Everyone Told Me a Media Studies Degree Would Be a Waste of Time. They Were Wrong
Deciding what to study at university is never easy. In fact, it’s arguably the first in a long line of many difficult, life-changing decisions a person can make, and with tuition fees constantly on the rise, the pressure to choose “the right degree” has never been felt so strongly. Here, Katie Skelton discusses how attaching a stigma to degrees like Media Studies makes that decision so much harder to face, and why we need to stop judging people for pursuing degrees in subjects they love.
Choosing a degree should have been an easier task for me than for most; I loved the sound of everything about Media Studies.
But, after spending seven years of my life imprisoned within the walls of a high achieving grammar school where everyone around me seemed to have ambitions to become doctors or accountants, it had been drilled into my brain that degrees like Media Studies were “soft subjects” chosen by people who want a degree but who don’t want to go down the more traditional and, according to some, more intellectual route.
“As far as everyone around me seemed to be concerned, Media Studies was a mediocre subject and I was of mediocre intelligence for wanting to study it.”
“You’ll never get anywhere in life with a degree like that,” was the response when I finally worked up the courage to inform my Cambridge-graduate head teacher that I wanted to study Media Studies at university. I’d never felt so embarrassed. It didn’t seem to matter that this was a subject that I not only loved, but in which I thrived. All that mattered was that Media Studies didn’t sound as impressive or “academic” on paper as something like English Literature, Mathematics or Physics. I was told to do a degree in various other areas instead, none of which held any real interest for me, but I knew what was really being said: do a “real” degree. As far as everyone around me seemed to be concerned, Media Studies was a mediocre subject and I was of mediocre intelligence for wanting to study it.
“I convinced myself that because I was capable of taking on a degree like English or Geography – two of those suggested to me as alternatives to Media Studies – that maybe I should just do one of them instead.”
I started to wonder: “Am I selling myself short?” I convinced myself that because I was capable of undertaking a degree like English or Geography – two of those suggested to me as alternatives to Media Studies – that maybe I should just do one of them, even though they didn’t call to me like Media Studies did. As such, I spent weeks, months even, pondering over what I should do.
Making a very important life choice as a naïve and slightly clueless 17 year old is hard enough as it is. Yet with a string of negativity and disapproval attached to my degree of choice, it made what was always going to be a hard decision even harder. Rather than feeling excited about having the option to apply for a degree in something for which my interest knew no bounds, I just felt like I was letting everyone down.
Fast forward three years, and I’m incredibly happy that I took the leap of faith and chose to study what I wanted to do, rather than what other people wanted me to do.
For such a “soft subject”, studying Media at university has been exceptionally hard work. Any fears I’d inherited from those around me that my degree was going to be an extremely expensive and ultimately useless walk in the park were almost instantly destroyed. I’ve had just as many contact hours, faced just as heavy a workload, and developed just as many skills as my friends who study those degrees I’d been told would be far more valuable and respectable. It certainly wasn’t all watching films and reading newspapers.
“It scares me to think that second-hand, stigma-fuelled anxiety almost stopped me from pursuing my passion.”
Sometimes I do look back and wonder: “What if I had chosen to take that degree in English?” It scares me to think that second-hand, stigma-fuelled anxiety almost stopped me from pursuing my passion. I know without a shadow of a doubt that, had I allowed myself to be influenced by other people’s snobbery and chosen a different degree, I would not have wanted to go to any of the lectures, would not have enjoyed writing any of the essays, and would most probably have dropped out by Christmas in my first year of study.
It’s time we put this stigma that Media Studies is a “Mickey Mouse” degree to rest.
As a soon-to-be Media Studies graduate, I’ll be entering a graduate job market that would have been no less excruciatingly competitive for me had I opted for that English degree after all. In fact, according to this year’s High Fliers report, graduate vacancies in the Media sector rose by 15% in 2016, giving me, if anything, a slight advantage over my BA English peers. Whatever happens next, I can at least be comforted by the knowledge that I didn’t waste £27,000 on a degree I didn’t really want or enjoy.
“I feel extremely positive about graduating with a degree in Media Studies.”
Isn’t it about time we stopped treating some degrees with more respect than others? A degree in Media costs the same as one in Physics or History or Law, and while it’s a given that they’re all incredibly different disciplines, that’s no excuse to undermine the intelligence of those who apply to study it, teach it, and make a living from it. We live in a media-saturated society, within which the media industry is continuously expanding and growing – so remind me again why my degree is useless?
Although I don’t yet know what the future has in store for me, I feel extremely positive about graduating with a degree in Media Studies. One thing I do know for sure is that we should be positively encouraging young people to pursue their dreams and aspirations, whether they want to do a degree in Media or Mathematics.
Whatever you choose to study at university, make sure it’s something that makes you happy, and never let anyone make you feel ashamed for doing so.