This post was written by an external contributor. Fergal Smiddy discusses why you should follow your dreams when choosing your university subject.
“So, what exactly is that degree going to get you?”
While it may be a completely well-meaning and fair question to ask, it never fails to make my eyes roll, my patience wear ever so slightly thinner, and – on a bad day – my fists clench in what can only be described as a fit of pure and utter frustration. As a student of English Literature, it’s a question that gets thrown at me a lot.
My course naturally lacks the sense of security and direction that comes with a more career-focused degree such as Chemical Engineering or Medicine. However, I would argue that worrying about job prospects shouldn’t be the deciding factor in your hunt for your chosen subject. Instead of opting for a course that might bring you some reward in the future, you should be focusing on finding a course that you will enjoy in the present.
It’s not an easy process, but it certainly can be done. Below are some tips, derived from my own personal journey, that I hope will aid you somewhat in finding an answer to the age-old question: “What should I study at university?”.
Decide for yourself
This is a topic that I know all too much about. Whenever I revealed that I wanted to study English at a higher level, and ultimately advance to a career in writing, almost every teacher and guidance counsellor had the same advice for me. They would say that I’d be better off setting my sights on a degree with a more stable career path. Initially, this advice – and, arguably, scaremongering – led me to set my sights on a course in Applied Psychology. The course seemed vaguely interesting to me, and I figured that my love for writing would surely be satisfied to some degree.
However, as the deadline for course applications drew nearer, the sense of uneasiness in my gut grew larger. On the final night before applications were due to close, I rushed to my computer and made what has turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. I changed my chosen subject, allowing me to do what I always knew I wanted to do: study English Literature. I chose not to bow to the pressures imposed upon me by those who wished to dictate my career path, and went with my gut feeling.
Fast-forward two years, and it’s clear that the decision I made that night was the correct one. I’m excelling academically, purely because I love the course that I’m doing. Had I stuck with the “safe” option, I’m certain that things would not currently be going as well as they are. So, make sure that your decision is entirely your own. Trust in yourself and go for the course that you believe you’ll enjoy the most. Your enjoyment will lead to achievement, and your passion will turn to success.
Don’t let the word ‘employability’ scare you
For the secondary-level student who has yet to make the transition to third-level education, it seems that university is always synonymous with careers. Of course, thinking about your possible career paths is important. But what they don’t tell you in secondary school is that uni is about far more than simply earning a diploma, tossing a cap in the air, and heading off into the merry land of jobs. It’s about personal development – finding out who you are, making connections with people, and advancing your skills outside of the classroom.
For example, my choice of course has allowed me to become surrounded by people who have the exact same goals and passions as me. Getting myself involved with societies is a great way of opening doors and building new skills. Thanks to my involvement in student media, I’m currently holding a paid editor’s position with my university newspaper and am already in the process of building a CV that brings me closer to my dream of a career in writing every single day.
Don’t sweat it
This may not seem like useful advice, but, believe me – coming from someone who was in your position only two years ago – it is. Nobody (especially at the age of eighteen) knows the exact career path that they’re going to take. Nobody knows where they are going to end up in thirty, twenty, or even ten years from now. Neither do you, and that’s okay.
When people ask me: “What exactly is that degree going to get you?”, I still tell them that I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m happier now than I ever could have been had I not followed my heart and changed my college course application that night. I’m loving every single second of university. I’m making friends who are in the exact same boat as me, and I’m building my skills towards a career in writing every single day. I may not know what my degree is going to get me, but I have loved every second of what it’s gotten me so far, and that’s good enough for now.