Education Quandary

'I graduated last year with a degree in dance and theatre performance but the job market is terrible, and now I'm wondering what I can do with it. Do these kinds of degrees count for anything in the real world of "proper jobs"?'
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The Independent Online

No, not really. The world and its dog has a degree these days. Why should anyone look twice at you, especially in a highly-competitive field such as yours?

HILARY'S ADVICE

No, not really. The world and its dog has a degree these days. Why should anyone look twice at you, especially in a highly-competitive field such as yours?

If you are serious about working in your chosen area, you urgently need to change your thinking and start seeing your degree not as the end of something, but as a first step towards building skills, contacts and experience. And you have to be very, very proactive - 10 times more proactive than the thousands of other performing arts graduates who are no doubt out looking for work at this very minute.

Figure out where you are trying to get to and what might take you nearer your goal. Read a book on networking, and start making those calls or asking key people for a few minutes of their time. Scour magazines and noticeboards for opportunities where you could push yourself forward and offer your services, and if you can't get a paid job volunteer in some associated field and take a bar job to pay the rent. If you come to realise you need to do some further training - in acting, say, or stage management - then take two jobs and start saving to pay for it. In short, do anything rather than nothing, even if it means scraping some friends together to put on your own show, or hiring yourself out for birthdays, bar mitzvahs and weddings.

On the other hand, you may not know what you want to do. In which case, go back to your university careers service and ask for guidance.

Mark Armitage, a careers adviser at Exeter University who works with many of the university's performing arts students, says there are plenty of opportunities for people with your kind of degree to train as teachers or drama therapists.

"Or you could just look on it as a good general degree, in which case there's no reason at all why you can't become an accountant, convert to law or enter some general management training."

READERS' ADVICE

Assuming that you don't class a career as a dancer or theatre practitioner a "proper" job there are hundreds of graduate jobs around where you can utilise your skills. A drama, dance, media or theatre degree, although constantly battered in the press, is a great way to gain all the skills that graduate employers are looking for, including, confidence, teamwork, creativity, self management, communication and initiative.

Whether you want to convert your degree to law, join the police force, go on to to a postgraduate qualification in musical theatre, teach IT, dance on Top of the Pops or become a press officer, your degree will not hinder you. Myself (a drama and English graduate) and numerous friends who studied performing arts, dance and media, have all found "proper" jobs, including those listed above. What you must decide now is not what jobs your degree will pigeon hole you into, but what job you actually want to do.

Jenni Anderson, Essex

When I left university I was convinced I wanted to work in either the theatre or the media. After almost a year out of work, I got a job with a small schools theatre company, but the pay was awful.

Then the company lost its grant and I was out of work again. By that time, all my friends were starting to earn good salaries and I knew I would have to have more skills under my belt if I was to get a serious job. I decided to train as a secretary, with a view to maybe training later as a specialist arts administrator, and I will now get into an arts or theatre organisation that way. It's not as glamorous as saying you're an actress, but it is a very good feeling to know you have skills people want, after knocking on closed doors for so long.

Fiona Gardenue, London

You don't say what you want to do, or what you think is a "proper" job. Without this focus, you will need an awful lot of luck to fall into something that will suit you. You should think about getting outside help from careers counselling, a personal counsellor or even a life coach, to get you out of the dip you have obviously fallen into.

Kim Watson, Bedfordshire

NEXT WEEK'S QUANDARY

I've been supporting my grandson at independent school. He was recently expelled after he owned up to smoking a joint. An appeals panel later supported this decision, but I feel that it has been grossly unfair. He was more harshly punished than other students who committed the same offence, and allegations were made about him that could not be challenged. These are now on his school record for ever. Is there any official body to which I can take my grievances?

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