What is the Best Degree for Becoming a Writer?

degree for writing

You’ve written short stories since you first learned how to hold a pen. You ask for novels and notebooks for Christmas and birthdays. Your favorite class in high school was English. Maybe you’ve known your entire life that you want to be a writer, but what is the best college major for becoming a writer?

Many universities offer a wide range of degrees in writing, and just about any college degree can be a springboard for a writing career. From journalism to creative writing, the best degrees for writers offer excellent earning potential and professional freedom.

To find the right degree path, it helps to start with the core concepts of:

  • language
  • literature
  • composition

Every writing program begins with a core curriculum and builds up to more advanced concepts. While it may not be necessary to earn a writing degree, it will help to build a foundation of knowledge that could prove useful for a lifetime.

English

writing degree

Of course, English is one of the most prominent degrees for aspiring writers. Along with related degrees like creative writing, literature, and writing, English teaches students how to write. While pursuing a degree in English, you’ll write:

  • poems
  • short stories
  • research papers
  • analyses

You’ll study classic works of literature and emulate those styles. You will be required to produce massive amounts of writing, all of which will receive feedback from experienced professors. You can go on to become any type of writer. Companies are eager to hire English majors for communications and technical writing positions. Of course, you could become a novelist like Stephen King or write songs like Sting or Paul Simon. All three of those men have English degrees. No matter what type of writer you want to become, an English degree will give you a solid background in the art of writing.

History

To earn your degree in history, you will fill reams of paper with your writing. After English and creative writing courses, history is one of the most writing-intensive avenues of study. Every class you take will give you the opportunity to complete one or more research papers.

However, many liberal arts degrees require extensive reading and writing. What makes history a better course of study than anthropology or political science? History majors consider the broad span of human existence. As a history major, you might learn about Roman peasants, American settlers, and Asian aristocrats in a single semester. Even more, you’ll study how seemingly small political decisions can impact an entire nation. With a history degree, you will be an expert world-builder and prepared to create riveting novels or popular works on history.

Many famous writers, including Malcolm Gladwell, Karl Marx, and H.G. Wells, have used their studies in history to launch successful careers.

Natural Sciences

Yes, a degree like biology, chemistry, or physics could help you become a science writer. Textbooks, journals, magazines, and newspapers desperately need writers who can translate dense scientific jargon into readable prose. The Council for the Advancement of Science Writing recommends that aspiring writers take courses in natural sciences and journalism.
If your passion is science fiction, then your bachelor’s of science degree will come in handy. Your fans will appreciate your expertise. Think of the fantastical creatures you can dream up with a solid foundation in existing biology. Imagine the realistic future technology you can describe if you finish a degree in engineering.

Isaac Asimov earned a chemistry degree. Arthur C. Clarke took certificates in mathematics and physics. Robert A. Heinlein graduated with a bachelor’s in engineering. With proper training in scientific thought, perhaps you can be the next sci-fi legend.

Liberal Arts

A few generations ago, an education in liberal arts was standard for most college graduates.  The liberal arts, also sometimes called the humanities, include:

  • English
  • history
  • philosophy
  •  art history
  • religious philosophy

Over the last several decades, educators have shifted the emphasis from liberal studies to the natural and social sciences, promoting the subjects of:

  • science
  • technology
  • engineering
  • mathematics

The STEM fields have taken the prized place in Western culture, leaving English, history, and philosophy by the wayside, or reducing them to quantitative disciplines.

The problem with quantifying these subjects is that they transcend objective quantity. They deal with subjective qualities. This is why a liberal arts education is perfect for writers, who must learn to be perceptive. Many private four-year universities exclusively offer a liberal arts education, but these schools usually don’t have graduate programs. While there are many types of writing jobs, most of the high-paying ones require a graduate degree.

World Literature

A general education in liberal arts is worthwhile, but many writers will want to narrow their focus to a particular subject. The world’s literature contains all the truths that human beings have ever committed to print.Studying literature can help writers expand their thinking.

From Lao Tzu to Flannery O’Connor, the world’s significant writers have distilled their wisdom into poems, plays, novels, and short stories. Many schools offer courses on film as literature, as well. Now that the songwriter Bob Dylan has won the Nobel Prize in literature, some teachers may include a study of song lyrics in their courses. After all, one of the earliest songwriters to influence world literature is the ancient Greek lyricist Sappho.

With an education in world literature, an aspiring writer can find work as a:

  • grant writer
  • copywriter
  • technical writer
  • teacher

However, writers with an intense interest in literature might want to continue their education at the graduate level.

Creative Writing

Creative writing is a good degree choice for writers with the maturity and self-discipline to produce work that other people find valuable. The top creative writing programs are competitive, selecting only those candidates whose achievements and talent stand out.

While merit is the most important factor in the selection process, the top creative writing programs also look for students with compelling backgrounds and contemporary interests. Graduates of these programs may go on to become celebrated authors or sought-after creative writing instructors. Therefore, they must have a certain appeal within the publishing industry.

While the top programs are competitive, many solid alternatives around the country admit students who show promise. With degrees in writing from these second-tier programs, writers can find work as teachers or writers in industries from business to communications. The media industry, while volatile, will continue to grow as the internet becomes more accessible around the world, creating new jobs for writers.

Journalism

degrees to be a writer

The journalism industry has its ups and downs, but journalists with a strong work ethic and broad skillset can find stable employment. Journalists typically begin their careers writing for local newspapers or news websites, building up a professional portfolio by soliciting articles to national publications.

