So, what exactly are you going to do with your degree?

Secondary school teaching is not the only option available to liberal arts graduates, writes Rory Purcell

Secondary school teaching is not the only option available to liberal arts graduates, writes Rory Purcell

Whenever I attend any sort of get-together at home or college, I am invariably asked the same tedious question once people have ascertained that I am studying history: “What are you going to do with your history degree? Become a teacher?” I am always startled by how many people, notably those from older generations, view any liberal arts degree, including History, English and Philosophy, as being futile.

“Classics gives students a strong sensitivity and understanding of language.”

There is a sharp contrast in Ireland compared to the U.K., where History is the second most subscribed course, only preceded by English. The points requirement for History in this country is significantly inferior to that of other courses and this derives from the antiquated belief that it is nigh on impossible to be rewarded with a livelihood at the end of it. Irish parents push their children into vocational subjects such as Pharmacy, Nursing and Law without even contemplating a more flexible and (dare I say it), interesting degree.

So what can you do with a History degree? Pretty much anything. Employers see History graduates as having a valuable combination of skills. History students develop high levels of literacy and so are well suited to any type of communication employment, such as journalism, advertising, marketing and Public Relations. Through intensive reading and intimate tutorials, students build a solid foundation in research and analysis, which makes them very attractive employees for Law and Business companies. Naturally, a career in academia can also be pursued, but much as I admire History teachers, academics and museum curators, I just do not think it is for me.

History graduates have the ability to meet deadlines, can excellently marshal an argument and are ingrained with a self-motivation that is born from spending Sunday nights drinking coffee trying desperately to finish an essay by Monday afternoon.

Many of these attributes are also learnt by other arts students. I am a staunch defender of Classics, a subject that has faced far too much criticism. Sure, nobody speaks Ancient Greek or Latin any more but Classics gives students discipline, as well as a strong sensitivity and understanding of language. The course itself also demands rigorous thinking and intellectual versatility from its participants. Anyone who can read Ancient Greek or Latin is a highly cultured individual and should take great pride in their achievement.

“An overwhelming number of graduates are employed in jobs unrelated to their field of study.”

The problems arise when people take extremely specialised, but by no means meaningless, degrees from poor institutions. Examples of this are Chinese Architectural Archaeology, Mythology, Egyptology and Fashion Design. The study of these subjects could be fascinating for the right person at an excellent institution, but too often people commit to these courses because they have not been accepted for their first choice courses at their first choice universities.

A student should be truly passionate about the subject to embark on such a course as the job market will narrow the more specialised the subject material is. This is why History is such a wonderful and valuable degree to do.

John F. Kennedy, Sacha Baron Cohen, Lord Sainsbury and Anita Roddick all studied History and have become extremely successful because of it. Even Tony Blair was once supposed to have said, “I wish I had studied History at University.”
Trinity College History Graduates in 2007 went on to do a wide variety of things such as Trainee Investment Manager, Parliamentary Assistant, Wealth Management and Deputy Editor for institutions such as AIB, Ashville Media and the Dáil Éireann, and of course, somebody became a History teacher at a secondary school.

It is vital to stress that an overwhelming number of graduates are employed in jobs that are completely unrelated to their field of study at University, which is why flexible degrees such as History and English are so adaptable. Large proportions of both of these courses advance to further study and are employed right across the career spectrum. It is worth noting that most of the world leaders today have done some sort of arts degree; you never see a politician having studied Theoretical Physics or Pharmacy. So from now on, when I am asked “What are you going to be able to do with your History degree?” I will reply “Just about anything.”