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These days, many parents think it’s not enough for their children to gain just any highly-scored degree from a prestigious university. There’s a misconception that degrees in the arts and humanities – even in traditionally esteemed subjects like literature, history and philosophy – are a one-way ticket to unemployment.
This misconception isn’t just pervasive, it’s pernicious: the fact is, studying the arts and humanities has a whole host of benefits that set students up for success. It also fuels their passions and nourishes their imaginations – key ingredients for overall wellbeing.
In this article, we’ll share essential information and talking points before diving into some of our top tips for communicating the pros of these degrees to parents!
What are parents’ concerns about the arts and humanities?
Before diving into our top tips for countering parents’ misconceptions, let’s first think about what some of those misconceptions might be.
Employment prospects are often cited as a top worry, but there can be subtle differences. For example, some parents are most worried about instability in arts and humanities fields, and think other subjects could offer greater job security. Others worry that jobs in these sectors are underpaid, meaning a drastic lifestyle change for their child.
Or maybe their concerns are more academic! They might feel their child would be more challenged by, or better suited to, a different field.
There are lots of hesitations parents might have, but we’re going to help you challenge each of them!
Information and talking points to cover with parents
Now we can turn to countering these misconceptions by looking at the benefits that make studying arts and humanities so worthwhile. We’ll even share some handy facts and figures you can keep in your arsenal.
Arts and humanities degrees develop key skills
The suggestion that these degrees don’t impart important skills – both hard and soft skills – is untrue. In fact, they foster some of the skills most sought-after by employers. These include:
Arts and humanities degrees almost always entail independent research, from reading around the subject to finding quality sources when writing essays. In fact, there are groundbreaking research and discoveries happening in the arts and humanities all the time!
And that’s an incredibly powerful – and flexible – skill to have. Almost all industries have research at their core, and arts and humanities degrees teach students to carry it out independently and effectively.
Writing and articulation
All of their in-depth research needs to be communicated clearly and concisely, so it’s no wonder that arts and humanities degrees are great at teaching students to articulate their ideas.
This, too, is a necessary skill in almost any professional field – and one that many STEM degrees shirk. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a job posting that doesn’t list ‘communication skills’ or some synonym, and nobody delivers better on that than an arts or humanities graduate.
We live in a world of malleable truths and fake news, huge ethical questions, increasingly polarised societies, ever-evolving job markets, environmental and social crises… Ambiguity reigns over all of these, and their solutions require flexible and analytical thinking.
That’s why studying subjects that don’t have one clear-cut answer is more vital than ever. They teach students the adaptability, resilience, and lateral thinking skills essential to succeed in a world where circumstances change constantly – in the workplace and beyond.
Arts and humanities degrees appeal to employers
Having seen a few of the valuable skills that arts and humanities degrees convey, it will come as no surprise that employers are so often impressed by these degrees.
While George Anders worked as Forbes’s technology reporter, he spoke to hiring managers at some of the world’s biggest technology companies. Many of them were looking exclusively for arts and humanities majors.
Similarly, LinkedIn found that some of employers’ most sought-after skills were creativity, persuasion, collaboration and people management… In fact, the fastest-growing jobs in the past thirty years have almost all listed high levels of social skills as a requirement.
“The ability to communicate and get along with people, understand what’s on other people’s minds, do full-strength critical thinking – all of these things were valued and appreciated by everyone.”George Anders: Technology reporter, Forbes
Arts and humanities graduates land leadership roles
Glassdoor recently carried out extensive research into the best jobs to pursue, taking into account earning potential, overall job satisfaction and the availability of positions.
Coming in third was marketing manager, followed by product manager, then sales manager. It might be interesting for parents enthusiastic about STEM to know that there was no engineering role on the list until number 18!
Another study of 1,700 people from 30 countries found that people working in leadership roles were most likely to have either a social sciences or humanities degree.
Meanwhile, 58% of Chief Executives of FTSE 100 Index Companies studied arts, humanities or social sciences at university!
In today’s fast-paced world, arts and humanities degrees could be the ticket to job security
Contrary to common employment concerns, having a degree in the arts and humanities might actually increase students’ chances of steady employment! Here’s why…
Arts and humanities graduates are less replaceable
We’ve all been hearing about the impending robot takeover of the job market, but that largely applies to formulaic tasks: think bookkeeping, data entry, medical tasks, or analytics. Fortunately, many of the top roles for arts and humanities graduates aren’t likely to be filled by robots any time soon.
