Should You Get A Creative Writing Degree?
A quick search on the terms “creative writing degree” will show you this:
As you can see, you can’t even see the articles written on it without half a page worth of ads. This should indicate to you how much people are invested in making money from you trying to get a creative writing degree.
I don’t fault universities with targeting ads to people interested in a creative writing degree, but I don’t like how they sell it.
If I was 18 and interested in writing, I would not get a college degree unless I want to be a professor or work in academia. This is the only reason why I would get it because you don’t need it to succeed in a writing career. As a writer, what you really need to succeed is marketing yourself and continually improving your writing. That’s it.
Many new college students or people looking to transfer have a misconceived notion about creative writing. If you work for a company, you will have to write about what they want to write about, not what you want to write about.
How I got into writing (and making money with writing)
I was in my 3rd year in college and I was doing an echocardiography program (basically doing ultrasounds on people’s hearts). I absolutely hated it and I knew there was no way I’d graduate and do this for the foreseeable future.
I started frantically looking for any job or two jobs that would help me make a good enough monthly income where I could drop out. I scoured through Google for how to make money online and tried tens of different ways.
I finally came across freelance writing and I thought I can probably do it. People will actually pay me money to write blogs for them? Sign me up!
I dropped out of school, got a night time job and started to look for freelance writing clients. It took me a few months of working for free and emailing a lot of clients to land my first client. I got paid $95 to write a blog post for them.
Fast forward two years, I made $6,329.13 in April 2021.
I’m not going to BS you and tell you it was easy. I worked 50-60 hours a week including weekends for 2 years to get to where I’m at. You can’t expect to be good at something overnight, but if you keep trying you will succeed. I’ve been scammed by some clients, had very low income months and so on. It’s just part of the business, but it definitely beats working a typical writing job.
If I was 18 or early on in my college career and was solely focused on a writing career, I’d drop out and try freelance writing. Why? Because you can afford to take a risk now.
If you have student loans, a family, etc, this won’t be an option in the future. I suggest giving it a try and worst-case scenario, you can go back to school.
Why choose a creative writing degree?
This is honestly the question you should be asking. What exactly can you get from a creative writing degree that you couldn’t get from writing on your own? And secondly, is the tuition associated worth it?
Don’t take my word for it, actually think for yourself. Anything you invest your time and money in you should ask one question: What is the return on your investment?
Let’s go through the example of an average 18 year old getting a creative writing degree.
Jobs with creative writing degree
I’m not a hater on typical creative writing jobs. In fact, it’s probably best for students who are close to graduating so they can start their first job and start paying off student loans. Some of great entry-level jobs you can get with a creative writing degree include:
The first job you should look for if you’re in a creative writing degree program is internships. The chances of you landing a job without previous work experience is very slim. Take the time to network with people on campus or on LinkedIn during the semester. This will open up opportunities for you during winter break and summer break to get internships.
During my freshman year in college, I got accepted into the Mayo Clinic SURF program. It’s a super competitive summer internship that has a 5-10% acceptance rate. Do you know how I got in? I knew exactly who was hiring for the summer internship and worked with them during the semester.
When application time came, my mentor just picked me from the application pool. It was shocking to me because I thought everyone applied and the most qualified person would get chosen. This shows the true power of networking. Who you know is just as important as what you know.
As you probably already know, a “creative writer” is an umbrella term that can fit many types of writers. This can be poetry, fiction writing, speeches, PR, etc. To get one of these jobs, you need previous work experience or a portfolio of work you can show your employer.
As a creative writer, your job will vary based on the needs of your employer. If a company needs you to write scripts, that’s what you’ll do. The creative writers I’ve seen make the most money are those who do press releases for
Content writing is basically what I do as a freelance writer. You write content like blogs, whitepapers, case studies, ebooks, etc.
As a content writer employed at a company, you’ll be asked to write blogs and other content that’s important for the company. I’m not sure if you actually write 8 hours a day at a job like that, but I’m assuming it’s the majority of your day.
Coming out of college, I think this is probably the best kind of job to get. You will quickly figure out how hard it is to actually write for the majority of your day.
As a freelance writer, I can set my rate so I can control how much work I have to do. If you’re expected to produce a lot of content at a job, it can start to become very difficult.
