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I chose to study Arts over STEM - and I don't regret it

Having rejected her previous plans to study Life Sciences, Caitlin Atkins gives an insight into what she considers to be the often overlooked benefits of studying an Arts degree.

By Caitlin Atkins, Third Year, English Literature

Pursuing arts wasn’t always set in stone for me; I very nearly went into Life Sciences. STEM is presented to us as the sensible choice, with the pressure of job opportunities, post-graduate funding, and the guillotine hanging over our heads – money. Ever since deciding I wanted to study English, I’ve had jokes thrown at me about becoming a teacher, or a librarian, or just being unemployed. I get it still, even in my final year, even when I love what I study. From friends, family, strangers – anyone who hears my degree title. Studying Arts is simply not seen as value for money, and this put a lot of pressure on me as a teenager. I’m a first-generation student and university wasn’t an assumed path for my life. It was a financial decision I had to articulately defend, and studying Arts, specifically, has made it one I’ve had to keep defending. Despite this, I’ve never regretted it.

When I initially arrived at university and realised English fell under the Faculty of Arts, my instinctive reaction was outrage. Surely humanities – good, sensible, traditional studies – surely, they deserved their own faculty? Not STEM, but not Art either. Somewhere in-between. Art wasn’t going to get me hired, I thought. I believe this says more about the reputation Arts subjects have than my own feelings; you only need to see what our government thinks of ‘rip-off’ degrees. As I’ve gone through my degree and met a wonderful kaleidoscope of artists, I’ve embraced being part of the faculty. I’m proud to study an Arts degree and I feel it has offered me far more than the years of school-style memorisation and examinations my STEM friends trudge through, all for the job prospects at the end.

Stepping back from the economics we are so frequently fed when considering our futures, Arts studies force you to evaluate our society. As well as this, I have learnt so much about my personal values, and continue to be challenged every week. Studying art is really about studying people; their motivations, their desires, their principles. It’s about questioning origins and cross-examining stories. It’s not about truth or fact, and in reality, our society very rarely plays by the rules of truth and fact.

You get to university and you’ve suddenly found yourself an adult in a society that expects things from you, things that you don’t know how to do. And you’re surrounded by other adults, who also don’t really know what they’re doing, in a place where everyone wants to change things for the better, but no one can agree on what “better” looks like. You have to take everything with a pinch of salt, and no one has the answers you’re looking for. But studying Arts offers you a way to navigate that madness. It teaches you how to think for yourself; how to debate; how to take being told that your opinion is weak; how to articulate your thoughts; how to prove your opinion is worthy; how to understand and connect with the most basic, ancient forms of human expression.

I don’t agree with the way in which education is given a monetary value – as if learning how to be a functioning, well-rounded human being has a price – but to anyone shrinking at the huge financial investment that university is, especially if you don’t have support from home, I would say that it’s worth it. Graduate prospects aren’t nearly as bleak as the jokes would have you believe. Equally, they’re rarely as specialised as STEM opportunities are, but that doesn't stop you from finding your way in the world. University is the first couple of centimetres on the tip of the iceberg that is adult life, and studying Arts not only has allowed me to pursue my passions, but has prepared me for the world in ways I would never have expected.  

Featured Image: David Matos / Unsplash

What do you feel are the benefits of studying an Arts degree?