Mary Rasita looking rather proud at her Bachelor of Arts graduation ceremony

Arts is (NOT) a Degree of Unemployment

I have one message for all of you who are currently doing a Bachelor of Arts degree, or planning to do so in Australia. Brace yourself for the following questions:

“Why came all the way to Australia to study Arts?”

“Are you not scared of being unemployed?”

“What are you going to do with your degree?”

These questions are the equivalent of the “Kapan kawin?” (“When will you get married?”) question from the relatives we only meet once in a blue moon during kondangan (wedding reception) or the holiday season.

During my four-year stay in Australia to pursue my Bachelor of Arts, I was always swamped with those kinds of question.

Hence, I’m writing this piece to share with you some thoughts to correct those condescending misconceptions.

Let’s start by helping people get to understand the term “Arts” better. The Bachelor of Arts degree  is not a Fine Arts or Art (without the “s”) degree which teaches you how to draw, paint, or sculpt. The degree of Arts, on the other hand, is one that teaches critical thinking, effective writing, and problem analysis, all within a broad range of subjects, from political science, sociology, cultural studies, to art history.

So the answer is, no, you are not going to be the next Leonardo Da Vinci. You can, however, be an expert in Leonardo Da Vinci’s paintings throughout the Renaissance era, and that is something to be proud of.

In terms of employability, it would be unfair to say that an Arts degree holder would eventually end up working at a fast food chain, taking drive-through orders all-day long. To be fair, I don’t have anything against this job. Everyone is doing their best to pay the bills, aren’t they?

If you’re looking for a poster girl for Arts-graduate-turned-millionaire, I am not one. I am still working 9 to 5 (7, to be honest) like everybody else, but hey! I am employable! So will you!

Mary Rasita looking rather proud at her Bachelor of Arts graduation ceremony

However, I can give you household names. On the local scene, take example of our former Foreign Affairs Minister, Marty Natalegawa. He obtained Arts degrees in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics to doctorate level.

Have you ever heard of Nadiem Makarim? The founder of GO-JEK, our much-beloved mobile app, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations and Affairs.

On a global scale, we have Kevin Rudd, an Arts graduate in Asian Studies who was also Australia’s former Prime Minister. Furthermore, we have David Cameron, a Bachelor of Arts graduate in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics, who is now the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. I could further jot down other names such as J.J Abrams, Hilary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Madeleine Albright and the list goes on.

(Fun fact: do you know that Kenneth Chenault, the CEO of American Express, is a Bachelor of Arts graduate in History?)

Finally, whether you are doing an Arts, Business, Engineering, or a Design degree, it does not really matter what people say about it as long as you believe in what you do, obtain as much knowledge as you can, and work hard to achieve your mission. Also, think highly of what you aspire to do in the future. Granted, nobody really knows what they want to do in life. However, before making any decision, try to get to know your ability, passion, and the prospect out of each degree that you are going to pursue.

I personally decided to do Arts for certain several reasons. First, I’ve always been fascinated by literature, humanities, and observing people in general. Hence, I decided to study Arts in Media and Politics because they combine my interests: humanities, literature, and observation. Consequently, it is fair to say that I love my current job. Not only because I am a fan of the industry in general, but also because my undergraduate and postgraduate studies in Arts have prepared me well to excel at my job. Also, I am aware of my limited ability and interest towards mathematics, the law of physics, or the chemical elements periodic table.

(Fun fact: Both of my parents are mechanical and industrial engineering graduates)

Therefore, if you have decided to study (or if you are doing) an Arts degree in Australia, do not let other people take you down with their harsh and condescending words. You will see a lot of jokes on student-run University Facebook parody pages with their amateur memes. Again, simply take it with a grain of salt. Study hard, join the communities on campus, and seize any chances you can get to help you sharpen your skills, experience, and CV in general.

So, the next time someone tries to undermine your choice with their remarks on your Arts degree, just bite back,

“Sorry if my degree makes you uncomfortable. I’m just trying to be the next (pick one: J.J Abrams/Oprah Winfrey/Kevin Rudd/Nadiem Makarim). Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a critical analysis essay on medieval history to finish.”

Photo provided by the author

Edited by Hadrian Pranjoto




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Mary Rasita is a Master of Arts graduate in Political Communication from the University of Leeds in the UK. Prior to that, she did a Bachelor of Arts in Media and Communications & Political Science at the University of Melbourne in Australia. She finally resides back in Jakarta and is now working as an Analyst at Indonesia's e-commerce giant, MatahariMall.com. During her time in Melbourne, she has co-founded a Melbourne-based print magazine called Perspektif. She is keen to sharpen her knowledge in 'the internet of everything', intersectional feminism, and observational comedy.
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