Why You Should Take Arts Degree Grades With A Pinch Of Salt

All our lives, we have been drilled about the importance of getting good grades. Get good grades so you can go to a good uni, go to a good uni so you can get a good job. But while this foolproof set of rules might apply to other subjects, it might not be one to follow when it comes to the arts.

Here are four reasons why.


Top universities don’t guarantee anything


Although getting into one of the ‘famous’ schools (RADA, Central Saint Martins, UCL, etc) certainly helps when it comes to prying open the world of art opportunities, the truth is that you may get just as far wherever you choose to study, regardless of reputation.

In fact, if you want to pursue a career in the arts, you might not even need a degree. It’s an unfortunate fact that many people think intelligence and going to university are mutually exclusive – but they shouldn’t be. University is not for everybody, and this holds true for those who want to pursue the arts.

Why? Because you can get experience and qualifications from a number of other sources (summer courses, theatre jobs or just more hands-on related stuff). Although a name might bring with it a few benefits, don’t ever think less of yourself for not going to a prestigious institution.


Grades are no measure of intelligence


Intelligence cannot be defined by exams”, says Peter Tait, and rightly so. Let’s start with the biggest problem: at the age of 18, when we barely know how to tie our shoelaces by ourselves, we are asked to make definite choices about what we want to do for the rest of our lives. These choices are then defined by the final tally on a paper with tricky questions.

While one would certainly expect a future surgeon to get high grades in their biology exam, the same cannot be said for students of the arts. Intelligence is relative and it should be measured qualitatively, not quantitatively – in short, it should be a matter of how much experience we have and not how much we can correctly remember in two hours, with little sleep and an overwhelming knowledge that if we don’t pass this exam we’re screwed.

If you do great in exams, that’s fantastic. You deserve those grades! But at the end of the day, there are a variety of factors that could have affected your performance on that day. Maybe there was a problem at home and you couldn’t concentrate. Maybe you had a bad headache or weren’t feeling particularity well; maybe you forgot to eat breakfast and now all you can think of is food. It might sound silly, but these are things to take into consideration. Not to mention that…


… grades in the creative world can be less than certain

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They can grade you on your punctuation and grammar in an essay, sure, but who’s to say that you liking a certain piece of art (that the majority of the world collectively agrees is “trash”) is wrong?

While professors are hired for a reason and certainly know more about the subject than you, in their defence the amount of variety in genres and styles in assignments makes it almost impossible to grade objectively. You should take their comments into account and learn from your errors, but at no point should you define your worth as an artist by whether or not your degree was a 1st.


Your future is what you make of it


That old cliché… but it’s overused for a reason! If you have a passion for what you do and, more importantly, a desire to learn and improve your craft, you will be able to achieve anything.

While many successful people have completed a degree and even gotten a job in their chosen field, many other have become just as successful without one. Sean Connery never went to acting school, Richard Branson never went to university and Rachel Ray never even went to cooking school. Remember that success is, like most other things, relative, and you cannot compare one person’s achievements to another’s.

When it comes to the creative industry, grades are not a representation of your intelligence of your career prospects. If you decide to go to university and nab yourself a first, go you! But if you get caught in a loop of bad grades, you also shouldn’t worry. Life is more than a number on a sheet of paper – especially in adulthood, away from the confines of education.

If we were all defined by how well we perform in an exam, we would never get anywhere.


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