Getting into the arts with or without a university degree?

Having completed my undergraduate degree in History and my postgraduate degree in Art History I am evidently a big advocate for going to university.

Getting into the arts with or without a university degree?

It gave me amazing experiences that I wouldn't have had otherwise, I gained independence and confidence during the last 6 years that I've been at university and its opened lots of doors for me. Equally, I am really passionate about the subjects that I have chosen, having strong interests in them and having learnt so much over the time I spent studying. University also gives you brilliant social experiences and social life as well as a fun environment to explore different interests and hobbies. Its also a safe environment to experiment and explore many different options.

However, having now entered the real world so to speak, six years later, it's obvious that there are some downsides to university. How does it prepare us for real life? For practical experience? For jobs in the arts?

The universities I attended actively tried to address to these issues- they offered a fantastic career service which guided us through all our options. That said, a lot seems to be geared towards huge graduate jobs within corporations or office jobs so to speak. There's a big push on graduate jobs and careers, with many internet services providing job hunting tools and search engines through external websites to help lead us into targeted careers. I've attended job fairs full of big corporations like Mars or smaller independent local companies. But where does that leave those who want a job within the arts or indeed looking into a creative career?

Sure, my university did offer creative workshops and job options to explore within creative career choices - such as working within the media, film industry, writing careers and museums and galleries. The course I studied also had specific modules about jobs within said careers to give us skills- such as teaching us about curating and methods of display, digital technology skills and jobs within galleries and museums.

But practically exploring graduate jobs now I've finished, most of these seem exceedingly corporate and office based and based mostly in London rather than near to where I live. This brings me to the conclusion that whilst I would absolutely choose to go to university again and do it all over again, that actually the fact that I am a 'graduate' and have 'graduated' is completely irrelevant to the roles I wish to go into within the arts and creative sector. Within most museums and galleries and arts jobs, I will be starting at the bottom and working my way up- it would be laughable to try to apply to higher up roles. Within creative jobs I don't have a creative degree- so again I'm starting it all from scratch or using the experience I have from volunteering and part time jobs over the years whilst studying.

In many ways those who didn't attend university are career-wise ahead of me. They have heaps more experience and many have developed a creative job or museum job or artist freelancing role and business that they've had chance to nurture and explore. Also there seems to be many opportunities for apprenticeships in creative industries and museums and galleries- but these are all closed to those who have studied a degree and instead open to those who have no degree. It seems to be harder to get into these roles with an academic degree than it is without one.

I realise that universities are doing everything they can to address this, and perhaps I didn't attend creative arts led or practical course led universities which would have helped my career. It's too late for me to pursue a creative degree- the tuition fees are simply too expensive for anyone to change tact. But I strongly believe that art should be for everyone, should be completely accessible to anyone. I also think my degrees did explore a lot of the skills needed for a creative or arts based job. I studied subjects which didn't lead onto a definite career path but studied them because I love what I studied and am passionate about what I learnt. I would encourage everyone else to do the same. They did give me some brilliant practical and career-inspired skills.

I wanted to make this blog post a positive action plan and to explore within this blog post ways to get into a career in the arts or the creative sector without going to university or having a degree (or indeed having a degree that appears irrelevant within real life career choices). But instead it's turned into a personal reflection and an exploration of how our generation is fighting to enter graduate arts jobs.


Mary Strickson

Mary Strickson Contributor

I love writing, blogging and reviewing on Voice and other online publications, covering a range of topics but I especially love the arts, activism, film and theatre. When I am not writing I work as an events photographer and artist/illustrator, as well as running workshops in schools and the community, mostly with young people. I'm also a huge history nerd, have a History BA, Art History MA and work in heritage. I love comics, superheroes and anything sci-fi.

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