FAQs about online writing degrees

Every year, hundreds of thousands of aspiring authors participate in National Novel Writing Month, known as NaNoWriMo. They pull out pens and paper, dust off their typewriters or fire up their computers as they work to complete a 50,000 word draft of what is hopefully their Great American Novel.

Certainly, as NaNoWriMo demonstrates, anyone can sit down and write. There are no degree requirements for publishing a book or starting a blog. However, a writing degree can be invaluable for those who want to hone their craft and perhaps even improve their odds of creating that award-winning piece of work.

While all liberal arts degrees include some English and writing components, writing degrees offer a specialized education that may include topics such as plot development, character creation and personal branding. Other programs may include instruction in copywriting, technical writing and other forms of nonfiction. If you've been interested in earning a writing degree, here's what you need to know.

1. What writing degrees are available?

A Master of Fine Arts in creative writing may be the most well-known degree in the field. However, creative writing degrees are available at both the undergraduate and graduate levels in a variety of writing specialties.

For example, in addition to the MFA creative writing, some institutions offer a Bachelor of Fine Arts in creative writing. Other schools offer bachelor and master degrees that focus on these areas other than novels and short stories.

  • General writing
  • Professional writing
  • Technical writing
  • Linguistics
  • Poetry
  • Nonfiction
  • Screenwriting

2. What's the difference between a writing degree and an English degree?

Depending on the school, the answer may be "a lot" or "not much." Some English degrees focus largely on the review of literature and past great works. While students may be regularly writing in these programs, this work is often centered upon literary review and analysis.

On the other hand, writing degrees are not as concerned with the great works of the past as much as on helping students create the great works of the future. They may spend more time on the mechanics of good writing and provide greater opportunities for students to gain feedback on their original work from instructors and fellow students alike.

However, English and creative writing degrees are not mutually exclusive. Some institutions offer English degrees with a concentration in creative writing.

3. What degree options are available other than a creative writing degree?

While a creative writing degree can be an excellent educational choice, it's certainly not the only option for aspiring writers. Prospective students may also find the following programs, among others, can prepare them for a career in creative, professional or technical writing.

  • Journalism
  • Medical communications
  • English/English literature
  • Public relations/marketing
  • Communications
  • Technical communications

4. Can you get a writing degree online?

Yes, online writing degrees are available from a number of institutions. Many undergraduate degrees can be earned entirely online without ever having to step foot in a classroom. Both for-profit and nonprofit universities around the country are starting to offer different types of writing degrees through distance learning. Examples include the University of Colorado and Southern New Hampshire University's online English degrees, Arizona State University's online technical communication degree, and Full Sail University's online master of fine arts.

Traditionally, MFA creative writing degrees have been considered studio degrees, which have residency requirements. However, in recent years, some schools, such as Full Sail, have begun offering MFA degrees online with no residency needed.

5. What skills do you learn in writing degree programs?

Whether you earn a creative writing degree or a professional writing degree, you should graduate with a strong grasp of written communication. In a world of 140 character tweets, that skill alone can make writing graduates valuable to employers across diverse industries from law to medicine to marketing.

However, those with writing degrees also have a number of other skills that are valued across industries. These skills include:

  • Critical thinking
  • Ability to conduct research
  • Effective communication, both oral and written
  • Planning and organization

6. What else should a writer study?

While both campus-based and online writing degree programs provide all the basics needed for a career in the field, picking a complementary minor or dual major can be important to improving job prospects after graduation.

For example, professional writers who would like to work in copywriting or advertising could benefit from courses in marketing, public relations and communications. Future technical writers may want to minor in IT, medical communications or another field in which they hope to focus their work. Translators may consider a double major in a foreign language.

To determine the right minor or dual major, students should discuss their career goals with an admissions counselor, career coach or similar professional.

7. What jobs can you get with a writing degree?

Depending on the focus of their studies, graduates with a writing degree may find themselves in one of the following careers.

  • Journalist
  • Grant writer
  • Copywriter
  • Technical writer
  • Editor
  • Novelist

Of these, technical writers may see the most job opportunities in the coming years with the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimating job growth in the field at 15 percent from 2012-2022.

Regardless of the career path you choose, it all begins with earning the right degree. Fortunately, online writing degrees make it simple to study for everything from a bachelor's degree to a MFA creative writing degree. Learn more by requesting information about professional and creative writing degrees today.

1. Toolkit for New Medical Writers, American Medical Writers Association, http://www.amwa.org/toolkit_new_med_writers
2. "MA and MFA: The Final Word," John Poch, Association of Writers and Writing Programs, September 2012, https://www.awpwriter.org/programs_conferences/advice_choosing_program_advice_field_view/2730/ma_and_mfa_the_final_word
3. Degrees and Programs, University of Central Arkansas, http://uca.edu/writing/degrees-and-programs/
4. Technical Writers, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/media-and-communication/technical-writers.htm

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