Journalism school is a concentration in the communications department at many universities. In these programs, students learn to write objective, factual reports about current events. They answer the questions about who, what, when, where, why, and how.

With a degree in journalism, a writer can become a:

  • reporter
  • publisher
  • editor

Over the course of their career, they can break into editorial or opinion writing. The salaries for journalists range from around $35,000 to millions of dollars per year, depending on the writer’s publishing credits and renown.

Foreign Languages

Foreign languages offer some of the best degrees in writing because they combine the study of linguistics, literature, and foreign culture for a valuable all-around education. With a foreign language degree, a writer can find high-paying work as a translator or interpreter. With a background in world literature, finding work as a translator is even easier.

While computer algorithms can translate basic phrases and even whole documents, they’ll never replace human translators who have deep knowledge of foreign cultures and world literature. To see why human translators will always be necessary, consider how many unique translations of Homer or the Bible there are. The evolution of culture drives demand for updated translations of literary works. Every translation requires human input to be relevant to readers. A computer can’t fake that quality for the same reason that a human can’t. Consciousness is subjective, so people with training in subjective arts, such as writing and translation, will always have work.

Graduate School

Graduate degrees in writing can open up new horizons for writers. With a master’s degree, a writer can find employment as a:

  • professor
  • researcher
  • analyst

They work in a demanding field such as:

  • media
  • business
  • public service

The ideal graduate program for writing depends on the individual. Many aspiring writers will want to enroll in a literary or creative writing program. Others will find a technical subject more to their liking. With a master’s degree in biology or psychology, for example, a writer can find high-paying work as a medical or healthcare writer.

The field of journalism offers many jobs for writers with special expertise in technical subjects. As more people turn to the internet for factual information about health, wellness, and nutrition, there will be a growing demand for writers with advanced education in these subjects.

Types of Writing Careers

Few writers earn an income solely from creative writing. Most published fiction writers earn the bulk of their income from a day job, which could be teaching, waiting tables, or construction. Even the major names in fiction had regular jobs while producing their work, including David Foster Wallace and Deborah Eisenberg. Bestselling authors like J.K Rowling and Stephen King are the exception, once their works became famous.

Fortunately, however, there are plenty of other ways to earn money with writing. For left-brained people, some good options include:

  • technical writing
  • science writing
  • medical writing
  • legal writing

Creative people can try:

  • advertising
  • ghostwriting
  • blog writing

For extra money on the side, skilled writers can offer their services in the freelance marketplace.

With enough practice and self-discipline, any professional writer can break into the national publishing circuit, whether it’s with fiction or nonfiction. To make a full-time job of it, though, takes a deeper level of will and ingenuity.

Becoming a Better Writer

To understand how to get better at writing, it helps to think about the nature of language. When children learn to speak, they don’t yet have the brainpower to learn by studying. They pick up new words intuitively without even realizing what they’re doing.

Words originate in a deep level of the psyche that’s more transparent in infancy than in adulthood. As adults, humans navigate the world using intellectual faculties. These include the real-time verbalization of feelings and impressions coming from this intuitive psychic core. Eastern religions have understood this makeup of the human psyche for millennia. Meditation can help to elucidate it for the curious writer.

With awareness of this gut-to-brain verbal pipeline, finding the right words to express an idea becomes easier. In fact, grammar itself is a natural system that structures language at the gut level. People who use “improper” grammar do so according to a common set of rules that they learned as children. It’s only prescriptive grammar that has formal rules.

As a working writer, you’ll need to know grammatical rules. You’ll also need to know the rules of style, which aren’t as loose as you may think. For example, it matters where you put commas in your sentences, even though the rules for comma usage have no basis in natural language. With practice, you’ll learn at the intuitive level, and with study, you’ll learn at the intellectual level. The key ingredient to becoming a better writer is the intent to do so.

Going to Film School

schools for writing

The entertainment industry has a growing need for screenwriters to write scripts for TV shows and movies. With the growth of streaming video, there’s more work than ever for competent screenwriters.

The process of finding screenwriting work in the streaming video industry is basically the same as  any other field of writing. With a college degree, resume, and portfolio, any writer can apply for work as a screenwriter in traditional or web-based media.

Most screenwriting jobs are based in Los Angeles, so it may be necessary to move there. The competition for entertainment jobs in Los Angeles is famously intense, so it’s important to be:

  • thick-skinned
  • professional
  • persistent

Because Hollywood screenwriting jobs go to the most talented writers, it’s also important to be good, which is a matter of deep introspective self-realization.

The Job Outlook for Writers

Writing jobs are growing at around nine percent per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The national average for job growth is around four percent, so writers are well-positioned to find employment in their fields of expertise. While the median annual salary for writers is $67,120, the range of salaries is huge. With education, experience, and professionalism, the average writer can expect to earn a comfortable living.

Any degree can start your career as a writer. You’ll have to consider your writing talents and ambitions when choosing the best degree for your individual needs. You can achieve success with any degree, as long as you’re committed to a future as a writer. Writing careers can be exciting, fulfilling, and profitable. With so many degrees in writing to choose from, the potential for a rewarding career is excellent.

Related Resources:

This concludes our article on the top degrees for becoming a writer.

Ben Karleen
Expert

Brenda Rufener
Author

Laura Kilmartin
Editor-in-Chief