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What About Writing Jobs That Want a Degree-Should I Apply Without One?

Graduation for WritersHi Anne,

You are always so helpful at answering questions, I hope you don’t mind this one:

When I’m applying for freelance writing and editing positions, I often see people looking for someone with at least a Bachelors or even a Masters degree. I don’t even have an Associates (although I have enough college credits for two!). Should I bother applying for these jobs? Would they even consider someone who’s primarily self taught? After all, I’ve worked with people with doctorates who don’t know the difference between your and you’re!


When it comes to writing and style, I can’t figure out what someone with a Bachelors has that I don’t.

Thanks,

Amelia

Hi Amelia,

I don’t have a college degree either and I’ve never worried about it.

Yes, the purpose of the resume, application and cover letter are to get to the interview. From there you’re also interviewing them so you can decide if you want the gig or not.  I don’t apply for those, but I never hesitate to apply for a writing gig I think I can do, no matter what the requirements.

I actually was offered a job writing full time for a bank and I think part of the reason the editor wanted me was because when he said, “I notice you don’t say anything about a degree on your resume,” I just acknowledged he was right and said I hadn’t graduated. I didn’t say anything more and he didn’t ask. Apparently my comfort with my lack of degree impressed him.


If you look at my credits and resumes you’ll see that none of them even mention education. Instead I talk about my experience as a writer, magazine editor, etc. etc. etc.

I’m sure I’ve failed to get writing jobs and freelance gigs because I don’t have a degree but no one ever wrote and said anything like “how dare you apply? We stated clearly we wanted a person with a bachelor’s degree!” Chances are you’ll never know one way or the other and it won’t matter.

I would suggest that if you’re asked you not apologize that you don’t have the xyz degree. You’ve nothing to apologize for and doing so just makes you look insecure. That won’t get you hired – the insecurity that is. If they ask tell the truth – “no, I don’t have a degree,” then stop talking. If they want more information they’ll ask for it.

The truth is most people who hire writers haven’t got a clue what they really need. They put in a requirement like a degree or a specific number of years of experience to lessen the number of applicants. Demonstrate through your resume and cover letter that you can solve their problem and you’ll probably get an interview. Then you can find out what they need and, if you want the job, show them how you can meet and even exceed what they want.

While there are certain kinds of academic and scientific writing – engineering also comes to mind – where you need a degree to do the writing, that simply isn’t usually the case.

And for those of you with degrees? Congratulations! If you’re thinking you might go back to school, reading Freelance Writers Don’t Need A Degree may help you decide.

Do you have a question about freelance writing? Contact me, putting Q&A in the subject line, and I’ll do my best to get it answered for you.

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{ 26 comments… add one }
  • Degrees have their place – especially if the writing job is within a particular technical field. I am only starting out as a writer but would be pretty annoyed if I was turned down for a writing job simply because I didn’t have a 30 year old degree behind my name. I have 30 years experience of writing press notices, business cases, reports and speeches for senior former UK government ministers etc. Formal writing skills have always been my bread-and-butter and because of my personal interests in history and genealogy, my less formal writing skills are not bad either. My advice is always play up experience – the older your degree, the less value it has anyway.

    • Anne

      Exactly right Mike, play up the experience. Those few who insist on a degree aren’t worth worrying about imo. They’ll figure it out.

  • I actually understand the reason for asking for a degree, even though I’ve always thought for most jobs it’s illogical. The idea is to have at least one criteria that helps you weed through the enormous numbers of resumes you’re going to get when you’re an employer; I’ve been there so I know. The thing is that unless someone has a degree in writing, it’s not going to matter whether anyone has a degree or not for writing jobs. After all, my degree isn’t in the area of writing, so how would that put me above anyone else based on that criteria?

    Great answer Anne.
    Mitch Mitchell recently posted..Why Don’t People Read?My Profile

    • Anne

      Thanks Mitch. Yes, the few times I’ve been in a position to review resumes it’s been almost overwhelming – I resorted to neatness once as the initial sort.

  • Danica

    Boy am I glad I dropped in today. Anne, looking at your resume helped most. I’ve dreaded doing a resume, ugh too much like ‘job hunting-hr crap shooting’. Maybe for freelancers, we should call it something else:) – yours is so succinct and marketing related. Now to go ‘write’ my own.

    Thanks again

    • Anne

      I finally called my resume a list of writing credits… that’s how I wrote it, then I was able to use resume again since that’s how many think of such a thing. Glad you found mine helpful.

  • Denise

    I’m a professional resume writer who’s done documents for people all over the world. Some of the most successful people(in terms of salary) I created documents for did not have a degree. It stands out to me because I remembered being so surprised. And, the ones who had multiple degrees often had jobs paying salaries nowhere near the the level that you’d think their education would warrant. In fact, several were doing jobs that didn’t require a degree. While I’m not negating the importance of such a credential, I definitely wouldn’t let not having a degree stop me from applying for a position that I’m otherwise qualified for. Just my 2 cents.

    • Anne

      Oh that’s interesting Denise – as a resume writer you’d sure have a view of it most of us wouldn’t.

