We all know that one dreamer who threw caution (and their student loan) to the wind and decided to study theatre, anthropology, or the very vaguely named ‘liberal arts’. Despite being warned against the challenges of finding a job in an over-saturated graduate market and a low chance of return on investment – not to mention, hearing that incredibly witty, ‘So, I heard McDonald’s is hiring’ comment – there are a select few who stumbled out of academia and into Tiqets with a ‘useless degree’ worth talking about.
What did you study and why did you pursue it?
Callum (Copywriter): History. Pure unadulterated history.
I studied history (mainly modern), because I had an inspirational teacher. When someone is able to make something so interesting, and talk about it with such passion, you don’t want that to be the end of your time learning about it. It also made sense to play to my strengths. I had a natural flair for history and thought it was smarter to pursue something I had an interest in rather than grinding out exam resits in other subjects with the goal of completing a degree I might have doubts about later.
Liam (Copywriter): Sports Journalism.
I did a degree in Sports Journalism because A.) I love sports, and B.) writing was the only thing – apart from a rapidly dwindling dream of being a sportsman – that seemed like a viable, enjoyable career choice.
We studied everything from documentary filmmaking to libel law. We were tutored by seasoned writers with decades of experience writing for national newspapers, who between themselves had written hundreds of books, ranging from biographies of world champion boxers to exposés of corruption in FIFA.
Mick (Copy Editor): English.
I changed my degree from Computer Science to English, after deciding that I would rather do what makes me happy. Reading and writing were always my favorite things to do. Also, I accidentally started a small fire in my electronics course.
I mostly saw my degree as a great excuse to read as many books as possible while still ‘moving forward’ in some way. I also think it’s crucial to pursue things you actually like doing, and are good at, as much as possible.
Oscar (Copywriter): Cultural anthropology and philosophy.
As a kid, I was always diverted by the big questions about life, the universe, and everything. It’s an old-fashioned idea, but I genuinely valued pursuing knowledge for its own sake, rather than as part of some practical plan. So I chose the thing that made my brain feel fizzy.
Despite my narrow job prospects as a philosophical anthropologist in a global financial crash, I found solace in the fact that I was probably better positioned to reconcile myself to the inherent meaninglessness of existence than the people who studied business, accounting, and engineering, who were also out of work.
What are some misconceptions about your degrees?
Callum: That after history, there’s nothing else to do but teach. Or, use it as a gateway degree to law.
Liam: That we sat around talking about the weekend’s football results and writing mock match reports while drinking copious amounts of beer. This is all true, but there was a little bit more to it than that.
Journalism was always seen as a vocation rather than something which needed studying. My course was even the focus of a poorly researched news special in the UK about degrees which aren’t worth the money and are poorly taught. We all watched it together in the lecture hall and laughed!
Mick: That it’s ‘useless’. Skills like critical thinking and writing are crucial in so many professions and transfer well across the board. The other misconception is that you’ll end up working at McDonald’s, or that there are no career opportunities. My degree has helped me find work in three different countries, and let me travel through Japan for two years.
Oscar: The most common questions I got were “Are you going to work in a philosophy factory?”, or “Would you like fries with that?”, and disturbingly often “What’s anthropology?”
Arts degrees are notorious for being incredibly tautological. What’s the most ridiculous course material you ever encountered?
Callum: That Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. Pish-posh!
Mick: In English – and probably humanities as a whole – being verbose and inaccessible is often mistaken for being intelligent. It leads to a lot of unreadable garbage.
Oscar: I once took an elective in Digital Anthropology, exploring online modalities of sociality, which was actually really fascinating and great. But, I do remember one class exploring the semantics and semiotics of cat memes, which I felt was peak-academia.
When did you know what you wanted to do for a career?
Callum: A lot later in the game than I expected. I think in our teens we all have an idealized vision of uninterrupted linear progression, from school to uni to travel and a dream job – but life is more nuanced. I think it’s more important to leave university with the ability to learn than to have a five-year career plan. Keep growing, apply effort, and things will fall into place.
Liam: I always knew writing would be part of my career, and a journalism degree gave me a good grounding. I interned at Watford FC, a professional football club, three times while I was at university, covering matches and writing for the club website. I then landed a job in the media team and ended up staying for five years. Other students went on to work for football clubs, radio stations, newspapers, and production companies. The guy who turned up to a lecture shoeless, straight from a drunken night out – not sure what happened to him!
Mick: I have known from a very young age that my ultimate calling is to become an alpaca farmer. The alpacas will be treated well, shaved for the summer season, and during the year, the farm will be used as a petting zoo/meditative alpaca yoga retreat. My degree will help me market this idea to the world.
Oscar: Philosophy is all about refining and distilling ideas with language, broadly speaking. Anthropology is all about people and culture. Becoming a writer occurred to me pretty quickly once I began to consider my career options. I just needed to find something fun to write about.
How did your course material prepare you for this job?
Callum: There’s a lot of crossover – maybe not so much with historiography (and definitely less about the JFK assassination). But in terms of researching a new topic, which is more often than not related to museums or art, and then writing about it in a way that’s uniquely you – well, my degree has made the job easier.
Mick: While I don’t think studying Shakespeare or John Berger is especially relevant on a daily basis, skills like critical thinking, persuasive writing, and being able to quickly understand abstract concepts is crucial in a lot of situations.
A big part of editing is reading with a high attention to detail. It’s about different ways of seeing and understanding texts from a variety of perspectives. Does it make sense to people? Is it useful? Is it attractive? And from a business perspective, will it make them want to visit this cool cultural attraction?
Oscar: It’s fair to say I couldn’t have dreamed of a better way to combine these skills and interests than writing copy about culture at Tiqets. It took a long time and lots of hard work to get here, but I can now look back with supreme satisfaction that I ignored the haters. The philosophy factory is a very fun place to work, it turns out.
What would be your advice to anyone pursuing a “useless degree”?
Callum: Go for it. Really consider your choices and compare them to other potential degrees. But, I don’t think you can ever dub anything to be entirely useless, except the nipples on Batman’s suit. There’s always going to be a takeaway from your time studying, whether it’s working up the courage to speak in a seminar, the responsibility earned from moving out of your parent’s place, or learning to subsist on tin after tin of baked beans.
Liam: Do what you love (or like quite a lot) and work hard. Your degree might be useless, but you’re not.
Mick: If you like it, and you’re good at it, keep doing it. For further career advice, please PayPal €30 to [REDACTED].
Oscar: Do the thing that makes your brain feel fizzy. You might have to work a few jobs before you find the perfect one, but you’ll eventually find yourself in a job you love. There are no useless degrees. Apart from Fahrenheit.