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Study what you love, or what will get you a job?

  • Opinion

Amy Ashenden, BA French and Spanish (University of Southampton)

Coming into my final year, I know by now that my degree subject isn’t exactly what I want to work in. But French and Spanish are hugely helpful skills that open doors in any career, including the option for me to work as a correspondent abroad. Plus, editors have told me time and time again that studying journalism as a degree makes for worse journalists.

But university offers a lot more than just a degree and, in the job market we face, it’s highly unlikely a degree alone will you secure you a job anyway – particularly as master’s courses are becoming a new norm. So it’s not the be-all, end-all question you might have thought it was.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take time to seriously consider your choice, however. Before applying to uni, I was torn between art and languages. A sensible compromise was to take a year out, wait for my A Level results, do an Art & Design Foundation Diploma and research. So much research. I made endless lists of available course modules, year abroad options, accommodation, assessment methods. Endless.

Having discovered there was only one place that offered BA Photography and Spanish – and that I had Oxbridge-worthy grades – I realised that I should be aiming for something more competitive and likely to get me a decent job. I worried that not picking photography would mean I’d never do it anymore. I also fretted that not studying languages would mean I’d never speak them. I thought with my mind rather than my heart and saw that languages would be harder to keep up if they weren’t my course. The University of Southampton was the top for languages (after Oxbridge, which wasn’t for me) and had a darkroom: perfect.

I then got to university and discovered I wanted a career in neither of those things. The buzz I felt writing an article for my student paper for the first time was what decided it for me. It’s often said that uni is where you work out who you are, and usually what comes with that is what career you wish to go into.

But there’s no hard and fast rule – many graduates leave uni still not knowing which industry appeals to them. To avoid that, don’t stay complacent – even if you’re a physics student and want to work as a counsellor. I got my teeth into something very early on, and having languages as a passion and safe subject choice gave me a solid degree to fall back on. It also meant I could live abroad for a year, developing skills that many people never do in their lifetime.

If you’re indecisive, or picking at a young age, I’d advise taking something you enjoy (there’s no bigger waste of money than spending thousands of pounds on being unhappy) but also something that will equip you with transferable skills (like a foreign language, maths or science). Philosophy graduate Sarah Moir says “if you don’t yet know what job you want then it’s better to pick a subject which has lots of job opportunities.” Given the choice again, Sarah says she might have done medicine – despite singing always being her greatest career aspiration.

Consider extra-disciplinary modules for a taste of subjects outside of your faculty, volunteering opportunities and joining societies, too. University of Sussex graduate Alex Nash is trying to break into TV. He studied English but setting up a society is what’s currently helping his job applications. “I created Kids with Beards, a sketch comedy troupe, and we’ve just taken a show to Edinburgh Fringe – it’s about having evidence that you’ve got initiative.”

You should also look beyond your university bubble. I got involved with The Student Journals (an online, international magazine) in my first year, now I’m editor and we’re the Guardian Student Website of the Year. It’s entirely unrelated to my subject choice and my university but it’s where I’ve made myself the most employable for my chosen career.


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