Let’s Talk About Writing – Creative Writing Degrees: Yay or Nay?

When you go to Google and type in “Are creative writing degrees…”, the very first auto-fill that pops up is “worth it?” And, it’s a legitimate question. If you’re going to go to college and spend tens of thousands of dollars on a higher education, you want to make sure you’re getting some bang for your buck, right? Because the last thing you want when you leave college is to feel like you not only wasted your money, but your time. I get it. And, having gone through four years of college to graduate with a BA in Fiction Writing, I feel pretty damn qualified to help you make that decision. So, with that said, let’s get started.

I studied Fiction Writing (with a minor in Voiceover Acting) at Columbia College Chicago. Columbia is a private arts school that prides itself on its diversity of students, hands-on teaching, and teachers who are working professionals in the fields they teach. Basically, I went to the school that is every artsy kid’s wet dream. This background feels important to establish, because I want you guys to understand that I didn’t just go to some cheap school whose creative writing program was an afterthought. When I say I “studied fiction writing”, I truly mean that I studied it. I took tons of classes about writing fiction, from writing workshops to Critical Reading and Writing classes on a plethora of subjects. I even got to take a Young Adult Fiction class, where I outlined and wrote half of a young adult novel in a semester (that class was by far my favorite).

With all of that said and done, would I recommend majoring in Creative Writing? Honestly, I don’t know. I mean, I had my qualms with the school itself, but putting all of that aside I really don’t know if I would recommend majoring in Creative Writing. Despite how much I learned about writing–and I learned a lot–I can’t tell you if it was entirely worth it in the end. So let’s break this down into some pros and cons to help you better understand my uncertainty.

Pros:

  1. Like I said, I learned so much. My teachers were by far the best part of the whole experience. They really knew their shit, and they prepared me not only to write, but to become a professional in the real working world. My writing skill grew exponentially in the time I was at Columbia, and I was taught how to maneuver the publishing industry in order to be the most successful I could be.
  2. Thanks to Columbia, I got some great opportunities. For example, I was able to pitch my novel to a real, honest-to-God literary agent at a convention that my school held. The agent didn’t end up picking up my novel to represent, but she did give me great feedback on my pitch, query, and first chapter that I know I wouldn’t have gotten if I hadn’t met her at this event for my school. This was one of many opportunities I was able to take advantage of, and this alone made majoring in Creative Writing feel worth it.
  3. As a Creative Writing student, my life now revolved around being creative. Long gone were the days of exclusively studying math and science and history, which left me with only a few hours at the end of every day to brainstorm ideas and write my novels. By taking Creative Writing courses, I was forced to think about writing all the time, and I loved it. Before, I would get a new book idea maybe once every few months, if that. In college, though, I was getting a new idea every other day. Between writing workshops and writing homework and writing clubs, I was drowning in creative energy. Sometimes I wish I could go back to college just to experience that again. It was awesome.
  4. When you take Creative Writing classes, you get to bounce ideas off of your fellow classmates. It’s like being in a classroom full of beta readers and critique partners. They help you understand what is or isn’t working in your writing, and it’s especially helpful because, as fellow writers, they actually know what they’re talking about (usually). And, trust me, when a classroom full of writers genuinely like something you’ve written, it is by far the biggest boost to your confidence you’ll probably ever get.

Cons:

