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Online schools for writers

With the smartphone revolution bringing constant text and email access into our lives, it should scarcely be a surprise that writing (and, by extension, reading) is one of the skills most frequently utilized in today's standard office environment. Plenty of degree plans do address the need for writing skills to an extent, but the importance of teaching the core competencies of each degree's major subject tends to box out any intensive writing instruction.

Degrees that focus on writing, on the other hand, can produce graduates with superlative communication skills and awareness of the contexts in which they can be useful. Here's a count of how many schools in each region of the U.S. offer degrees in general, technical, business, scientific and journalistic writing, according to figures published by the National Center for Education Statistics:

Region No. of schools offering writing degrees No. of schools with online writing degree programs
Far West (CA. OR, WA, NV, AK, HI) 97 4
Rocky Mountains (ID, MT, UT, WY, CO) 24 2
Southwest (AZ, NM, TX, OK) 70 9
Plains (MO, KS, IA, NE, MN, ND, SD) 71 9
Southeast (AR, LA, MS, AL, FL, GA, SC, NC, TN, KY, VA, WV) 138 18
Great Lakes (IL, IN, OH, MI, WI) 122 6
Mideast (PA, NY, NJ, DE, MD, D.C.) 91 4
New England (CT, MA, RI, VT, NH, ME) 36 7
Total (all 50 states) 649 59

Entry-level writing degrees

Writing degrees at every level can help you build your communication abilities, critical thinking skills and employment flexibility. Here's a look at some of what you can expect from various writing degree plans at the undergraduate level:

  • Associate degrees - Most associate degrees for writers focus their attention on one aspect of written communication, letting students choose among professional writing, technical writing, creative writing or journalism as their focus and teaching to the particular demands of that approach. Writing degrees at the associate level can be a great way to beef up your communication skills for an existing career or to prepare for bachelor's study in the liberal arts or humanities.
  • Bachelor's degrees - Four-year degrees in writing are often divided among similar lines to their two-year counterparts. Bachelor's programs in technical writing, professional writing, creative writing and journalism can all be found, as well as writing-intensive degrees in mass communications, political science, history and more. In fact, just about any academic discipline with a qualitative dimension can train you in the finer points of writing if you consult with an advisor to choose courses that integrate writing skills into your chosen subject's major coursework.
  • Non-degree study - Undergraduate certificates in professional or technical writing can be a good way to learn some key reading, writing and critical thinking skills. Most certificate plans take between 12 and 24 credit hours to complete and may be transferable into a full-fledged university program if you decide to continue your writing education in greater detail.

Writing instruction can be delivered with little to no decrease in effectiveness through digital distance education platforms, which can be great for working professionals looking to give their writing skills a boost without taking time away from work to attend classes on a traditional campus. Online writing degrees and certificates are designed to permit students to attend recorded lectures and complete reading assignments at times that work best for their individual schedules.

Advanced-degree writing programs

Graduate degrees in writing are also available, for students who want to take their fluency with written language to a truly advanced level or become scholars on the subject of writing itself. Here's a little detail about advanced degree plans at campus-based and online schools for writers around the country:

  • Master's degree programs - While creative writing seems to dominate the field of graduate writing degrees, top schools such as NYU and Johns Hopkins University offer master's degree study plans that include or focus on advanced concepts in the professional and technical arenas as well. Many of the occupations in which writing has its greatest value — think advertising, public relations, Web content creation, social media outreach, etc. — typically call upon writers to have a balanced set of creative, professional and technical skills, so it can be advisable for graduate students to seek out courses that help them fill in any areas where they may be lacking.
  • Doctorate programs - Doctoral degrees in writing are fairly rare, although that doesn't mean you can't study and practice writing at the post-graduate level. The path to a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in nearly any discipline requires that students compose an extensive written research project that consumes most of their final program year, so just about any Ph.D. has a writing-intensive component. That said, though, a few universities do offer Ph.D. programs in creative writing for those aspiring to teach the craft at its highest level.
  • Graduate certificates - Non-degree programs in professional, technical and science writing are somewhat common, perhaps to help remediate established professionals who have begun to encounter more frequent or complex written communications than they'd previously expected. Most graduate certificate programs for writers require between 12 and 18 credit hours of classroom work and can often be completed in 12 to 18 months of full-time study.

For graduates, online writing courses can serve to bring more professional benefits than just the flexibility and typically lower overall cost of the virtual classroom. Completing coursework at online schools for writing can also enhance your time management skills, since online students have to learn to self-supervise in order to succeed, and communicating with professors and classmates through email and in online discussion groups can give you the chance to practice your developing skills in real time.

