The benefits of a general degree in arts or science

There are three general degrees available at university – business, which I covered in my last article, as well as science and arts, which I will cover in this article. General degrees are a great starting point for any student who does not know what they want to do after the Leaving Cert but really enjoyed studying a group of subjects or one subject at Leaving Cert. For example, many students who really enjoyed biology and chemistry go on to do general science. Other students who enjoyed arts subjects such as English, history or languages may opt to study an arts degree.

In general science, for example in the University of Galway, students usually study biology, chemistry, physics and maths (or similar subjects ) and then go on to specialise in three subjects in second year, and then two subjects in final year. There are 20 subjects to choose from and these range from astrophysics to zoology. These subjects are usually offered to students based on academic merit, meaning those who obtain the highest exam results will be offered their first subject choice. Subjects such as anatomy, physiology and biochemistry are particularly popular and have only a limited number of places. Other subjects such as microbiology and zoology have more places available. It is important to note that any student undertaking a science degree will be expected to attend labs on a weekly basis as lab work is a large component of all science subjects. There are many options available after a science degree and many students choose subjects that will pave the way for postgraduate study that require these subjects for entry. Other students pursue subjects that they discovered in university and want to pursue as a career.

With most general degrees, graduates are expected to specialise through completing a masters or a PhD. However there are many employers, including national ones such as Pfizer, Abbott and GSK, which are willing to take on graduates and train them to help them specialise in a particular field. Other local employers which employ a lot of local science graduates include CLS, Boston Scientific, Medtronic, Campus Medical and Alkermes.

Arts — a popular choice

General arts in the University of Galway and ATU Galway is a very popular choice for many students, allowing them to study three subjects in first year and then study two subjects in second and third year. There are more than 20 subjects to choose from. Many arts subjects are studied at Leaving Cert, for example geography or Irish, but there are also many new subjects such as global development, sociology and political studies which help students develop a range of skills as well as enhancing their subject matter knowledge. One of the misconceptions about an arts degree is that teaching is the only career available to students on graduation. There are very many careers and jobs available to arts graduates. These include publishers, historians, editors, translators, interpreters, writers, archaeologists, journalists, communications specialists, legal advisers, policy analysts, information officers and many more.

While general subjects give students a brilliant grounding in specific areas, many students who study general degrees do pursue careers in other areas that are completely unrelated to their original degree. The advantage of these degrees is that students learn many transferable skills such as problem solving, persuasive writing, negotiation, interpreting data and texts as well as presenting complex data. With any career, I would suggest planning but for those students completing a general degree who are not sure of what they want to do, it is very important to be proactive early on and research potential careers through volunteering, work experience, part-time jobs, engaging in societies and job shadowing to evaluate any potential careers.

All university careers offices run many fairs to help connect students to companies, jobs and volunteering opportunities so it is important to attend these fairs to maximise the chances of securing a job or career. Every university also runs a postgraduate open day which allows students to research postgraduate courses and speak to course directors about courses and modules. In my experience, it is the students who carefully plan and research their careers, well in advance of exams and closing dates, are the ones who usually have the most success with their career, because they are aware of all their options and have carefully crafted their applications early on in the application process so they have a much higher success rate at obtaining jobs and places on postgraduate courses.

Claire Murphy obtained her Masters in Career Guidance and Counseling in Trinity and has over 10 years of experience working as a teacher and a career guidance counsellor at both second and third level. She is currently working as a consultant career guidance counsellor in Psychmed. To book and appointment for a CV review, interview skills or help with CAO choice, email her at [email protected].


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