Still don’t know what to study? Try a generalist degree.

What ‘suits’ you? If you don’t know what to study, consider a generalist degree.

In a previous post I wrote about what to do if you don’t know what to study. This post is for people who want to go to uni but don’t know what course to choose. For you: doing a generalist degree is a great option.


Don’t know what to study? Consider a generalist degree

Generalist degrees are undergraduate degrees that have broad subject options. You can study a wide variety of topics and have great flexibility to chop and change. The Bachelor of Arts is the classic generalist degree — and it’s received a bad rap in recent times. Jokes about arts students abound… like this lame arse one:

Q: What do you say to an Arts graduate who has found a job?

A: I’ll have a hamburger please.

At the heart of this (rather silly) joke is the notion that Arts degrees don’t teach you useful skills that employers actually want. This isn’t really true.

It is possible to acquire a very, very decent job through generalist degrees. Much depends on what you major in. A very close friend of mine in his thirties has an Arts degree and is now a senior economist at the Department of Treasury. Obviously my friend didn’t become an economist by majoring in African drumming. As part of his Bachelor of Arts he obtained a major in economics and undertook a couple of additional economics subjects to bolster his economics credentials after he graduated. The majors available vary significantly depending on the university.


Generalist degrees are a smorgasboard of choice

You get to choose from a range of subjects (larger at some unis and smaller at others) and also get to decide what you specialise in – this is called ‘majoring’. A major will take up around a third of the subjects you do in your generalist degrees. The rest of your subjects will be ‘electives’, although some people chose to do a double major. For example, you could specialise in Politics and Drama, meaning 16 our of your 24 subjects over three years will be either politics or drama subjects.

The awesome thing about generalist degrees is that  you can try different things and figure out what it is that you like. You can turn up to first year, unsure what you want to major in. Then you can try a few things and decide what your major will be. Take your pick.

Most of the fields on offer will be useful in some way. They may not necessarily all equate to a six figure salary, but many of them could (not that money should be your only motivator). Lets take a closer look….

For example, the Arts degree at the Macquarie University allows you to study anything from creative writing to computing. You could study Chinese-English Translation and Interpreting alongside Public Policy, Law and Governance if you like. Not sure whether you want to be a billionaire businessperson or a feminist theorist? Great news! You can study gender studies and entrepreneurship AT THE SAME TIME! The mind boggles.

Other generalist undergraduate degrees like a Bachelor of Commerce or Bachelor of Science are similar, although there may be one or two compulsory core subjects. Unlike Arts, which predominantly focuses on the humanities fields, science degrees will provide you with an array of sciency subjects to choose from. Similarly a commerce degree will let you study anything from economics and accounting to information technology and management.

Often, you can study subject fields from other faculties. For example, a commerce student will usually permitted to pick up a few arts or science subjects, which is great if you want to learn a language, explore your creative side or learn about the human genome. The extent to which this is possible depends on the university. Ask them for more info on this when you’re making a decision on where to study.


Generalist degrees are back in fashion

This is partly due to the rise of the graduate model of education. In a nutshell, it’s becoming more common for people to do a generalist degree then go and study a postgraduate specialist degree (like a masters in teaching, engineering, nursing, law, medicine, museum studies, global media and communication… the list goes on). I’ve written a separate post about this, as well as another post on the University of Melbourne model, which is the leading example of the graduate model in Australia. At Melbourne Uni, it’s compulsory to do a generalist degree before specialising.

Doing a generalist undergraduate degree followed by a specialist postgraduate degree takes longer and is more expensive than going straight into an undergraduate specialist degree. Postgraduate degrees are more expensive than undergraduate degrees because most of them are not subsidised by the government. In other words, you will be paying full fees, although many courses are eligible for HELP loans. For more information on uni fees and how HECS works, see this post. However, there are ways to make it cheaper.

You could avoid university fees altogether by studying a masters overseas. Germany, for example, allows foreign students to study for free. Many masters courses are taught in english and some scholarships are available. Find out more by reading this post about studying overseas. Many people do it… and the love it!

Getting a scholarship is the other option for reducing costs. Some of the better scholarships even pay your uni fees on your behalf. Others cover your living costs. Find out more here.

So… if you’re STILL not quite sure what you want to study, don’t fret. Think about giving a generalist degree a try.


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