Q&A with experts

Ky Trang Ho, founder of Key Financial Media and contributor to Forbes magazine

Ky Trang Ho, founder of Key Financial Media and contributor to Forbes magazineWhy would you encourage someone to consider a writing degree?

KTH: Good writing is in high demand and needed in every business to educate clients about products or communicate with staff about company initiatives. No matter the audience, businesses have to communicate in a clear and concise manner. Their grammar and syntax has to be perfect or else they will lose credibility.

What would have been helpful to know about the importance of writing when you were looking into your own education?

KTH: Growing up, the only writers I ever heard of were starving artists. The writers I saw portrayed in movies and TV were always broke, living paycheck to paycheck and desperate to find another freelancing gig. I had no idea you could make a decent living by writing for businesses, a news outlet, etc.

What are some writing-focused degree paths that students may not know can build writing skills?

KTH: Most of the liberal arts and social sciences majors require a lot of essay writing. The only real difference is the subject matter.

Jessica Mehta, professional writer and owner of writing services company Mehtafor

Jessica Mehta, professional writer and owner of writing services company MehtaforWhat are some positions in the business world or public sector in which particularly skillful or economical writing tends to play a part in career success?

JM: Any position that can direct you towards becoming a thought leader requires phenomenal writing skills. If you want to be an entrepreneur, politician, website designer, or any small business owner, writing becomes the face of who you are.

What surprised you most about the professional value of writing once you got into the working world?

JM: Quality writing is VERY tough to come by. A brilliant person who doesn't write well doesn't stand a chance in most positions. We judge based on the information in front of us, and increasingly the only information is the written word.

What's some advice you would give to a student who wants to focus on using their writing skills in their career?

JM: Practice, practice, practice and read, read, read. The more you read quality writing, the most you will naturally guzzle it up and it will become reflected in your own craft.

Types of writing careers

The list of careers in which solid writing skills can be an asset is too long to reproduce here, so we'll stick to the ones where writing is often a primary element of the day-to-day routine. Here's a table of some top careers for writers, along with employment and salary data provided by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Occupation title National mean annual salary
(2015)
Projected job growth
(2014-2024)
Total U.S. employment
(2014)
Entry-level education
Copywriter $69,130 2 percent 136,500 Bachelor's degree
Reporter or correspondent $46,560 -8 percent 45,100 Bachelor's degree
Public relations specialist $65,830 6 percent 240,700 Bachelor's degree
Editor $64,910 -5 percent 117,200 Bachelor's degree
Technical writer $73,350 10 percent 52,000 Bachelor's degree
Art director $101,990 2 percent 74,600 Bachelor's degree
College or university professor $73,140 13 percent 1,313,000 Master's degree

Common misconceptions about writing degrees

Degrees that focus on writing aren't widely understood outside of academia, and a few mistaken notions have developed about them as a result. Here are a few of the misconceptions some people have about getting writing degrees online or on campus:

Misconception: There are no actual jobs for graduates with writing degrees.

  • Fact: This one actually comes up kind of a lot, and it couldn't be more wrong. For one thing, the BLS counts 136,500 people in the occupational category of writers and authors, and that's just one of dozens of career fields where your writing skills can be an asset. As long as you're flexible about the type of writing you do to earn a living, you might end up enjoying a career that had never even occurred to you before you applied.

Misconception: Employers don't hire people with liberal arts degrees, even when they write well.

  • Fact: Numerous surveys have shown that employers are actually looking actively for graduates of liberal arts disciplines, because of what's called soft skills. Graduates with liberal arts degrees are known in the hiring community as good communicators, solid team players and creative problem solvers (not to mention effective writers), and those skills come into play in both task-based and relationship-based workplace situations. As long as you can get their attention with a good cover letter, employers are unlikely to be turned off by your writing degree.

Misconception: Studying online is a quick and easy ticket to a bachelor's degree.

  • Fact: OK, if you love writing and reading and you look for any excuse you can find to fill your free time with writing and reading, you may have something of an easy time earning a writing degree online. For anyone else, though, online education remains an enterprise that requires focus, determination and persistence — just like a regular degree, except without the convenient motivator of a brick-and-mortar class schedule. Unless you're really ready to take your education into your own hands, you might want to think twice about an online writing degree.

How can I enroll in an online writing degree program?

The first step for anyone hoping to pursue a traditional or online writing degree is to get in touch with one or more schools to get the details of their program and its admission requirements. Take a look through the listings we've provided below, pick a few programs that look like a good fit for you and reach out to each school's admissions department to find out more.

