(to BA or not to BA that is the question…)
As I find myself about to enter the final year of my degree I wanted to share my experience with incoming college students and Arts students who will soon being their second year - making that all important decision about what subjects to pick.
Like many of you, I started with four subjects in first year because I wanted to keep my options open and experience different areas of the Arts. I studied English, French, Philosophy and Psychology. After a year spent reading literature from as far back as the Anglo Saxon period, cramming my head full of grammar, learning how the human brain develops from infancy and studying the vast array of philosophies on everything from existence to ethics (the Nihilism kicked in around the middle of second semester) I had to make a choice: what do I want to do next? (it was the CAO all over again). Most BA students choose the Joint Honours route, allowing them to divide their credits equally between two subjects. While I certainly enjoyed my first year subjects despite the occasional difficulty (it is university, it wasn’t going to be easy). I couldn’t see myself devoting my time to different areas (I’m terrible at multitasking) and more importantly I wanted to focus my studies on English.
It had always been my favourite subject in school, many of us are drawn to our degrees out of the prospect of studying subjects we enjoyed at second level in greater depth. Also like many of the Arts, making a life-long passion a serious field of study for your university years is a very appealing idea. Us bookworms can spend 3+ years as professional readers.
Now there is no denying it is one of those degree choices that tends to attract the cliché “What are you going to do with that?” jokes (I’ve heard them all, and even come up with a few because I enjoy self-awareness humour) the Broadway musical “Avenue Q” even opens with a song entitled “What do you do with a BA in English?”. At the risk sounding like a rewritten prospectus, I firmly believe that there is no such thing as a useless degree. While English and the other Arts may not offer the direct career applications that say, science or business degrees do, the skills acquired are transferrable to a great number of areas; from enhancing your ability to think critically to simply improving your written and oral communication skills from all the essays and presentations you will be assigned (yes there are quite a few). The Arts are about human creativity so it is fitting that a holder of a BA degree has the potential to embark on any path they put their mind to.
As for the course content, while this will vary from university to university, the basics remain the same: you will study the works of writers from history, with plenty of opportunities to explore areas that interest you. In the space of one week I could be reading a Shakespearean play written over 400 years ago and a selection of modern poems written in the last 50 years (essentially be prepared to have a big reading pile over the semester). Books, plays, poetry and film are the backbones of our culture, touching on important issues that have shaped society today, as well as being a truly pleasurable learning experience where you can meet like-minded people who share these passions.
In conclusion, if you are an incoming college student who has chosen to study the Arts I urge you to consider English as a subject choice. You’ll find its so much more than just reading and writing, but an opportunity to learn about the world through the words of its great authors. As was stated in the film “Dead Poet Society”: “Medicine, law, business, engineering: these are all noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love…these are the what we stay alive for”.