The Worth of an Arts Degree

Elissa Foord 3 February 2014

"Here we go,” you may think, “just another Arts student setting out to justify that what she does is worth doing.” However, there was a time when I was not committed as an ‘Arts person’; at that point, I chose the Arts for a reason, a reason I stand by. The question of the relative values of Arts and Science to society is too complex to begin here and scratch the surface, but what, if anything, is the relative value of an Arts degree to the individual? It is hard to dispute that, whilst at university, you gain the most from a degree that you enjoy: that is, for many, despite the view a Natural Sciences student recently revealed tome, that “life is too short to ask the big questions” (is it, though?), the Arts.

But ever looming, for most, is the prospect of leaving university, and, rightly, what our degrees will then be worth is of cardinal importance. Here is where the waters become muddied. For those who want to continue with vocational work, certainly the Sciences offer more than the Arts, although the Arts do not offer an insignificant opportunity. But a large fraction of graduates will not directly use the content of their degrees. In this case, transferrable skills and mental training become the order of the day, and many Arts degrees excel in this context. The lack of Maths is an obvious vulnerability, but one that is often overstated. Only a small fraction of jobs outside science (even finance) stipulate mathematical experience beyond A-level.

This is particularly the case as professional qualifications grow in importance in numerous fields, accountancy being an obvious example. On the other hand, demonstrating your intelligence by obtaining an impressive class of degree (which proceeds from studying something you’re dedicated to, and talented at), will never fail to impress. Moreover, the Arts gain recognition for endowing us with articulacy, the ability to think both critically and creatively, and to argue effectively. These skills are invaluable.

With two Oxbridge Science dons as parents, my decision to go into the Arts was not something I took lightly; but I like to think it was more than a predictable act of teenage rebellion, and my experience of my degree thus far has only strengthened my view of its worth.