Ask Brian: My daughter wants to study arts. Is she wasting her time?

Arts graduates have excellent skills to meet needs of changing workplaces

Arts and humanities degrees are among the most popular third-level courses, with more than 25 per cent of students, studying these programmes. Photo: iStock

Arts and humanities degrees are among the most popular third-level courses, with more than 25 per cent of students, studying these programmes. Photo: iStock


My daughter will be attending the Higher Options careers advice events in the RDS this week. She wants to explore a range of arts degree programmes. Given the constant encouragement from government and industry to apply for courses in Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) is she selling herself short?

Your daughter need have no fears about the value of taking an arts degree. Humanities/liberal arts degree programmes form the bedrock of the student population of most of our universities, with more than 25 per cent of students studying these programmes.

Graduates of the humanities and social sciences are eminent among the bright, creative, flexible and innovative talent for which Ireland has become renowned. In fact, many tech companies are hiring arts and humanities graduates in growing numbers.

The arts degree is a vast programme, covering a multiplicity of choices, with most universities offering up to 30 distinct subjects.

Some subjects, such as English, are extremely popular, and students are inevitably surprised at how different it is to study the subject at university as opposed to a second level.

The challenge at university is “independent learning”. A student’s success and enjoyment depends on how much he or she is prepared to put in to exploring their chosen subjects, through reading, discussion and critical thinking.

If she eventually ends up choosing an arts/humanities degree, your daughter will have considerable variety of choice.

If she selects an omnibus programme, she can “taste” subjects before making her final selection. The number of subjects available to her can vary between three and four in first year, dropping to two or sometimes one subject for the remainder of the degree.


Alternatively, if she opts for a denominated degree she will have selected her subjects before entering university. With growing modularisation in the system, students can decide on the balance of subjects as they progress.

It may come as a shock to many arts graduates to find that prospective employers are often not particularly interested in the specific subjects that they studied in their degree.

For many potential employers, an in-depth knowledge of geography and Italian is less important than the independent learning ability, and the skills of self-motivation demonstrated by an arts graduate.

Employers often look at the bottom of graduates’ CVs to see if students or graduates were involved in societies, sports, debating etc. An active extracurricular life shows that prospective employees are more likely to get on well with others, be self-motivated and interested in acquiring new skills.

Range of careers

The range of careers open to liberal arts graduates is enormous: teaching, politics, civil service, journalism, performing and visual arts, public relations, financial services, recruitment, management consultancy, customer service, entertainment, sales, marketing, social work, ecommerce, tourism; the list is endless.

Arts and social science graduates have the flexibility to move in any direction they may wish. Many of them take postgraduate masters in specific career areas. The key strength of an arts degree is its flexibility. It will serve your daughter well at a time of uncertainty over what the future world of world will look like.

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