(Spoiler alert: It’s really tough.)

The biggest question facing any university grad isn’t something they were asked on an exam. It’s not a byproduct of thesis research, nor finding out what to do with your mini-fridge once you finally find an apartment that doesn’t smell like cat pee and stale cigarette smoke.This may seem obvious from the title of this post, but the search for the almighty dollar – and that ever-elusive full-time job – begins with a simple, two word prognostication:

What now?

Things aren’t as cut-and-dry as they used to be for graduating students. Bolstered by the hopes and dreams of our parents, many of whom hit their stride in the booming ’80s, many members of our generation were roped into university educations by the promise of a guaranteed job once we’ve finally tossed that silly hat for the last time. It’s a simple equation, right? More education, means more jobs, means more money?


For most of us, the wake-up call is quick and decisive. Degrees of any kind aren’t worth as much as they used to be. The unemployment rate among university graduates of all shapes and sizes is only 1.7 percentage points lower than high school grads, according to a 2013 report. For fine and applied arts grads, the numbers are truly scary: once education costs are factored in, they earn 12 per cent less on average than high school graduates. A second Georgetown University study shows that the only area of study with a higher unemployment rate than arts is architecture (which, if you want to get down to it, is really just the art of designing buildings).

So, yes, things are bad. There are a number of factors at play here – arts is consistently one of the most popular fields of study (UBC’s 2013 numbers show that 19 per cent of undergraduate and 20 per cent of graduate enrolment is dedicated to arts), which means a lot of people entering the workforce.

In pure economic terms, a supply glut means that many people will be left out in the cold or willing to do whatever it takes to rise above the mire, which leads to things like unpaid internships, graveyard shifts, and poetry slams.

The simplest solution here seems to be to increase demand. After all, isn’t that what you do when you have too much product? Of course, that’s not something easily done, because students graduating out of arts faculties are, as a general rule, woefully prepared to be their own boss. It’s not something that obviously flows from being a political science major, but hell, it’s the world we live in, and you’d think that with unemployment rates increasing year over year, institutions would place a higher priority on ensuring their graduates have the skills necessary to swim in what have become shark-infested waters. And what better way to swim with the sharks than to become one?

If you think this is turning into a plug for what we’re doing, it is, in a lot of ways. We’re tired of being the nail and ready to be the hammer. But it’s also a call to universities to start teaching students to be hammers, and to all the woe-is-me arts graduates out there to pick up their own bootstraps and do something about their situation.

Arts graduates have plenty to offer the world. We’re creative, filled with worldly knowledge and critical thinking ability. We’ve been trained to not only think outside the box, but effectively communicate that outside the box thinking into something real. We’ve just got to stop waiting for this problem to fix itself.

The numbers are bleak. There’s no way around that. But if we aren’t prepared to do something about it, can we really expect someone else to do it for us? ♦

Image via LIFE Photo Collection, Google Cultural Institute