Did you know just how useless your degree was going to be? Undergraduates are always told to carefully pick their degree course because of its employment prospects, but maybe the advice should be more along the lines of ‘make sure you choose something you like, it’s the last thing you’ll be able to enjoy doing before you get that job at your dad’s insurance firm’.
We need to change our attitude to what the real purpose of non-vocational degrees is. Rather than expecting them to provide a relevant and worthwhile career afterward, degrees in social sciences and humanities should be viewed as a purely intellectual pursuit of a subject one finds interesting, a very expensive hobby that lasts for three or so years.
Up and down the country, ex BA degree students are seeking permanent employment after graduating with a humanities or social sciences degree this summer. The skills they will have learnt whilst at University, including good communication, team work and presentation skills (not to mention surviving on a weekly food budget of approximately £4.62), will bolster their CVs no doubt, but what about their knowledge of the particular subject they studied at degree level?
I ask this question because in recent weeks I have noticed a large number of my graduate friends are all gaining employment in very similar offices doing very similar things in spite of doing degrees ranging from English Literature to Geography to Psychology to Art History. The premise of all these graduate jobs is essentially data entry or light administration, with little reference to any of the three years of study just gone; maybe I’m being presumptuous, but I doubt organising a filing system for an electronics company will need much expertise on the poetry of Lord Tennyson.
The sheer irrelevance of these types of degree becomes even more obvious if we look at other options; no medic with a first class degree will end up in a temping office, whilst a vocational diploma in plumbing is just that – almost a guarantee of a job once study is complete.
Why do so many of us decide to undertake these impractical subjects to pursue at University? More often than not people enjoyed it A-Level, or felt that nothing else was really a viable option, plus who would want to turn down three years of sheer hedonism and socialising (on a very small budget of course)? There is nothing wrong with these reasons, but the expectations we have for the future after our study are probably erroneous. Very few humanities degree holders will end up in a job that properly utilises their study, unless they have always had a talent for writing novels or philosophising, regardless of taking a degree or not.
The amount of applications Universities receive is still rising, even after the recent top-up fees have made the prospect of study an even more expensive one than before; perhaps a better way to cope with the influx of college leavers would be to be more truthful about post graduation employability, and thus quell the demand for University places somewhat. Instead of insisting a creative writing course is just the thing if you’re an aspiring author, the record should be set straight – chances are, you’ll end up like the rest of us, in an office somewhere in a room full of other graduates who thought they’d have published that journal by now or started producing their first film and haven’t.
The truth is you may as well leave college at eighteen and start working in an office immediately if financial solvency is what you’re after – a degree in the arts or social sciences is bound to be one of the most satisfying and fun experiences of your life and I do not wish to detract from that, but I do not wish to pretend it is the fast track to a good job either. A BA degree is nothing less than a stimulating quest for knowledge by the more curious among us who wish to make sense of our society and culture – but we must recognise that it is nothing more than that as well.