dinners to make.

Every one is so eager to call teenagers small-minded or narcissistic. Of course they are, because we never give them an opportunity to be anything other than those things at school. We are surprised that their maths homework isn’t inspiring them to want to change the world or that they don’t know the first thing about the Australian political system, even though the only time they were taught anything about it was when they were 11 and visited Parliament House.

University is a chance, the only chance you have really, to study things so far outside the normal realms of education. To spend some time filling in the gaps that your high school education left you with. So, take philosophy or government or Greek and Roman myth. You have three years to learn a diverse range of things. So go. Do it. Because not too long from now, it might be a privilege reserved for the wealthy.

Lily Peschardt subsequently completed a Masters in Publishing in her quest for work.