On an average day for me, I write about 2-3 blog posts. This takes me between 2-3 hours and I can crank out a 500-word blog post in less than an hour.
Honestly, I can’t imagine trying to write 5 blog posts a day. I’ve done it before, but my brain is fried for the rest of the day. Most good companies will not give you that much work to do. It’ll be closer to what I do (2-3 blogs per day).
Copywriting is the another great job to get with a creative writing degree. There’s a big difference between copywriting and other forms of content writing.
With copywriting, you’re writing to sell. Instead of writing intricate articles on a topic, your work will be judged on how well you can covert visitors into customers.
I have a love-hate relationship with copywriting. It pays well, but it takes a while to learn and some clients will make you re-do a lot of work.
I actually had a client who pays me $800 each month for email copywriting services. I’m going to drop the client because they are a huge headache to deal with. The money isn’t worth it when you have to keep editing and changing work and they are still unsatisfied.
I’m not a copywriter by training, but I’ve done enough work where I know most of the basics. If you actually learn how to do copywriting well, your earning potential is limitless. This is because you have the ability to sell clients with the words you write.
One of the more rewarding creative writing careers is journalism. Journalism appeals to me more than other types of creative writing because it makes more of an impact.
As a journalist, your job can vary drastically depending on who you work for. Journalism can be a lot more demanding than other jobs because you have to travel and talk to a lot of people for your job.
After you do all of this, you have to write up a piece about the topic and who you interviewed. If you did some internships in college, you can actually land a pretty good-paying journalism job.
Note on jobs above:
All of these jobs for the average creative writing degree graduate will pay pretty low salaries (25k-45k) per year. If you’re an exceptional writer or have a lot of experience, you can definitely demand higher wages.
For the average creative writing degree graduate, these will be the main jobs you should look for. Just like with anything else, your experience, network and skills will dictate how much you can demand on the job market.
Long-term career as a self-employed writer
As a self-employed writer, your earning potential and your lifestyle will be dependent on your ability to write and market yourself. You’ve probably heard hundreds of successful writer stories where they struggled for years before getting their big break. That’s kind of how self-employed writing works.
You will have to find your own work, complete the work, get payment and continue looking for more opportunities. Although this is very hard in the beginning, you will continue to improve and make progress. What pushed me every day when I wasn’t making any money was that my career options are endless.
In just 2 years, I’ve become a competent freelance writer and I’ve started my own blog. Within the next 2-3 years, my blog will bring me over $100,000 per year.
How? Because I’ve consistently reinvested in myself and my skills. I’ve learned how to blog, how to do SEO, how to make money blogging, etc. This means I will have my blog income in addition to my freelance income.
This isn’t to brag, but I’m trying to show you the opportunities available when you continually learn and improve your writing and marketing skills. If I’m 23 years old and I can sustain myself within 2-3 years of starting my writing career, imagine how far I’ll be when I’m 30 years old with almost 10 years of writing experience.
Compare that to the average 30-year old writer at a company, the difference is crazy. This is all because I bet on myself and continuously improved over the course of a few years.
Some career paths as a self-employed writer include:
- Freelance writer: $0-$200k
- Blog owner: $0-unlimited
- Self-publishing author: $0-unlimited
I hope this blog post gave you at least something to consider when it comes to choosing a writer career. My goal with this post is to show there are other ways to pursue a fulfilling writing career outside of getting a creative writing degree.
If you want to pursue a career in academic writing, by all means get your degree and pursue your career. Most aspiring creative writers dream of having a writer career where they have the creative freedom and money to write about what they want.
The chances of that happening is very slim to none. If you take your favorite authors today, the majority of them are not writers by training.
Many writers can benefit from getting a creative writing degree, but the real question is does that translate to money? I don’t believe in writing about what you love and things will work out. In contrast, succeed in writing financially, so you can afford to write about what you want.
Let me offer you a risk-free way to try an alternative writing career like freelance writing. Take the time in between your semesters or your summer break and dedicate a month to trying to get a freelance client. If you can land one client, you can land more and build a business. Try it out and I guarantee the worst thing that’ll happen is you continue going to school; the best thing that can happen is you can change your career and earning trajectory forever.