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Planning Your Post B.A Career Path: Why Arts Grads Are Especially Vulnerable to the Quarter-Life Crisis

According to a study done by the University of British Columbia, up to 81% of Arts students become employed in a managerial or professional capacity after graduation. While encouraging everyone to pursue their passions, the authors of the study also advised Arts students to begin their career planning during their undergraduate period, so as to avoid being completely lost and directionless upon graduation.

Despite sufficient planning and good intentions, many Arts graduates nonetheless find themselves asking “now what?” upon receiving their degree. This uncertainty, combined with the sudden economic necessity to find work and pay one’s own bills after the relative security of student loans and campus life, is one major causal factor behind the Quarter-Life Crisis.

The Quarter Life Crisis, affecting mostly twentysomethings, is gaining attention in North America as a real transpersonal phenomenon. Much of it centers around questions relating to one’s vocation: questions that tend to affect Arts and Social Science graduates more than most. The tendency to experience a Quarter-Life Crisis may be driven by English majors and musicians, creative writers and drama grads.

The Arts As A Source of “Soft” Skillsets

Bruce Lee once said that “I’m a philosophy major. That means I can think deep thoughts about being unemployed”. The statement summarizes the common misconception that many people have about Arts students: that the type of education learned is not necessary or even relevant to finding success in the economy. The vision of philosophy or English majors working in mailrooms or waiting tables for a living is frightening to those currently in those studies, who may start to believe this is their destiny as well. Admittedly, many of them do find themselves manifesting this very scenario for themselves after graduation, thus spawning their own quarter-life crises.

North American thinking tends to be linear, with point A always leading to Point B, then C, and so on. There is a tendency to view academic choices as leading directly to equivalent economic results, and this applies to the Sciences more than most. You study engineering to become an engineer; nursing to become a nurse, etc.. Within the Arts, the education is more indirect, found more in the process than the result.

A History major may not find a job “doing” history, but he may pick up researching skills and the ability to synthesize old data into new forms, an ability that is useful for, say, corporate planners and policymakers. An English major writing about Shakespeare becomes proficient using word processors and various computer systems, leading to a variety of roles ranging from journalist and reporter to corporate secretary and bookkeeping.

Social Science students often get involved in student government, thus giving them interpersonal skills, public speaking abilities, and networking capabilities that are useful in Human Resources, marketing, and speechwriting. Unlike the Sciences and their “hard” skills that work in a linear fashion from start to finish, an Arts degree creates a butterfly effect of diverse skill sets applicable to a myriad different career paths.

Career Success Alone May Not Prevent the Quarter Life Crisis

It is still possible, however, that twentysomethings will still undergo the Quarter-Life Crisis despite finding satisfactory careers. As with its midlife counterpart, this phase of introspection is not bounded by social pigeonholes such as “career” and “relationships”, but seems to be a time of overall life reflection. For Arts graduates, there is some solace in the knowledge that those afflicted by the crisis include graduates of all stripes, for whom the reflection may involve factors other than their jobs. Clearly, there is still much to learn about the experience.