That’s because these degrees teach students to do things that AI simply can’t emulate, like probe, excavate, think abstractly, create, compare and critique.
Tech needs arts and humanities graduates
The more we move into digitisation and AI solutions, the more important human connection becomes. That means companies need people who can conceive of strong brands, and communicate their messages through words, design, video and more.
Even people with the most cutting-edge skills need creative minds to help them innovate and bring their ideas to life! This requires graduates with superb critical and creative thinking, research, and communication skills… and that’s exactly what degrees in the humanities and the arts teach.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that tech skills age fast. Students who study things like computer science at university might find that they need to retrain in as little as five years, as technology moves ahead in leaps and bounds. Arts and humanities skills have much longer shelf lives.
“It’s not just about knowing how to use technology—that’s becoming a commodity very quickly in the same way that reading and writing is a commodity, a skill set. But your ability to use that skill set to do something creative, to ask the right question, to develop the right insights, is what actually creates value.”Adam Enbar: CEO and Co-Founder of Flatiron
Today’s world requires professional flexibility
It’s generally a safer bet to opt for a broader degree that could open up lots of different career pathways than a specialised, tech-based subject. If students change their minds after four years of study, they still have options.
And these career-swaprs are more common than parents might think: a third of people opt for an entirely different field from the one they started in after graduating. And a LinkedIn survey found that young workers switch jobs four times in their first 10 years after graduation.
It’s not just one youthful change of heart after the excitement of adulthood begins to fade, though. On average, people have a staggering 12 different jobs throughout their lives, and recent advice suggests that we should plan to have five distinct careers. Having a skill set that lends itself to different roles and requirements stands students in exceptionally good stead for the future world of work.
“What we are constantly reminding parents is that the world is an incredibly dynamic place… They need to think not just about the first job but a lifetime of jobs.”Andy Chan: Vice President of Personal and Career Development at Wake Forest
Even if students do stick to one career, the job roles themselves are more varied and require a broad range of skills. For example, PR stars often need to be video-editing wizards for social media content. Copywriters might find themselves wielding marketing automation software. Journalists are contending with content management systems and complex coding to present their stories dynamically… The list goes on.
Techniques and top tips for talking to parents
Now that we’ve thought about what you can say to doubtful parents, it’s worth thinking about how you can say it. Setting up productive conversations can be difficult at the best of times, let alone when there’s an obstacle or disagreement from the get-go.
So here are some tips on keeping the conversation positive, productive and persuasive.
1) Listen to parents’ concerns about the arts and humanities
As we alluded to in our opening section, hesitance about studying arts or humanities can stem from different places, and be subtly different. Try to tap into the core of their concern. For example:
- Are they worried about professional stability?
- Do they think their child will be underpaid?
- Is it a return on investment they’re looking for?
- Do they feel their child shows more aptitude or interest in a different area?
- Do they simply think a degree in, say, history is inherently unhelpful?
Once you know what they’re really worried about, you can tailor the conversation accordingly.
Tip: Find out how parents feel about different subjects before even meeting with them through surveys, polls or emails! You can even use parents’ evenings or assemblies to take casual polls and adjust your approach accordingly.
2) Appeal to parents’ hearts and minds
When it comes to persuasion, you can’t go wrong with the ancient rhetorical appeals:
- Ethos: establishing the persuader’s (i.e. your!) credibility
- Pathos: appealing to the audience’s emotions
- Logos: applying logic
- Kairos: choosing the right place and time to deliver your argument
In this section, we’re thinking about pathos and logos – in other words, appealing to the heart and mind. Many of us have a tendency to go one way or the other, but when it comes to decision-making – especially when a family member is concerned – both play a crucial role.
So as well as using logical arguments and hard evidence, remember that ultimately, parents want their children to be happy and fulfilled. And the best way for them to do that is to choose a path they feel passionate about, and an institution where they can really thrive.
Children who study subjects they’re not interested in because of familial pressures are more likely to become apathetic towards their studies, and far less motivated.
Remember, extrinsic motivation correlates with worse outcomes – studies even show that it destroys internal motivation, produces animosity towards education, and fosters low-level, reactive thinking!
