Are BA degrees still a worthwhile investment?

By Julia Skikavich
Special to

October 16, 2003 - "BAs suck," jokes Justin Smith a philosophy and political science double major at The University of Western Ontario.

The third-year student is already worrying about what his degree will mean for him when he graduates in 2005.

"I won't be able to find a job," says Smith. "I see no career path that leads from my academic choices."

Smith isn't alone in his worries.

Each year students graduating with a bachelor of arts ask "Now what?" as they leave university behind and start searching for a full-time job. Many students are left hanging between believing their degree will allow them to do anything and fearing it may mean a career of saying "Would you like fries with that?"

Nikki Clarke, employment counsellor at University of Ottawa, says these are common fears among students.

"There is a lot of anxiety about making that transition from the school environment to the work world," she says. "Students think they have to make all the decisions now." She adds many students get so wrapped up in worrying about the first step they forget most will change careers many times over their working life. This means they don't necessarily have to make the "right" decision in the first few months after graduation.

"The door is wide open to them," says Clarke. "They need to switch their focus from 'what can I do' to 'how can I do it'."

Jasmine Albagli, career counsellor at Carleton University agrees. She says there are unlimited opportunities available to students with a degree in the arts.

"What frustrates most students is that they do not gain a specific skill set for a specific position. Students end up qualified for anything, but have no idea what that is."

Smith says he knows his BA has given him transferable skill sets, but he is unsure how to apply them.

"The skill sets you should use depend on your educational level and employment experience," says Lia Newton, supervisor of the Ottawa Human Resource Centre of Canada for Students.

She says the idea of skill sets and applying them in résumés is often new information to both high school and university students. "They just aren't aware that they should be changing their résumé for each job."

Newton says when applying for a job after graduation, students should tailor their résumés using the employer's criteria as a checklist.

"They should highlight their strongest professional skills and make each resume very, very individualized," she says.

Albagli says students also need to find the time to network.

"Most positions now are found through networking; take the time to learn how to make a network and create opportunities. Those who put in more time to find mentors, do information interviews, research the labour market and potential employers will find opportunities," she says.

All three counsellors say it takes time, energy and commitment from students to find a job, but there are opportunities out there for BA graduates.

"Do what you love and the money will follow," says Albagli.

Modified on April 23, 2009