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"You can't get a job with that degree!" Advice and musings on open ended degrees

"What are you going to do with a degree in that?"

As someone who chose International Management as their degree, I was used to people making unsolicited comments about it's lack of direction or lack of obvious career paths. And I'm sure graduates of History, Geography, Theology, Scandinavian Studies, Linguistics or any of the humanities are probably used to defending their degree choice.

I went on to work in Marketing/Sales Support and don't consider myself to be a dead-end failure despite my slightly non-conventional degree choice. Three years on from graduating with an International Management degree how have my feelings changed towards a degree that's non-specific or do I feel the same way I did when I chose it at seventeen?

My back story
If you've been reading my blog for a while you'll remember I didn't have a clue what I wanted to do and it did worry me that my degree was quite, broad. You may also remember that - almost by chance - I got a part-time job in social media in the university for the career centre. A job I loved, which led me into marketing, despite my degree not being in marketing (and to clarify, my degree contained very little marketing despite still being a business degree).

I then spent my third/fourth year of university building up work experience to counteract that my degree wasn't in marketing. I ran the social media accounts for the Business Society, started the Cupcake Society, became a class rep, started my blog and pretty much did so many things that wasn't having my nose in a book (which conventional wisdom would have you believe is where my nose should have been).

I ended up graduating with a 2:2, which is a classification many people wouldn't be happy with and I actually kept off my CV. But when I decided to throw myself behind my practical work experience projects rather than my academic work I knew it was the risk I was taking. It's not a risk I would recommend generally but for myself it's a risk that paid off and I am happy with my decision and don't regret my choice.

I am still a little bit unsure about what exactly it is I want to do, but I have come to accept that it doesn't make me a failure or that I should pressure myself into something just to feel accomplished. I am proactively brainstorming various options but I'm not going to talk about that right now. I just want to have a natter and offer any advice to those of you thinking about going to university and are debating between doing a degree that seemingly has no job options or a degree that has one clear job option at the end of it.

And sorry if "open-ended degree" isn't the correct blanket term, I just don't know if there is one?

To start off with...humanities or any other open ended degrees are not silly and there are jobs for geography graduates
A conversation I've had a few times goes like this:
"How come you never did Sociology at university?"
"None of the jobs related to it appealed to me"
"Ah yes, the job market is a bit slim for that degree"

Ahem. Sociology is a fantastic degree to have with an array of possible career paths, such as social worker, academic, journalist or even a marketer (what I eventually ended up in anyway). Whilst I did seriously consider Sociology as an option ('cause, yeah, I am a passionate social justice warrior type) my reason for turning it down was because none of the potential career paths appealed to me, not because there were no career paths.

So I went and studied another degree instead. Still a flimsy Bachelor of Arts degree which, like Sociology, had several career possibilities rather than one obvious career path but, unlike sociology, some of these options appealed to me.

Enhance your CV elsewhere and work the transferable skills
I've rammed this point home before, and I'll ram it home again. A lot of people have degrees these days; it's no longer the select few. So you'll need a bit more on you CV upon graduation than just "got a degree". The students of my graduating class that went on to find professional jobs quickly were the dorks who were running societies alongside their degrees. So guys, it's important.

How much academia versus real-life experience you'll require will determine a lot on what you study. Some degrees (say, medicine) have a high focus on academic achievement, and extra-curricular activities might not help all that much in the job hunt. However, for some degrees (such as fashion management) not carrying out work-experience alongside your degree is a professional deathwish (you'll need to decide for yourself where on the spectrum your degree falls).

If you graduate with an open-ended degree, you will end up against applicants who studied the specific degree for that job. Which, yeah, is a disadvantage. But if you developed your transferable skills at university through volunteering, societies, sports teams, part-time work experience, internships, running a blog and doing a few extra qualifications here and there, you can blow them out the park with skills your competition might not have (and proof that you're serious about professional development).

And we all know someone who has a glittering career in something that they fell into by accident. You never know what a hobby or a part-time job could grow into...

You might need to re-study but only briefly...
Whilst my degree in International Management wasn't wholly unrelated to marketing (as it was at least a business degree), I still found myself needing to invest time/effort/money in gaining some marketing qualifications to make my CV a bit more relevant. I didn't have to return to college to study for HND in PR, but I sat down with the Hubspot Inbound Qualification and random ones I found on Groupon. It wasn't fun, but it helped - a lot.

It's doubtful you'll have to go back and do a second degree. Everyone I've known who already had a degree has either been allowed onto a Master's programme or only did a few smaller qualifications. No one had to go back into Year 1 and complete a brand new Bachelors Degree.

Some specific degrees are more transferable than you'd think
One of the draw backs to studying a very specific degree is, well, if you change your mind.

But don't fret if this is you, because some degrees are a lot more transferable than you'd think - you may have to be willing to do a few extra qualifications to realign your professional goals but it's doable. My friend studied Mental Health and Counselling at university, decided it wasn't for her a year after graduation but had enough qualifications to get onto a Human Resource Management masters programme and now works in HR for a mental health charity (so her first degree didn't go to waste either!). I have another friend who studied one of Abertay's games programming courses but now works as a regular software developer.  My previous flatmate had a Speech Therapy degree and while she went on to become successful in that field, I was surprised when she told me how many other careers were open to her.

So if you're on the other side of the coin and are worried that your degree choice is a bit close-ended and you're doubting if it's what you really want to do, rest assured it's not necessarily the end of the road.

My closing advice
There are people people out there who believe your degree and job must align. This is despite plenty of people who are living proof that this isn't true, myself included. Life would have been simpler if I had studied Marketing from the start as I had seriously considered doing so anyway. But I didn't, and went with something that looked interesting (which it was) though admittedly I hadn't thought it through properly, and my only advice to my younger self would be to listen to that voice that was telling me to ignore society and take a year out to really explore my options.

Choosing your degree is one of those big adult choices and you'll have pressure flying from all angles just to pick something already. Try and ignore these pressures and have a inner chat with yourself about what you really want. Whether you decide to study something specific or something slightly more unusual, the only point that matters is that you can articulate why you're studying this subject and what you want to get out of it. As long as you've thought about this and where this degree might take you then go for it!

Whether you sign up for a Dentistry degree or a History of Art degree (or even no degree at all) remember: you do you!

morag | mo adore
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