I talked to a young woman the other day at MNSU who switched majors six times before settling on art. One of her first majors was physical therapy. She always had a passion for art, so I asked her if her parents had pressured her into choosing a major that had a direct career path. She said yes, that parents and peers put pressure on college students to study something that will result in a job. She also told me she knows someone who is afraid to tell their parents what their major actually is, for fear that the parents will be disappointed or perhaps even pull funding.
Last week, I worked with students in grades 5-8 at a young writers’ conference. A thoughtful sixth-grader asked me if I’d read one of her poems and give her feedback. I’m no poet, but I could see that she skillfully had used a rhyming structure while conveying emotion and meaning. I told her she had talent, and I said, “When you go to college, be sure you major in creative writing. Don’t let anyone talk you out of it.” She actually said her parents were supportive of her writing so I was glad to hear that.
In my first example, though, it took the student six years to finish her degree, which was the art degree she wanted in the first place.
I wish there were more support for students entering college who want to pursue creative arts, whether it be writing, music, theater, dance, art, etc. Are you going to get a job as a “dancer” or a “poet”? Probably not. But that’s not the goal when you get a creative arts degree. Those students are learning expression, critical thinking, analytics, learning to work in teams, and how to communicate — important skills that almost any employer wants to see in job candidates. Students and their parents should also think about ancillary careers:
- You like to write? Become a journalist or editor. (By the way, that’s what I did).
- You are an artist? Work at a museum or arts organization. Work at a creative firm that does design work.
- You are a musician? Work at a music nonprofit. Work at a place that creates original music for use in commercials, TV, or film. Work at a venue that holds concerts and shows.
- You’re a dancer? Work in the fitness industry where you help other people move their bodies. Give lessons to children and adults.
- You’re an actor? Work anywhere that prizes strong oral communication skills.
There are oodles of nonprofits out there for almost any artistic venture. I live in southern Minnesota and we have lots of arts organizations dedicated solely to art, music, and theater. Large metropolitan areas will have organizations devoted to literary arts and dance. Sure, there’s not a ton of money to be made in the nonprofit world, but people who work in nonprofits are doing what they love, they get to express their creativity all the time, and going to work is fun. I’m on the board of the Arts Center of Saint Peter and I feel like any and all ideas are welcome, no matter how outlandish they may seem. When I volunteer at events there, I’m surrounded by groups of inspiring, fun, creative people.
The point is, study something you’re passionate about. You’ll have fun and be motivated. Follow your heart. If you’re doing something to please someone else, you’re not going to be fulfilled.