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Do I Need A Degree? Ask Anne The Pro Writer

Hi Anne,

Is it possible to get freelance writing jobs with a talent for writing but no degree?

Thanks,

Sarah (in comments)

Hi Sarah,

Freelance writing is one of the few trades left where a degree or special schooling isn’t required. To be sure, parts of the writing industry now offer degrees, like technical writing, but even then, a degree isn’t necessary.

When you think about it that makes sense. A degree simply says you’ve successfully studied a certain body of knowledge, it says nothing about your ability to communicate that knowledge. And that’s what writing is about, communication via (mostly) the written word.

While you need a degree to be a doctor or a lawyer or a teacher or an accountant, none of those degrees, valuable as they may be in their respective industries has much to do with getting words on paper or the screen.

If I were going to suggest a course of study for freelance writers it would be get out and live life. Travel, locally, nationally and internationally. Talk with as many different kinds of people as possible. Take time to study only the things you’re truly interested in, and expect to be learning all your life.

It’s the passion for living that makes a writer I think. So my suggestion is simply to go for it. Submit queries. Apply for gigs. Apply for jobs. You may be delightfully surprised.

BTW, as I intimated in my comment back to you, I don’t have a degree and I don’t regret not having one a bit.

Do you have a question about freelance writing? Ask Anne, The Writing Pro – that’s me 😉 Ask in the comments or send an email and put Q&A in the subject line so I can sort it out from spam and I’ll do my best. Meanwhile, you’ll find some Q&A’s here: Ask Anne, The Pro Writer

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{ 4 comments… add one }
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    You’re right Ben and since I don’t have a degree I can feel they are worthless. However all three of my kids got degrees on their own hook, and only one thinks maybe he should have gone into a trade instead… and I know he’ll change his mind once he’s got a job again.

  • We touched on this subject in another thread here about self-publishing. I absolutely agree that one does not need a college degree to be a freelance writer. Furthermore, I think there are only a few college degrees one does need — the ones that qualify you to practice a profession (MDs, CPAs, attorneys, certain engineers, architects, etc.). With the exception that you do need an English et al degree if you want to teach English et al. I would tell any young person to think very carefully about the investment they are about to make in that education. My daughter spent about $150k on her bachelor’s degree – she’s making $15 per hour in HR for a big company. Will she be better off in 30 years with that degree, or with 30 years of principle and compounded interest on that $150k?

    But, lest you think most degrees are worthless (and people without degrees jump to make that rationalization sometimes), I think it depends on the individual – and not in ways that they can control so much.

    I think the major benefit from attending college is not what it can teach you about history, science, math et al, but that it teaches you how stupid you are. As I wrote in a blog on my site, I’ve met more high school grads who thought they were smart than I have college grads.

    Unless you are truly smart, thinking you are smart will keep you from being successful more often than lacking a college degree will. If it takes going to college and earning a degree to teach you that you are not smart, you could have spent $150k on a basketweaving degree and it would be worth every penny.

    So, as for writing, no, you don’t need a degree to be a FREELANCE writer. You simply find work from employers that don’t care whether you have a degree. But, make no mistake, there are employers who will require their writers to have a college degree. Before freelancing, I was director of corporate marcom for a Fortune 500 company, writing for the byline of their CXOs in publications seen by tens of thousands of people. I would not have gotten that job without a degree (actually, wouldn’t have without my post-grad studies).

    And as I documented in that self-publishing thread, you can go down the list of authors on the NYTimes best seller lists and rarely find one without a degree (if so, it will invariably be some Hollywood celebrity).

    One of my best friends is a regular contributor to the WSJ and has written for almost every leading business or news oriented magazine. Graduated first in his class from one of the best journalism schools in the country. It’s not a coincidence, and to pretend so is disingenuous.

    r

    But, if you want to be an employed writer, earning a ni

  • I have no degree in writing – or journalism – or education – which baffles many of my clients. They just assume that since I have big names in my client list I must be trained in writing. There are issues, though: I never learned the lingo, so when I was first presented with an editor asking for my “nut graph” I assumed she wanted a graph showing how many nuts I’d eaten,…

    Lisa

  • I have a degree, yet that didn’t help me when looking for work my first year in the real world. Everyone wanted experience, even for freelance jobs, so a degree didn’t necessarily help me. One gig I have said they require a degree, but I’m not even sure if that’s true, as they never asked me for more information about it. Having one is nice, but I think this is one of the industries in which experience with writing is considered more advantageous than a formal degree.

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