  1. The school I went to was expensive. Very, very expensive. And, frankly, I don’t know if the education I got justified the price. Part of that links back to the qualms I said I had with Columbia itself, but just in general I think that, while the teachers were amazing, the classes I took definitely weren’t worth the price I was charged. Maybe that’s an argument to be made for all college classes; I don’t know. What I do know is that, for a Creative Writing degree especially, I feel like I paid too much.
  2. Remember those opportunities I mentioned before? Well, they can also be a con for two reasons. First, I’m sure that not every school offers those kinds of opportunities for their Creative Writing students, and so it makes it hard for me to justify spending lots of money (see above) on an education that doesn’t provide those opportunities. Second, if a school does offer opportunities like that, you have to take advantage of them in order to make a Creative Writing degree feel worth it. If you’re only sitting in classes and aren’t getting anything else out of it… Well, you can take plain old writing workshops at libraries and bookstores for much cheaper.
  3. If your teachers suck or don’t actually know what they’re talking about, you’re screwed. I had a friend who went to a different school for Creative Writing, and one of her teachers encouraged her to query her novel before she even had a complete first draft. That’s… a big no-no, and anybody who actually knew anything about publishing would never advise a student to do that. When she’d told me what her teacher said, I was astounded. I went to one of my teachers and asked them about it, and they were equally baffled. The worst part was that my friend sincerely believed her teacher and wouldn’t listen to me when I tried to tell her he was wrong. And it makes sense. I mean, if you’re paying these people to teach you, you would assume they know what they’re talking about and aren’t going to lead you astray. This definitely makes majoring in Creative Writing a risk.
  4. Similarly, if you trust too much in your fellow classmates and their critiques, it could also screw you over. While, generally, anybody who’s majoring in Creative Writing has probably been doing it for a long while and knows a decent amount about it, there’s always those rare few who know absolutely nothing. However, those assholes are the ones who’ll try and trick you into thinking they know everything about writing. They’ll have something negative to say about everything read aloud, and they’ll try and make you second guess yourself and your writing (because usually they’re self-conscious about their own writing and need to cut you down for their own ego). Beware of these people. They are the silent disease of the Creative Writing major, and they nearly made me quit writing more than once after getting into my head with their bullshit.

As you can see, this isn’t a black and white issue. There’s really no right answer to the question “Are creative writing degrees worth it?” Because in some ways they totally are, while in others they totally aren’t. In the end, the only time I’d truly recommend a Creative Writing degree is if you found the perfect storm of expense, quality of teaching, and opportunities. If one of these elements doesn’t measure up, it really does make it a lot harder for me to say “Yeah, go for it!” with a clear conscience. That said, here’s a few more things for you to consider if you’re still not sure whether you should major in Creative Writing or not:

  1. How expensive are the schools you’re looking into, and is the price equivalent to the quality of education you’ll be receiving? Ask around and get the opinions of others who have majored in Creative Writing at these schools. Do they think they paid a fair price, or are they regretful about giving their money to this institution?
  2. What kind of writing classes does this school offer? Because, trust me, you want hands-on classes where you’ll be writing and reading your writing aloud every day. If the entire curriculum is made up of only lectures in classes with fifty other students, you’re not going to get anything substantial out of it. You want small classes where you can get some real feedback on your writing from both your professors and fellow classmates.
  3. Could you get the same–or a better–education just by attending writing workshops somewhere else? Because, like I mentioned above, if the schools you’re looking into don’t offer writing workshops as a part of their curriculum, you won’t be getting the education you need or deserve. So, maybe a better option would be visiting your local library and joining their writing workshop. Plus, writing workshops are guaranteed to be cheaper than a college education (if not totally free). And if there aren’t any writing workshops in your area, check online!
  4. Would it be better for you if you minored in Creative Writing? I mean, maybe it wouldn’t be. For me, I was able to take more of the creative writing extracurriculars I was interested in by majoring rather than minoring in Creative Writing. But if there’s only a few classes you really want to take, and they’re all available to minors, then maybe that would be the better option. Then, you could major in something more concrete that could help you get a job right after you graduate. A lot of creative individuals major in Business because it helps them learn how to manage themselves as a business (because your creative career is your business). Honestly, sometimes I wish I had done this, or at least minored in Business. Or, there’s even the option of double majoring in Creative Writing and Business.

In the end, just make sure that you’re considering all of your options and choosing what’s best for you and your goals for the future. What’s right for one person might not be what’s right for you, which is why I didn’t want to give a definitive answer in this post. What I think doesn’t matter in the end. What matters is that you look objectively at everything I’ve laid out for you today and decide for yourself what will work best for you. Good luck!

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