Not Just Baristas: The Case for an Arts Degree

We all hear the typical comment at some point throughout our degrees, whether it be from a family member or a friend: “Why are you taking Arts? The only job you’ll ever get is that of a Barista.” And while the first 10 or 15 times someone dissed my major I was mildly to extremely offended, eventually I embraced what I’d decided to do with my life.

I’ll be honest, throughout my first year, I found it extremely difficult to bond with people in my residence because of my degree. While most people on my floor were in Sciences or Engineering, I was one of the few people in the Arts program, and this seemed to pose an insurmountable barrier for people who viewed me only as their future fancy coffee brewer. The extent our conversations reached was them telling me how lucky I was that I had 4 papers to write that week, instead of having a midterm like them.

However, it’s always important to consider both sides of the argument. Although I started this degree because I believe Arts degrees are not useless, it’s often important for those with a Bachelor of Arts to further their education. Many individuals with a B.A. degrees continue on to get their Master’s and PhDs or go to Law school, in order to get a job with a higher paying salary.

Although this is a valid counter argument, a study conducted by the Education Policy Research Initiative based out of the University of Ottawa decided to examine the “barista myth” and see if there was any validity to the preconceived notion that Arts is not a useful degree. Their findings revealed that those with a BA had a starting salary below all other faculties, except Fine Arts. Although this is true, they also found individuals holding Bachelor of Arts degrees had the most stability in their salaries over the years, compared to other degrees which showed extreme vulnerability with regards to the business cycle. Individuals with a Bachelor of Arts also had significant salary raises within the first 8 years after graduation, usually doubling their starting salaries.

When I applied to UBC, I had originally applied to the Faculty of Science, with the prospect of becoming a doctor. As soon as I had submitted my application, I had regrets. I knew that I didn’t love science, no matter how much I tried to tell myself I did. Several weeks later, I ended up changing my application to the BA program, and am now planning on declaring a History major at the end of this year. The decision to become a History major was an easy one because it was a decision to pursue what I love.

For me, the idea of continuing on to further degrees isn’t a daunting prospect, although there is clearly demand in the labour market for those holding BAs alone. I am here and I am in this program because of my passion for learning, and I believe that most people in the Bachelor of Arts program feel the same way. In an article published in the New York Times, Arnold Weinstein sums up the value of studying Arts pretty poetically: “’How much do you know about Shakespeare?’ I once asked a friend who has committed much of her life to studying the Bard. She replied, ‘Not as much as he knows about me.’ Remember this next time someone tells you literature is useless.”

Rebecca Silver is a second year Arts student with an intended major in History and minor in International Relations. She loves all things Russian, curling up with a good book, and dogs.

Image: “Espresso Extract” by Jon Lin via Flickr License: CC by 2.0

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