Doing An Arts Degree: Pros and Cons

By Katy Thornton / November 16, 2020

Arts Degrees often get a bad rap. It’s no secret that there are cons to doing an Arts Degree, and yet, they remain extremely popular. 

A Bachelor of Arts, or an Arts Degree is essentially a third-level degree in an arts subject. This can be any or a combination of the following: history, sociology, English, psychology, art history, classics, philosophy, economics, foreign languages, politics, and many more. 

Pros of Doing an Arts Degree:

  • It makes for an easier transition from secondary school

download 1In the first year of an Arts Degree, people generally take three subjects, in order to figure out what they like. Whether you’re doing a single subject major or a joint honours major, first year allows you to take an array of subjects, making it more similar to the secondary school layout (where you take a minimum of six subjects for the Leaving Cert). 

  • There’s fewer college hours

One of the positives of pursuing an Arts Degree, depending on the college you attend, is that there are fewer hours in class. That doesn’t mean there’s no work, and this pro has an equal and opposite con we’ll discuss below, but you are freer when studying an Arts Degree than other degrees. You may even find yourself with only a three or four day week, meaning you can spend your free time on assignments, social plans, or even a part-time job if you wish. 

  • You can study a variety of topics 

young woman taking note and using laptop while studying at homeFor those who don’t know what they want to do, an Arts Degree can be a saving grace. Often in your first year, you’ll realise you don’t actually like a certain subject, and you can simply drop it in second year then. You have room to figure out what you enjoy studying and what you don’t, and if you’re in a joint major degree you can even swap this out for a single honours degree if you find just one subject you want to study. 

  • You can study something you’re passionate about

Speaking from personal experience, all I wanted to study was English. Although many tried to dissuade me from an Arts Degree, for all the reasons I’ll list below, I wanted to study something I naturally loved and had a passion for. There’s many arguments to pursue certain subjects in college because they’ll get you a better job, or they’re considered higher up, but at the end of the day, if you aren’t passionate for a subject, you won’t do well, and you may even drop out. Although there’s no shame in trying again, it can be frustrating spending time on something you really don’t want to do. If you love a subject, you’ll naturally remain more engaged

Cons of Doing An Arts Degree:

  • Career prospects

doing an arts degreeCareer prospects are low in this field. In an Arts Degree there’s no internship year, or semester, meaning when you leave college, you’ll have no practical experience, which unfortunately seems to be all that employer’s want. It should be made mandatory that Arts students spend a year working in their field, to ensure they have a better chance of employment when they leave. The jobs that can be achieved from an Arts Degree are fun and exciting, but they are few and far between too. For many, an unpaid internship will be a necessary hurdle on the way to paid work, and not everyone is in a financial position to do this.  

  • It can be difficult to make friends

Hundreds of students do an Arts Degree, meaning making friends can be difficult if you don’t already know people. You can make a friend in one class only to never see them again for the rest of the semester. It can be extremely lonely, even in the single honours classes, as you are only placed with them once or twice a week. It would be better to have tutor classes that stay relatively the same in order to allow people to build relationships. 

  • Learning different schools of citation 

With different subjects comes different schools of citation. Each school only recognises its own, for example, in English you have to cite in MLA style, History is Chicago, Psychology is APA, and so on. You cannot cite MLA style in an Art History essay – you will simply be marked as having not cited at all. Citing in one style can be confusing at the best of times, but citing in several is a bit of a nightmare. Luckily there are a lot of citation websites to help you, but do bear in mind that this is something you will have to get used to. 

doing an arts degreeRemember that pro of having less in-class hours. The downside of this is the mountain of reading. The reason you spend less time in class is so you can be knuckled down with the primary and secondary reading, trying to absorb as much knowledge on the subject, in order to start forming your own opinions on the topics. For one class alone you may have to read six novels, not to mention the critical theory behind those novels. You could have six of these modules, making it 36 primary readings alone in 12 weeks. Although you should enjoy being out of class, make sure to stay on top of the reading, because catching up can be borderline impossible. 

My Personal Experience Studying An Arts Degree:

As I’ve said above, all I wanted to do was study English. I loved reading and writing and felt like I had a natural affinity for it. When it came down to choosing what to study, an Arts Degree in Single Honours English seemed perfect. 

However, there were many who tried to dissuade me. As we’re already discussed, there are a lot of cons. I added nursing and social science to my CAO, but really had no interest in either. When I got English in UCD, I was thrilled.

First Year: 

No one explained to me how registering for modules worked. In the first year of an Arts Degree, whether you do joint honours or a single honours, you choose a minimum of three subjects. However, you can technically do classes in whatever you want. I ended up doing five arts subjects and, take it from me, as exciting as it was to learn all these, my timetable made no sense and I made no friends because I was constantly with different people in lectures and classes. Essay season was a nightmare because of the different schools of citation (plus each topic has different styles of examination) and I felt like I was doing little to no English. Thankfully, First Year doesn’t go towards your final GPA.

Second Year:

I was excited entering Second Year. I cut out all my other subjects and focused on English, even for my electives. This was great but I ran into the same issue as before when it came to making friends. Although in my Single Honours class there were only 15 of us, there were hundreds of English students in total, and again, most of my classes were filled with different people. Although I made acquaintances in my tutor classes, due to copious amounts of group discussions we were forced to have, I felt lonely and out of touch with my other friends who all had these great social lives in their smaller courses. I would eat lunch or have the odd coffee with someone from my degree, but this never extended to outside of college. Still, where many of my friends struggled with what they were studying, I always loved the subjects I was learning. 

Final Year:

I was blessed in Final Year to make some good friends as I spent more time with my single honours class. Some of these friends I still have today, which I’m hugely grateful for. There was more choice on the topics you could take in Final Year, which meant I loved my classes even more than before. When it came for assessment, in English it was entirely essay-based, with a dissertation to write on a topic of my choosing, and though it was difficult in the two weeks up to deadlines, I performed much better in the essays than I ever did in the exams. I wish my whole degree had been like my final year.

Masters of Arts: 

I had always wanted to do a Masters, but was never sure what area I was most passionate about. It was in Final Year I found out there was a Masters Degree in Creative Writing, and having done a Creative Writing elective in final year, as well as having a lifelong dream of becoming a published author, this seemed like the best route to go down. I can honestly say I loved every minute of it and because there were only 12 in our class, we all got on extremely well. Unfortunately, two years on, career prospects are still low despite having a Level 9 degree, but that is the price you pay to study what you love. 

class 3443169 1280Your experience may be different to mine. I used to see groups of people who were great friends, who didn’t find that same struggle as I did. Joining societies and actually attending events is a good way to make friends. Get involved – if there’s a society that has roles that need filling, thinking about applying. Don’t rush off campus every time you finish your classes – if people are hanging around for a while, join them. It can be hard to put yourself out there, but most people are in the same boat as you. 

As for career prospects, I have some friends doing their dream jobs, so just because it’s harder to get a job now, doesn’t mean it’s impossible. The way Arts Degrees are run is also changing all the time – the way my degree in UCD was back then isn’t the same way it is coordinated today and they have made some great alterations, making it a four year course instead of three. 

The point is, there are many pros to Arts Degrees and there are many cons to Arts Degrees – I’m sure every degree is the same in this sense, so it is best to choose something you love or something that will get you where you want to be. 

If you have any more questions about Art Degrees, don’t be afraid to ask in the comments below.

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About the author

Katy Thornton

Katy is a Creative Writing graduate from UCD who freelance writes and is currently working on her debut novel.

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