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Study abroad : Subject Guides

Is studying humanities right for you?

Making a decision on a course of study can be nerve-racking. To put yourself in the best position it's good to explore the details of different subject areas to see if they would suit you. Here we turn the spotlight on the humanities.

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With so many choices it can be difficult to decide what course of study you’re going to embark on. Perhaps your choice will be influenced by your career ambitions or it could be that you want to pursue a programme that is of particular interest to you. Deciding to study a degree in the field of humanities offers you many specialisations and a flexible curriculum. There are also a huge variety of postgraduate options and possible career trajectories you could take as well. Knowing if a degree in humanities would suit you is another story and so we’ve identified the five key areas of studying a humanities degree that could help you decide if it aligns with your skills, outlook and ambitions.


Creativity is central to the humanities


One of the central tenets of studying a degree in the field of humanities is that you need to be both creative and imaginative. Now you may think that this applies only in the traditional sense of being artistic, however, it also refers to ways of thinking and developing solutions.


You’ll need to be able to come up with original ideas and apply these in the subject areas you’re studying. Perhaps it’s a novel appraisal of a theory or a re-interpretation of information. You’ll require a natural ability, which of course you can sharpen and develop, for creative thinking. Remember that there are different types of creative thinking including:


  • Lateral thinking – this type of thinking focuses on out-of-the-box plans, ideas and solutions. It’s all about switching things up and looking at information in new and non-traditional ways.
  • Divergent thinking – with this approach it’s all about developing as many solutions as possible for a problem. It’s a non-linear thinking pattern that involves flexibility and originality.
  • Radical thinking – as a radical thinker the emphasis is on disruption, with a fresh take and analysis on issues and problems. This can mean new ways of working or totally re-structured ideas.
  • Artistic thinking - prominence is given to the development of aesthetic solutions with this mode of thought. It’s a search for symmetry, harmony and beauty.


Having a creative orientation is not only ideal for problem-solving but plays a crucial role in effective communication, organisation and analysis. It also means that you’re adaptable and can work successfully in a variety of diverse environments. These are skills that employers definitely look for in graduates as they prize graduates who can bring something new to the table.


Having a critical and enquiring approach


When studying the humanities, you will be encouraged to apply and develop critical thinking skills.  This requires the deployment of rationality and logic when engaging with information or a topic. You’ll be interrogating ideas, possibly even dismantling them into constituent elements, using a reasoned methodology. It’s all about never taking ideas or information at face value and bringing your unique perspective to bear. Some of the hallmarks of the approach include:


  • Systematic analysis and evaluation of information
  • Establishing connections and links
  • Identifying inconsistencies
  • Building and developing an argument
  • Debating
  • Problem solving
  • Summarising and developing a conclusion


Critical thinking necessitates that you are actively involved in the learning process, which often means interaction with lecturers and peers. You have to be open-minded and evaluate arguments or ideas on their merit, even if you may not necessarily agree with them.


You can deploy critical thinking skills in various scenarios including in reading, writing and interpersonal communication. In addition, they often form a core area of competency you’ll need when heading into the workplace, with most careers requiring them.


Research and communication


If you’re undertaking a humanities degree communication and research skills are essential. These can of course be developed as you learn, but having an interest in researching ideas and information (often large volumes), synthesising and evaluating that and subsequently expertly communicating what you have found is important. Some of the characteristics of a good researcher include:


  • Detail oriented
  • Strategic planner
  • Analytical thinker
  • Organised
  • Systematic
  • Good at managing time
  • Problem solver


Don’t worry too much if you don’t tick all of the boxes, it can take time to find what works for you and to develop competency in some areas. What you really need is an enquiring mind and a willingness to learn, plus a good work ethic doesn’t hurt either.


Coupled with this is the necessity to be a good communicator verbally, non-verbally, in writing and visually. It’s that you can convey ideas, your personality and interact with others in an effective way. It will aid your learning and development but is also a prerequisite for most humanities courses.


You’ll be giving presentations, debating ideas in seminars, writing essays, meeting with lecturers and working on group projects.  Getting a handle on the best ways to communicate can be critical, including:


  • Be an active listener
  • Give constructive feedback
  • Choose your words carefully, be precise and concise
  • Write clearly
  • Use an open, friendly tone when speaking
  • Use effective body language like eye contact and relaxed posture
  • Be respectful


These are not only skills that apply in the academic realm but are essential for your personal and professional life as well.


Collaboration is key


In keeping with the need to be a good communicator is having the ability to collaborate and work with others. A humanities curriculum will see you working with people in various contexts. This can anything from a combined project to a discussion group.


You have to be able to identify your key skills and those of others to maximise the effectiveness of the work. Inevitably you’ll also probably need to be skilled in the art of conflict resolution, as not everyone gets along all of the time. The art of collaboration lies in:


  • Compromise and consultation
  • Setting clear goals
  • Sharing equal responsibility
  • Developing a consensus
  • Identifying challenges and problems
  • Empathy and respect


One of the great bonuses of collaboration is the learning opportunities that it provides. You’ll be able to draw on the expertise of others and find the best ways to apply your skills. Further, it’s a great way to solve problems and refine focus, with a view to producing efficient and elegant solutions. Of the many skills, you’ll want to take with you throughout your life, being able to collaborate is a big one.


With a better idea of what sort of skills, attributes and orientation is needed to study a humanities degree, you may want to search for the perfect course in the area. You can also take a look at some of the careers humanities graduates can pursue, what a general humanities curriculum looks like and how to match your study plans to your desired career.





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