Understanding the aspirations of young people has become critical in the higher education widening participation agenda as certain equity target groups continue to be underrepresented at universities in Australia. Despite the high number of students aspiring to become arts professionals in the early to middle years of schooling, these figures are not sustained in the later years. Supporting these students is not only an important equity and social justice issue, it is also a means of fostering a creative, innovative society empowered with cultural vitality; characteristics we need to face the complex demands of the 21st century. Drawing on data from a 4-year, longitudinal, mixed-methods study of more than 6000 students from Years 3-12 in NSW public schools, we seek to identify the kinds of Australian school students who aspire to become arts professionals and why. We compare different age groups to explore how and why expression of interest towards arts professions appears to decline in the later years of schooling. We aim to identify barriers and enablers by looking at reasons students provide for pursuing, or not pursuing, their aspirations in the arts. Using curriculum theory (Pinar, 2012) and broader theoretical perspectives which compare a “neo-liberal social imaginary” (Rizvi & Lingard, 2009, p. 37) with aesthetic views of the arts in the curriculum (Besler, 2007), we argue that while at an international and national level there is vast recognition of the critical role of the arts in society, these values are not matched in schooling. As a result, questions can be asked about the adequacy of art education opportunities and the personal and societal consequences of leading students towards alternate and potentially less fulfilling paths. We explore some of the multiple benefits of rich arts education identified in previous research, and present an overview of existing arts programs and initiatives that can be used as models. We provide compelling reasons for schools to invest in their arts programs, and to provide support and opportunities for students who aspire to become arts professionals.