Arts not just for people who are at a loss as to what to do

Employers place value in arts degrees as humanities courses promote range of critical skills

Subjects such as archaeology may also appeal to the more technically minded. Photograph: iStockphoto/Getty Images

Subjects such as archaeology may also appeal to the more technically minded. Photograph: iStockphoto/Getty Images


Just over a decade ago, arts was flying high, until the great recession tipped the scales towards science degrees which saw a massive rise in CAO points; the points never fell back.

However, arts in UCD still remains the most popular course in the State. Arts is a good choice for students who aren’t quite sure what they want to do with the rest of their lives.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not all based around subjects like English, history, politics and languages; maths, economics, psychology and information studies are among the more scientific or technical subjects offered under the humanities banner. Subjects like archaeology may also appeal to the more technically minded.

As for philosophy, it has long since shed its image as a refuge for unemployable wastrels pondering pointless questions: philosophy graduates are highly prized because they know how to think.

Indeed, employers do see an inherent value in arts degrees as they recognise that these are graduates with critical thinking, analytical, logic and communications and presentation skills.

They are able to assess evidence, reach a judgment and effectively communicate their findings. What you won’t find in the brochures: although arts graduates have a greater workload and more contact hours than they did a decade ago, they still tend to be the students with the most time to get involved in clubs, societies, college newspapers and the students’ union – and this can help develop those “soft skills” that employers across all sorts of industries really do value.

Arts isn’t just for people who are at a loss as to what to do. It’s one of the main ways to study a European language and if, for instance, a student combined economics and German, they would leave college with very good job prospects. A student taking on film studies or creative writing under the arts banner may have a very good idea of where they want to go.

Where to do it

All seven of Ireland’s universities and most of the institutes of technology offer arts and social science courses. UCD is still picking up the numbers and both UCD and UCC allow lots of flexibility and choice. NUI Galway has a unique offering where students can take on courses in arts with human rights, arts with creative writing, arts with film studies, arts with journalism, arts with Latin American studies and arts with performing arts. DCU has taken a similar tack by offering specialised BA degrees such as applied language and translation studies, contemporary culture and society, journalism, communications, multimedia, law and society, business and Irish, multimedia and international relations.

Maynooth University has also developed a sterling reputation for its suite of arts courses and has invested significantly in them; under its visionary president Philip Nolan, it is leading the way in reimagining these disciplines by gradually rolling out modules which combine ideas from arts and science.

Trinity College’s approach is different again, with students choosing two subjects in advance from a menu of options. And UL’s new BA programme starts this year offering students a choice of 19 subjects alongside skills modules and an off-campus programme in semesters four and five that include work experience and a semester abroad.

Don’t discount DIT, which is a good place to study culinary arts, language, law and tourism.

Social science is a slightly different animal as it is more focused on social issues and generally centred on politics, economics, social policy, philosophy and sociology. There are good options at Maynooth, UCC, Waterford IT, UCC and Trinity. Some of the courses, including that at Trinity, allow you to register as a social worker upon graduation.

Finally, the teacher training colleges and some of the smaller IoTs also offer humanities courses which may have a lower CAO points bar.

Career opportunities

There are humanities and social science graduates in every industry. As expected, they are prominent in teaching, journalism and the public service, as well as social work, the charity sector and culture and heritage. Many arts graduates will take that base of broad learning and go on to a more specialised postgraduate course; arts graduates with a postgraduate business qualification are a prize catch. Throw a European or Far Eastern language in there and they will fall at your feet. Arts graduates with digital media or other IT skills can also expect to be in demand.

Salary expectations

Arts is such a broad church that this is impossible to say. Figures from the Higher Education Authority say that arts graduates are at the bottom of the earnings pile, but it’s worth pointing out that while their starting salary is lower than computer science or engineering graduates, the gap starts to close after about five years. And certain arts graduates – those with languages or maths – will start from a much stronger position.

For more detailed information on current salaries for arts graduates, check out the salary guide from Payscale, a company that specialises in salary data. Google search “payscale Ireland bachelor of arts”.