3) Use statistics and data when discussing the arts and humanities
Of course, some parents might be tempted to dismiss even your best arguments if they’re not backed up by evidence. That’s why real-life statistics and data can be so helpful. It also adds to the ancient Greeks concept of ethos – convincing parents that you know what you’re talking about, so they’re more inclined to listen.
Of course, we’ve done some of the work for you already. But if you want to really convince parents, use data from your own school. That will bring it to life, and show that what you’re saying isn’t anomalous or only true of certain cultures or countries.
Some areas that it might be useful to look at include:
- Number of current students shortlisting/expressing interest in arts and humanities degrees
- % students that apply for arts and humanities degrees
- % students that enrol on arts or humanities courses
- % students that graduate from their degrees, comparing STEM and arts and humanities
- % former students that have a full-time job within one year of graduating with an arts or humanities degree
If you haven’t got this data to hand, why not unlock it with a free platform like BridgeU? It gathers some of these key numbers for you, and makes it much easier to track graduating students’ outcomes!
4) Have tangible, real-life examples and illustrations
While some people see the world in numbers, others respond better to a case-study approach, or a demonstration of the real-life benefits.
Some of our favourite ways of doing this include:
- Have an alumnus with an arts or humanities degree come and give a talk on their experience and/or current career
- Use real-life job postings and show how an arts or humanities degree meets the criteria
- Have university faculty come and talk about the benefits of their arts and humanities degrees and/or their wider careers services
- Invite employers to present on why they value arts and humanities graduates
- Encourage parents to evaluate the skills their child has gained from studying arts and humanities subjects even at school
- Give an overview of the range of career paths these degrees can lead to
5) Mix up your formats
Now we move on to kairos: choosing the right place and time to deliver your argument. You’ve got several channels at your disposal, so be sure to use them!
If you have the chance, it’s a good idea to get in early with the parents of children in their middle years (yes, you really can start guidance so soon!).
At this stage, assembly formats work well, as you might not have an established enough relationship with students, and their goals may not be defined enough, for one-to-one meetings to be worthwhile.
But assemblies give you a great opportunity to showcase your strategy to parents and establish that all-important ethos. You can make sure that they understand from the get-go the value of studying arts and humanities… which could make later discussions easier.
These are a great opportunity to empower parents and to come up with concrete, personalised plans – both of which go a long way in soothing parents’ anxieties!
It can be scary for parents to feel powerless, and to watch their child take an unknown path. So show them how they can have a positive impact on their child and help them develop their employability.
You can then collaborate with them (and maybe the student, too!) on a detailed long-term plan of the steps they’ll take and their benefits. Some examples include:
- Work experience/internships/part-time jobs
- Workshops or online classes
- Entrepreneurial projects
- Extracurricular activities at university
- Entry-level positions
- Incremental promotions to the ultimate desired role
6) Encourage your students to have compromises and backup plans
Because these subject areas can be so broad, they can be moulded or integrated with different fields, offering solutions in which everybody wins!
Students could apply for combined honours, joint honours, double majors or a major and a minor combination.
Or if their parents are absolutely set against them studying the arts or humanities at all, they could train more vocationally but try to specialise in a field that’s related to their area of passion.
For example, an aspiring artist could undertake a business degree and focus on the creative industries, thereby preparing for a career as, say, a gallery curator. Or a budding actor or screenwriter might study the more technical aspects of filmmaking.
Alternatively, they could find a programme that feeds into a professional postgraduate qualification, so that their parents are assured they’ll have formal professional training.
Students could also look into undertaking micro-credentials either before, after or during their studies.
Make conversations with parents easy and effective
These pointers and talking points will get parents excited about their children applying for arts and humanities degrees, but if you want to make sure all your arguments are really tailored to their child (and isn’t that what parents respond best to?), you’ll want the free BridgeU platform.
BridgeU provides you with real-time data from your school so that you can accurately back up your claims and use relevant, real-life examples.
Plus, its robust and intelligent matching system shows parents that their child’s decision to undertake an arts and humanities degree isn’t a whim. Logic, thought and thorough research have gone into finding the best possible course for their child!
The platform provides personalised content feeds of the most up-to-date resources, themed careers events and data on over 28,000 global universities to ensure students are finding their perfect fit.
To get started with a free BridgeU account and help students find and apply to their perfect programmes – with the full support of their parents – just click here!
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