Should You Study Something You Love, or Something Practical? | Top Universities

Should You Study Something You Love, or Something Practical?

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Sabrina Collier

Updated Nov 18, 2022



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Picture this: you attend a drama club on a weekly basis, and have a huge passion for drama and the theater. You come alive when you’re on stage and love the buzz of performing. But, as your parents and teachers point out, you’re really good at science subjects. If you really apply yourself you could even become a doctor, a vet, a scientist.

Maybe, whether intentionally or not, your parents are putting pressure on you to pursue a practical, employable degree like biology, and keep drama and theater as just a hobby (since the common opinion is that becoming a professional actor is extremely difficult given the level of competition, and, stereotypically, you might end up in a dead-end job instead).

What should you do? Let’s take a look at both sides of the debate...

Screw it, go for your passion!

Okay, so becoming an actor is not going to be easy. Same goes with other ‘big time’ careers related to arts and humanities subjects, like becoming a published author or a professional artist. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pursue it, if it’s always been your dream. If you really want something, I’d say you should keep trying and not stop until you get it.

Personally, I can’t relate to the dilemma I’ve proposed, since I was always pretty sure I wanted to study English and Creative Writing, and was neither good at nor enjoyed many other subjects at school (especially maths and science). However, other people haven’t been so lucky.

For example, in the video above, YouTuber Dan Howell tells of how he loved drama since an early age, but chose to study law because he thought it would make him seem “clever and employable”. He ended up dropping out after one year, because his heart wasn’t in it (and YouTube has really taken off for him since then).

Also, if you’re not sure what you want to do for a graduate job yet, choosing a broad humanities subject like philosophy or history can actually prove very beneficial for letting you keep your options open and giving you a range of transferable skills to offer employers, whereas some subjects’ graduate job paths can feel quite limited.

Prospects’ 2018 What do graduates do? report found that more than 74 percent of civil engineering graduates went into engineering and building roles, whereas graduates in sciences and humanities subjects went into a wider range of roles. So, if you’re not set on a particular career, it can be useful to focus on something quite broad at first, before pursuing a master’s degree or professional qualification in a more practical subject.

This is what Julia, a member of the editorial team on our sister site, did – she says: “I always wanted to do something I loved for my undergrad as I figured that if I was going to spend three years studying a subject, it would be pretty disheartening if I was bored by it. I also thought I could always do a master’s in a practical subject if I wanted to – which I eventually did.”

Julia went on to study a master’s in marketing, and says the combination of both degrees has worked really well in her current role: “As a content writer for my writing ability, honed from three years of constant essays, has served me well, as has my knowledge of both business trends and the business school experience.”

Of course, if you’re not set on a particular career path, this gets more complicated. See below…

Be realistic, and think for the future

Let’s say you don’t really know what you’re doing with your life (which is completely okay, by the way). Is it really wise to study a degree you love without even a vague idea of what you’d like to do afterwards? If your degree doesn’t directly lead to a career path, it can be difficult trying to decide which path to take. You might end up feeling lost or confused about what to do next once the excitement of graduation day fades away.

There’s also the fact that university is simply not cheap – it’s a huge investment of time and money, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any cheaper. In the UK, Domestic and EU undergraduates have lower fees than their international counterparts, but they’re still looking at graduating with a hefty debt on their shoulders (£50,000 including tuition fees and student loans, according to the latest figures).

The eye-watering price tag on university makes choosing the right subject even more crucial – and many students are also thinking more about which courses will give them the most value for money (in terms of high-quality education) and return on investment (higher graduate salaries). With this in mind, it can put students off doing a course they really love (in an arts subject) in favor of opting for a more typically employable subject. And with so much competition out there for the best graduate jobs, perhaps this is the more sensible route?

Wait, do I even want to go to uni?


In the UK at least, there’s a general attitude that going to uni is just what you do, with many students not really considering other options. But you shouldn’t go to uni just because you feel like you’re expected to. Many jobs don’t require a degree these days, and there are many other alternatives you could take, from apprenticeships to full-time employment. If you’re feeling confused about whether you even want to go to university anymore, you might find it’s worth taking a gap year to help give you some time to decide on your next steps, rather than feeling rushed into making a decision on your future.  

Read about the five alternatives to going to university in the UK >

Final thoughts

So, taking both sides into account, what do I think?

If you don’t have any real passion for your subject, you'll eventually run out motivation. You might struggle to attend lectures and complete assignments, and will feel generally miserable. Life’s too short to feel so down studying something you have no interest or passion in. In the long run, it’s better for your sanity to choose a subject you love to begin with. Same goes with when it comes to finding a graduate job after university!

Julia agrees: “Unless you have a specific career in mind that you want to follow, such as medicine or law, I’d recommend studying something you enjoy for your undergraduate. You’ll gain valuable skills from any degree, and you’re more likely to be driven to succeed if you have a strong interest in your subject – particularly important when it comes to your dissertation or thesis, as writing around 12,000 words is stressful enough without it being on a subject you have only chosen out of practicality!”

With this said, you do still need to be realistic and try to think sooner rather than later about what career/s you’re interested in. Hone your skills in your field as much as possible, build contacts, look for work experience opportunities and internships to give you a taste of the working world, get involved with related university societies, and build up an impressive portfolio to showcase to employers and stand out from the crowd. You can get more tips on getting a job after university here.

And as we reported back in March, there’s still a shortage of women in tech – so if you’re a woman who really loves tech but are unsure about studying it for whatever reason, I say go for it! Don’t let anything hold you back.

What do you think? Should you study what you love, or go for something practical and employable? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

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