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Why studying at the Faculty of Arts is not “a waste of your time” or “money down the drain”

Date:19 April 2022
Author:Jessie Pietens
Jessie Pietens, specialised in the late medieval and early modern history and literature of England, Scotland and the Low Countries
Jessie Pietens, specialised in the late medieval and early modern history and literature of England, Scotland and the Low Countries

You feel somewhat nervous, and your palms are slightly damp. You look around and make sure nobody notices you. But what if they do? So far so good, nobody has come up to you yet. But…, oh no… someone is coming! what will you do!? Should you make a run for it? Or will you brave the beast and stand your ground...

To some this may look like the start of a very pressing scene in a scary book or film, but Arts-students may recognise it as something completely different: the thoughts that go through your mind at any form of social gathering where you are one of the only people studying a subject at the Faculty of Arts.[1] And then the dreaded question comes: “So, you study [fill in an Arts subject of your choice], but tell me… what can you actually do with that?”

This is, of course, an overdramatization. A joke to give my blog a catchy opening. But nevertheless, most Arts-students will relate to the scene sketched above. They will have been in this situation at least once. If only once, you are a lucky one, because in a country where culture - in all its outlets - has become an underappreciated luxury, and in a world that revolves around results, money, and profit, who outside of your own Arts-bubble would understand?  

Of course, there are always people who ask out of genuine interest. Yet, we all know that one person who is just a little too smug when asking it. If you grab the bull by the horns, this usually leads to a discussion. If you’re unlucky, the discussion might end with a dreaded statement: “well I think studying [fill in an Arts subject of your choice] is a waste of your precious time, it’s absolute money down the drain if you ask me.” This comment might come from an annoying uncle at a party, but could also be made by teachers, friends or parents who are not supportive of you getting a degree or pursuing a career in Arts. Although the last category is often critical with the best intent, it can be very disheartening. It assumes that you cannot possibly become successful in this field of studies, and it implies that you need to be successful in a field of studies to be happy and live a fulfilling life.

With this blog I hope to offer you some advice on why I think you should get a degree in Arts. The ‘wisdoms’ in this blog are not new, but just some insights I have gathered over the years, either formed by my own musings or by thoughts of others, while I was worrying about whether my own degree would get me anywhere. Although it is always possible that you will not be able to make your passion for Arts into your career and although it is always possible that you will become unhappy in the process, this is not a reason to choose a different path.

Yes, the job chances in these fields are slim, but employment opportunities are always fluctuating in every field. Moreover, employment opportunities may be low for a specific job now, but this might change.   Furthermore, it is impossible to know what other jobs might come up in the field that you would enjoy as much, or possibly more. While it can be tempting to choose the ‘safer’ option (safer meaning choosing a study that would conventionally lead to more job opportunities), you should consider what this might cost you mentally, as opposed to the money it can make you physically in the future. Do your studies have to lead to a profitable job? Does the choice of your study have to be ‘safe’? It is okay if the answer to both questions is yes, yet it is always good to consider that nothing in life is guaranteed, so even if you take the ‘safe’ route, there is still a chance that it might not take you where you want to go.      

Nevertheless, it should be mentioned that studying is not a possibility for everybody. There are many factors that exclude a large group of people from pursuing knowledge at a university, such as class, race, and money. While the focus in this blog is on why studying Arts is a valid choice and should be pursued if you want to, my point of course does not end there. If for any reason you are not able to study Arts at a university, or study at a university at all, please know that your own pursuit of knowledge is valuable and worthy and has a right of existence.

But let’s say you have the privilege to be able to study. You decide on a study at the Faculty of Arts and, after graduating, you are unable to find any job that is even remotely related to the field you studied in (and please do realise that this is a stretch). In this gloomy scenario you will still have spent several years of doing something you absolutely loved, and that is priceless. While it is evident that most studies are there to make you into a fully functioning adult with a nice CV, they can also play another, arguably equally important, role. Your studies in Arts could not just benefit you and your mental wellbeing, but also to the world around you.

In a world where crippling tuition fees, competitiveness and student-debts are an ever-looming presence, it can feel like an act of rebellion to study something which is not necessarily – at least not in essence – focussed on financial profit or ‘winning the game’. But if you have the option: take a walk on the wild side, I promise you will not regret it. I found my time at the Faculty of Arts (studying a Ba in History and part of a Ba in English language and culture and a Research Ma in Classical, Medieval and Early Modern Studies) to be the best, most enriching time of my (albeit short) life so far.

Education is not just there to be highly practical. In fact, this utilitarian approach to studying (and many other things in society) is pushing the Arts, Humanities, museums, and culture in general into a severe existential crisis. To counteract this, we need more people who care, but at the end of the day, more people who study Arts and show its importance to a broader audience. It is fully acceptable to see your studies as a journey for knowledge for the sake of knowledge. You are allowed to see it, not as a means to an end, but as an end in itself. Be that rebel and show that – although the world tells you the opposite – there is (and should be) more than utilitarianism and capitalism that determines the value of something.  

At the Arts faculty, you will learn about yourself, about the people and the world around you, about ‘the other’, about what it means to be human. You will learn about beauty, emotions, culture, and love for knowledge. You will learn how to observe, analyse, and communicate what is beautiful and valuable to you and to others. You will learn to see the world around you through different lenses. Who knows, maybe one day you will come up with an idea that will change the world.   Or perhaps you will be so lucky as to be in a room with someone who has changed or will change the world in the future. Knowledge is a pursuit in and of itself and you should never feel hesitancy or guilt about pursuing it. I hope that the next time you are at a social gathering, you will feel somewhat less nervous, and your palms will be slightly less damp.

Now you may think: “great, this doesn’t help me, what a load of nonsense”. To that I say: well, what did you expect? I am only an Arts graduate after all ;)

If you have any questions about student life in Groningen, studying at the Arts Faculty or pursuing a career in Arts and Humanities, please do not hesitate to contact me via the contact form on my personal page. I would be happy to help.

[1] Ofcourse you could fill in any other study or faculty here that by the standards of today is conventionally deemed ‘a waste of time’ or ‘money down the drain’.

I am happy to help you with any questions you have about the RUG or your kickstart in Groningen. You can contact me via my personal page.

About the author

Jessie Pietens
Jessie Pietens

I am Jessie, a history- and literature buff born and raised in Groningen. I started my University of Groningen journey doing a BA in History and part of the BA in English Language and Culture. I continued taking an interdisciplinary approach during my research master in Classical, Medieval and Early Modern Studies, from which I graduated cum laude in January of 2021. I specialised in the late medieval and early modern history of England, Scotland and the Low Countries with a particular interest for subjects such as gender, monarchies, authority and conflict, marginalised groups and – as an avid reader myself - the history of literature, reading and the book. I got to work with experts in the field and have met so many inspiring people along the way, to whom I will be forever grateful. My time at the university of Groningen has made me who I am today and my studies here have granted me the opportunity to have many amazing experiences. Although my dream job is in heritage and research, the UG has prepared me well for anything that might come my way in the future.

If you have any questions about the application procedure, studying and living in Groningen or anything else, please feel free to contact me. I am happy to help!