      And if you want to write a guest post for me about resume writing I’d be delighted – no pay, a bit of glory, and links.

  • I have a bachelor’s degree and 23 years of experience now. It has only ever mattered to me when I wanted to teach a college class or present at a writer’s conference. The college would only let me teach non-credit courses without a Master’s and the conference wanted all its presenters to have Master’s. The college requirement wasn’t totally unexpected, but the writer’s conference requirement did surprise me. I had real-world experience with the subject they wanted me to present, what did my degree matter?

    On the flip side of that, I have seen companies that advertised with someone with a particular degree to do certain types of technical writing, but if you had experience with either the subject matter or the type of technical writing, they were more than willing to overlook the lack of degree.

    • Anne

      Hi Jim, hadn’t thought of the need for a degree to teach at the college level – that’s something I keep thinking I might pursue and never have. Suspect the conference was either looking for a way to reduce the speakers apps or thought they’d sell more if they advertised only folks with a degree would speak. That would keep me from signing up!

  • No degree here. When I apply, I say outright that I don’t have the degree but that I do have commensurate experience. That seems to work better when you’re talking about proofreading or editing, though.

    Also, it helps save time if you create a template for how you respond to ads. The template really helps you have a pattern what you say when, so you don’t stare at the screen wondering what to do next.

  • Thanks so much for answering my question! I’ll definitely give it a go from now on. I’ve seen jobs that were PERFECT for me (I have ten years experience in healthcare) but that stinking Bachelors was giving me the evil eye.

    It’s interesting. My husband has the same issue and he’s an IT guy. He has a degree, but apparently not the one everyone wants. I encourage him to apply for the jobs anyway since he has all that experience, but for some reason I wasn’t using the same argument for myself!
    Amelia Ramstead recently posted..The "Go with the Flow" PhenomenonMy Profile

  • Keep pushing and truly highlight your experience. All a degree does is get you through the door, your confidence in your experience gets you the job. Many blessings!
    Marcie recently posted..Guest Post: From Writer to Published Author in 7 Simple Steps – Patricia FryMy Profile

    • Anne

      Hi Marcie, like your view on this… a door opener.

  • I usually skip ads if a degree is required. I have a BA in English but in the past, I have considered requiring writers to have a degree a red flag. Either the potential employer is looking for writers who have just graduated from school or they have a misguided sense of what is really important.
    After reading this, I’ll give some of those ads a second look. Maybe I’ve been reading too much into it.

    • Anne

      Rebecca, it’s easy to over think the ads… I just apply to those that sound right to me and don’t worry about it.

  • I have a BA and I speak four languages, my native one included. They helped me up to a point – and then I had to get out there and live and learn how to distill my experience into writing and how to present myself as a confident professional. Knowing who you are and improving on it can take you far; feeling (and showing) defective won’t, I believe. And all the degrees in the world cannot substitute for a low self-esteem – that I can swear. 🙂

    • Anne

      Four languages! Yikes… Helenee you’re so right, a degree does nothing to substitute for poor self-worth. Nicely said.

  • Smart editors and business owners want good writers that will deliver high-quality work on time. A lack of education may hurt sometimes, but it just means you have to do a great job of selling your qualifications and experience.
    John Soares recently posted..My Interview With Carol Tice About Freelance WritingMy Profile

    • Anne

      John, as you know, selling our skills is so much a part of our success or lack of it.

  • Great encouragement indeed. I totally agree that most people looking for a writer/editor don’t have any idea what they’re looking for.

    I understand the above comment about wasting time with something that doesn’t pay, but we simple have to spend time searching for work and writing proposals or cover letters. Without that necessary work, we’ll never get to any work that pays.
    Jacob recently posted..Responsibility (And the Purpose of this Blog)My Profile

    • Anne

      Oh yes, Jacob, searching for work, interviewing clients, all that must be done… for me that’s part of the marketing of my business.

  • I would say not to bother for the degree-required jobs because you don’t want to waste your time. I am very, very picky about what jobs I apply for, and if I think there’s even ONE reason that the person might turn me down, I pass it up. And I do this for a reason: When I am applying for jobs, I’m not earning money in that moment. I only have 6 hours a day, ya know? I have to use it wisely.

    Here’s another reason not to bother: I’ve hired writers/editors and proofreaders before. I gt 86 applications! I had to chop those down ASAP and getting rid of everyone who didn’t meet the qualifications I put in my ad was #1. Those writing job ads are absolutely INUNDATED and they gotta stem the flood somehow. I think that might be one of the ways to do it.

    I have my English degree and some MA credits in Pro Writing, too, and I always apply to those jobs, because I’m hoping there’s less competition….
    allena recently posted..Freelance Writing Job AdsMy Profile

  • “of” encouragement!
    Nicky Parry recently posted..Editorial Pet PeevesMy Profile

  • Great words encouragement for anyone lacking “anything” requested in a job ad. Nobody ever died from applying for something that they didn’t meet all specified requirements for. But someone, somewhere got something they weren’t necessarily expecting to get, just by plodding on and applying to everything that seemed up their alley.
    Nicky Parry recently posted..Editorial Pet PeevesMy Profile

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