Arts Degrees - Arts for arts’ sake but many Careers Beckon

Date Uploaded: 24/05/2016

Arts Degrees - Arts and humanities: Courses promote a range of skills that are useful in a wide selection of jobs.

If you are keen to pursue a course in the arts and humanities, it is likely that you are choosing your subject for its own sake rather than as the starting block to a particular career.

That is not to say that some do not have a specific career in mind, such as archaeology, but others say arts, humanities and social science degree programmes can be appealing if you are not entirely sure what you want to do with the rest of your life.

After all, it’s more about expanding your mind – the education - than learning specific skills or acquiring knowledge relevant to a particular career.

But there’s also the implicit assumption that subjects such as history, philosophy, art, music, drama, literature, classics and languages do not have as much value to the real world as the study of law, business, technology or science.

An arts degree will give you many of the technical skills you would need if you want to be a professional artist, musician, actor or writer or else a role in the industries that support them.

And while humanities courses do not train you for specific careers (with the notable exception of those focused on media and journalism) they do teach a range of skills such as literacy, research and communication that are useful in a wide range of jobs, including in the civil and public service, marketing and media, management consultancy and even business.

These skills are also taught on social science courses such as psychology, economics, sociology and politics, particularly since they are all about applying a more scientific approach to human life, language and culture, some of which can lead to a career in social work.

It is worth remembering that many jobs are open to graduates of all degree disciplines; in many cases it’s the intellectual development proved by your degree, rather than the subject, that the employer is looking for.

Having said that, there are lots of programmes that combine the study of an arts, humanities or social science subject with law or business. The classic example would be a foreign language with business studies, but if you look hard there are a whole range of other, less obvious combinations that might well hit the spot for you.

And don’t forget that many graduates in arts, humanities and social science graduates will furrow their way to a desired field by doing a more specialist postgraduate degree.

Where to study

For those who are geared towards visual art, there is a huge range of options, but many of the most popular courses, for example at NCAD and the Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art Design and Technology (IADT), require a portfolio, so it’s now too late for a change of mind.

Similarly for some drama/theatre and music courses like at UCC, UL, DIT and Maynooth University, where you might have to do an audition or a music entrance exam as part of the application round sometime during the spring months.

TCD has a cross-faculty system whereby you can study two arts or humanities subjects as part of a Two Subject Moderatorship (TSM), although you do have to choose which two out of the 25 available at the outset.

Arts at UCD remains a well-known choice and possibly a more flexible one in that students are less restricted in the number of subjects they can choose to study over the four years, while NUI Galway has an extensive and interesting range of humanities programmes.

DCU has a joint honours arts course with St Patrick’s teacher-training college in Drumcondra offering subject combinations in both humanities and social sciences, including media studies, mathematics and music.

Social sciences are also well catered for by both universities and institutes of technology, with careers in social work a definite avenue for those who study at Maynooth University, UCD, DIT, WIT and UCC.

CAO points

Selection of CAO points 2015

Arts, UCD: 340 Psychology, NUI Galway, 515, Communications Studies, DCU: 420 Social science, Maynooth University: 390. Social Care, DIT 400

Career outlook

Teaching, journalism and media, marketing, civil and public service and academia are some of the areas where arts and humanities graduates typically do well, but the business world can be your oyster with relevant postgraduate training and qualifications.

Foreign languages will give you a crucial edge, while social sciences such as history, English and philosophy can form the bedrock of crucial analytical skills that employers look for.

Salary expectations

Like other broad disciplines such as business, where the roles are as diverse as they come, it’s hard to generalise about salary expectations for arts and humanities graduates.

But if we take those with languages, Morgan McKinley’s 2016 salary survey shows that a call centre manager with a language can earn between €35,000 and €70,000. German is in particularly strong demand. A qualified social worker, will start on €43,000 a year, according to GradIreland. Sigmar Recruitment’s salary survey shows that a digital media content manager can earn up to €75,000; ditto for a PR/communications manager.

A recent study by the Higher Education Authority reports that arts and humanities graduates were most likely to earn the least in the first few years after graduation. However, chief executive Tom Boland put it, arts courses are not aimed simply at “shoehorning graduates into disciplines which are economically relevant”.


Journalist: John Cradden

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