Specialist subject choices. Mickey Mouse degrees. Whatever you want to call them, your dad's read about them in the paper and as far as he's concerned they are unshakeable proof that university is now a meaningless pursuit. "You can probably study bloody Snapchat now," he fumes, burning his mouth on his chicken Kiev tea.
With 532,300 people in the UK entering higher education in 2015, across over 130 different universities, you can sort of see where he's coming from. With that number of courses and institutions, the question is surely raised: are all these degrees really necessary? Is an MSc in Social Marketing actually that useful? What are you going to do with that BA in Baking Technology Management? Has the exponential rise in the popularity of university in the 21st century led to a glut of superfluous degrees?
Or, are we being unfair? Are these unusual degrees simply perfectly reasonable specialist qualifications? After all, surely a degree in Blacksmithing has a lot more in the way of real world, practical uses than something as classically "employable" as History or English Literature?
In an effort to delve deep into the world of weird, unusual and niche degrees, we got in touch with people studying everything from Equine Science to Automotive Journalism to ask them a few simple questions. What did you actually study? Why did you study it? And what have you done since?
CHARLOTTE ANDERSON-JONES: SURF SCIENCE
I studied a foundation degree in Surf Science and Technology. It involved things like building surfboards, the science behind that, chemical compounds, wetsuits, surf events and business management, the ocean, the wildlife – it's such a broad topic.
I've always lived in Newquay. At one of the local sixth forms they run something called the Surf Academy, which I was part of, and it was through that I saw a talk about the Surf Science degree. A lot of people told me it wasn't a real degree, that I'd never get a real job... a lot of people also say, "Oh, so you're going to be a surf instructor."
I think because I've always been around the surfing industry I wasn't too worried. My main freak-outs were about the money situation. We had to spend a lot of money on surfboards and stuff like that. That's a cost that was on top of our fees.
I finished the Surf Science degree after two years, then went to Falmouth and did a BA in Creative Events Management, and I've just done a PGCE, the teaching qualification, and have been lecturing in Surf Science for the past year, in the events and business side. I've worked with UK Pro Surf Tour, I helped with Boardmasters just last week. Without the degree I wouldn't have been able to get this experience.
SOPHIE BISHOP: PHD IN BEAUTY VLOGGERS
I did Media Studies for my undergraduate degree and then Gender and Media Studies for my MA. While I was doing my master's I was working at a digital marketing agency to pay the bills and noticed the amount of undisclosed sponsorship deals going on between bloggers and vloggers. This is different now because there are more guidelines, but they were precursors to, like, the "fit tea" stuff you see celebrities shilling on Instagram, and not telling people it's a paid advert.
I was also really intrigued by all the beauty bloggers that existed in the world – 100 years of sexist fashion mags and now "everyday" women have a platform to make whatever media they want, and they are just carrying this on? My interest was piqued.
My course is very, very self directed, and I have to make sure I go to my office and keep my momentum up, because I only see my supervisors once every month at the most, really. The undirected nature is the worst part, I think – also The Sun have rung me up to get quotes on how Zoella is leading the kids astray, so I think some people do misunderstand what I do.
If you do the right things during your PhD – teach, go to conferences, publish in journals – then you have a fairly good chance of getting a job as a lecturer when you leave. If you want to go into academia now, you do have to have a PhD unfortunately, and I love where I am studying and my subject.
XAVIER BOUCHERAT: AUTOMOTIVE JOURNALISM
I did a five-month module in Automotive Journalism as part of my magazine journalism master's at Cardiff University. I mostly did it because I missed the sign-up deadline for another course, but also because I actually love writing on things I have no interest in, and let me be clear: I have zero interest in cars.
This was no real disadvantage. Far from some boot-camp in how to be middle-aged, interminably alone and make money out of it, it was much more about the auto industry as a whole, and how mad, unsustainable and occasionally brilliant it can be.
There are a lot of big topics within that world: is anyone living in a city going to own a car in ten years, or will it all be Ubers and Lyfts? Then there's everything around sustainability, electric cars, all of that.
I truly suspect this course is the smartest thing I've ever done. I won some awards for coursework I did, which along with two grand and an afternoon driving some cars round Silverstone got me a full-time feature-writing job, which has sent me all over the world to see factories, do test drives, etc. My favourite place so far has been Detroit, because I also write about club music.
ROS McCLELLAND: EQUINE SCIENCE
My friend had already been to Hartpury, which is an animal and agricultural college. She did equine business management, so I looked at their courses, saw Equine Science and thought it looked good. I remember one teacher at sixth form asking me, "What is that?" but I didn't like her so I just ignored her. My parents didn't expect me to go to uni, I don't think, so they were happy with the course.
I didn't worry about how useful it would be, going into it. But now I do think, 'Shit, it's quite specialised.' But the course helped me discover what it is I want to do, which is equine nutrition, but even then, that's super hard to get into. At the time I think I was more focused on going to uni and getting away. When I started, the lecture rooms were rammed, but by the end you could barely fill half of it. I think a lot of people dropped out based on how hard it was.
Since studying, I went straight into work. I met an eventer at a horse show and he offered me a job. I went straight into work as a groom, which I could have done without having gone to Hartpury. I'm still glad I did it, though; he comes to me with nutrition queries because I've got that knowledge.
DOMINIC SNAITH: ETHICAL HACKING
I studied Ethical Hacking and Countermeasures at Abertay University in Dundee. It was what it sounds like, really – a broader look at computing and web-development. But everything we did had a security aspect to it. We looked at legislation, bank security, information security and how to operate lawfully within what is generally considered quite a grey area.
I'd always done well in IT and maths at school, but my main motivation for studying it was that it sounded quite cool – I just thought it sounded different. I figured that if two identical people are going for the same job, the one with "Ethical Hacking and Countermeasures" on the top of their CV is the one who's going to stand out. I was going to university to be employable.
I still get raised eyebrows when I tell people what I studied at university, but mostly once I explain what the title means people understand. I had two job offers straight out of uni. I'm currently a cyber-security consultant for CSC. I love the job; it's relaxed, I work remotely, I'm dealing with some of the biggest brands you could imagine, government organisations and the military. Their network of clients is top-shelf. I'm meeting CEOs face to face as a 23-year-old and they're asking for my help.
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