Will Work for Food – What can an arts degree really do for you?

We’ve all heard the cliche: What can you do with an Arts degree? Professional burger flipper. If other BA students are like me, they are constantly fending off questions from well-meaning (I’m assuming anyway) friends and relatives who ask, “What can you do with that degree?” This question is often asked with a mild look of contempt or not so mild note of sarcasm. Up until recently I often answered the question with either “ahhhh….lot’s of stuff” or “you know… things”, reinforcing their belief that any schmuck can go to university.

Why should we go to university anyway? We all know people who have gotten Bachelor’s degrees and go on to… well, flip burgers. Many students complain about the possibility of being over-qualified for jobs or not being able to find a career in the field they studied for. But these concerns can, in most cases, be solved with resourcefulness and creativity.

The first things students will want to do is have answers for those concerns of the “well-meaning” friends and relatives. The University of Texas has compiled a list of careers that students with a Bachelor’s degree can do (http://www.utexas.edu/student/careercenter/careers). The career categories are divided into “direct career options” (for example, with an Anthropology degree a career option would be Environmental Researcher), “less direct career options” (with a Bachelor’s in Geography you could be a legislative aide), and “indirect career options” (get your B.A in Sociology and possibly become a genealogical service specialist).

A lot of other universities have this type of “what can I do with a …” career lists. Another comprehensive list is on the University of North Carolina at Wilmington site (http://www.uncwil.edu/stuaff/career/Majors/). Although the websites above are American, almost all of the careers apply to Canada and other countries. Remember to keep a list of possible careers in your pocket or wallet and stun those who dare to ask the question. I guarantee they won’t be doing it again.

So you’ve just applied to an Arts and Science program with dreams of making the big bucks. Maybe rethink your decision to apply to a certain program if your goal is to become filthy rich. I am not saying an arts degree does not lead to financial satisfaction, but rather the ultimate goal should not be monetary gain. Find out what is best suited for your talents and interests. Talk to an academic and career counselor. Evaluate your hobbies and interests. Take a career aptitude test, if you are really unclear about what direction your education should take. Be realistic about your future salary, if you’re doing what you love, the job satisfaction is worth more than whether you drive a Lexus, a Sunfire or a Schwinn.

It can be nerve wracking, though, to choose a program of study that fascinates you and is enjoyable, only to find that job prospects seem limited. Some students, such as myself, have considered just staying a professional student rather than facing the harsh realities of the working world. But the harsh realities of a lifetime of term papers and final exams is more daunting and snaps us back to researching future prospects. The government of Canada (and most provincial government websites) has excellent information on career profiles.

After visiting the website http://www.jobfutures.ca, I ended up with 21 pages of printouts on Psychology as a career and program choice plus comments from my husband on the number of dead trees it took to produce that information from my printer. This website organizes itself by programs of study (155 to choose from) and profiles of 226 occupational groups. What I really liked about this website was that they had statistics from people who had taken the program (where they are employed now, if they found the program satisfying, etc.), and hard facts about employment prospects (unemployment in the field, average earnings and job prospects for the next seven years). This website has tons more career information including a short career aptitude quiz. And yes, I keep all twenty-one pages in my binder to show anyone who raises an eyebrow at my program selection (they could also be raising eyebrows at the fact I carry a binder around).

Another thing we arts and science students need to learn is networking. Although our education can take us as far as we’ll let it, sometimes it really is who you know. Join up with other students (for example the Athabasca University Psychology Student’s Society has regional coffee groups), participate in school activities, and develop a rapport with your tutors and professors. One of the most personal and professionally satisfying things a student can do is volunteer. It is also a nice break from hitting the books (or your head against a wall) to go out and work with people in the community.

I am still worried about my job prospects when I finish my degree. Can I get practical experience in my future field while still an undergrad? How about the job market in the next few years, will I be just one of thousands of Psych majors pounding the pavement? I love my program and courses, although it does seem daunting to compete in the job market with many other graduates, but soon it will be time to follow my own advice. If we can think creatively and look outside the proverbial box, the places we can take our degree are limitless.

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