Sources:

  1. College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, accessed March 18, 2016, http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
  2. School pages, accessed March 23, 2016: Degree Plan, English and Professional Writing - Associate Degree, Calumet College of St. Joseph, http://www.ccsj.edu/advising/plans/English%20and%20Professional%20Writing%20%28AA%29.pdf; Professional Writing Degree Online, Southern New Hampshire University, http://www.snhu.edu/online-degrees/bachelors/ba-in-communication/professional-writing; Technical Communications, Stark State College, https://www.starkstate.edu/academics/programs/technical-communications/; Creative Writing Associate of Fine Arts Degree, Anoka-Ramsey Community College, http://www.anokaramsey.edu/classes/Two-Year%20Degree%20Programs/AFADegree/CreativeWritingAFADegree.aspx; B.S. in Technical Writing & Communication, Carnegie Mellon University, http://www.cmu.edu/hss/english/undergraduate/bs-tw/; Professional Writing, Missouri State University, http://english.missouristate.edu/ProfWriting/; Professional Writing Degree Online, Southern New Hampshire University, http://www.snhu.edu/online-degrees/bachelors/ba-in-communication/professional-writing; Professional Writing Undergraduate Certificate, Washington State University Global Campus, https://online.wsu.edu/cert/professionalWriting.aspx; Writing Certificate, University of Missouri - St. Louis, http://www.umsl.edu/~umslenglish/Undergraduate%20Programs/certificates-writing.html; Undergraduate Certificate in Writing, The University of Iowa, http://magidcenter.uiowa.edu/certificate; What Is a Writing Intensive Course?, William Paterson University, http://www.wpunj.edu/cte/information-for-creating-courses/what-is-a-writing-intensive-course.dot; Writing Intensive Courses, University of Missouri, http://cwp.missouri.edu/wi/index.php; Master of Arts in Professional Writing, Carnegie Mellon University, http://www.cmu.edu/hss/english/graduate/ma-pw/; Technical Communication Masters Degree Online, Northeastern University, http://www.northeastern.edu/online/degrees/masters-technical-communication/; Master of Professional Writing (MPW), Chatham University, http://www.chatham.edu/mpw/; M.S. in Professional Writing, New York University, http://www.scps.nyu.edu/academics/departments/humanities-arts-and-writing/academics/ms-in-professional-writing.html; MA in Writing, Johns Hopkins University, http://advanced.jhu.edu/academics/graduate-degree-programs/writing/; Ph.D. in Creative Writing, University of Cincinnati, http://www.artsci.uc.edu/departments/creative_writing/graduate_program/Ph.D..html; Graduate Certificate - Technical Communication, Minnesota State University Mankato, http://english.mnsu.edu/techcomm/tcgradcert.html; Graduate Certificate in Science Writing, Johns Hopkins University, http://advanced.jhu.edu/academics/certificate-programs/science-writing/; Graduate Certificate in Technical Writing and Professional Communication, Kansas State University, http://www.k-state.edu/english/programs/techwriting/index.html; Certificate in Creative and Life Writing, Park University, http://www.park.edu/academics/academic-programs/graduate-programs/certificate-creative-and-life-writing/index.html; Graduate Certificate in Technical Writing, The University of Alabama in Huntsville, http://www.uah.edu/ahs/departments/english/graduate-program/1650-graduate-certificate-in-technical-writing; Professional Writing (Graduate Certificate), University of Louisville at Lafayette, http://gradschool.louisiana.edu/graduate-degrees/graduate-certificates/professional-writing-graduate-certificate
  3. Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed March 18, 2016: Writers and Authors, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Media-and-Communication/Writers-and-authors.htm; Reporters, Correspondents and Broadcast News Analysts, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/media-and-communication/reporters-correspondents-and-broadcast-news-analysts.htm; Public Relations Specialists, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/media-and-communication/public-relations-specialists.htm; Editors, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/media-and-communication/editors.htm; Technical Writers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/media-and-communication/technical-writers.htm; Art Directors, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/art-directors.htm; Postsecondary Teachers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Education-Training-and-Library/Postsecondary-teachers.htm
  4. May 2015 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed March 18, 2016, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm
  5. There Is Value in Liberal Arts Education, Employers Say, U.S. News and World Report, Mark I. McNutt, September 22, 2014, accessed March 29, 2016, http://www.usnews.com/news/college-of-tomorrow/articles/2014/09/22/there-is-value-in-liberal-arts-education-employers-say
  6. Why Employers Love Liberal Arts Graduates, Education Advisory Board, October 22, 2014, accessed March 29, 2016, https://www.eab.com/daily-briefing/2014/10/22/why-employers-love-liberal-arts-graduates
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