5 Benefits of My Pro Writing Degree — That You Can Get Free

Get my pro writing degree lessons for FREE!Freelance writers often ask, “Should I get a writing degree?”

The answer is different for everyone. I hold a master’s degree in professional writing, but plenty of highly successful freelance writers don’t have a degree.

If you’ve got the time and money, there can be a lot of benefits to getting a writing degree — but you can also get some of them through experience.

My degree didn’t guarantee that I would have my pick of high-paying clients or even that my pitches would get accepted. But it did help me become a better writer.

The good news? You can get these benefits without a degree. Here are five benefits I got from my degree that you can get for free:

Learn to write regularly — even if you don’t feel like it

Perhaps the greatest benefit I received from my program was that I was forced to write regularly for three years.

Even when I was tired from working a full-time job, assignments were due and professors were waiting. The consistent writing kept me focused, gave me practice, and led to some nice portfolio pieces.

Get it for free: If you need that extra push to write regularly, find an accountability buddy. Freelance Writer’s Den members can find buddies in the forums.

Learn to take and give constructive criticism

My classes often included group critiques.

At first, I cringed as I listened to my classmates seemingly pick apart my writing, but I came to see that they offered helpful advice and new points of view. I also developed a thicker skin by learning to take criticism. Believe me, this helps a lot when working with clients and editors.

Critiquing the writing of others was also a fun and educational exercise that made me think critically about writing.

Get it for free: Join a local writer’s group to get feedback on your work and advise others.

Try different types of writing

In my program, I took courses in web writing, grant writing, creative non-fiction, copywriting, and more.

Most courses involved a combination of reading books about a type of writing, reading published examples, and writing and critiquing. In the process, I learned enough to understand what each type of writing entails, from translating research findings in science writing to accessing grant funding resources.

I was also able to figure out what types of writing I did and did not like. For example, I was surprised to learn that I did not enjoy grant writing but I love at copywriting.

Get it for free: You can find books about specific types of writing at your local library. And even a simple web search with terms such as “copywriting 101” or “principles of technical writing” yields good resources.

Also spend some time reading published works in your chosen genre, and try writing in it. Even if you don’t intend to publish, you will practice that type of writing and find out if it’s a good fit for you.

Sharpen your design knowledge and skills

Through courses on document and web design, I learned about fundamental design tools and techniques, including Photoshop and basic HTML programming.

This knowledge often comes in handy for freelance gigs, as clients love to hear that I am familiar with design concepts and can handle tasks like resizing images and using HTML tags.

Get it for free: You’ll find a lot of articles online on design advice for writers. Also check out Canva, an online design tool that offers free, self-paced design lessons and can help you earn more as a writer.

Realize that a degree does not guarantee confidence

For a long time I struggled with my confidence as a writer, and I figured that getting a degree would fix this. It didn’t.

I do feel somewhat more confident, but I still frequently worry that I’m not good enough — I don’t have the right clips, I’m not qualified to write about a topic, I don’t deserve better rates, and so on.

So how exactly did my degree help me here? It taught me a hard lesson: no credential or amount of knowledge will solve low self confidence. I’m actively working to raise my confidence, but I realize there is no quick fix.

Get it for free: There are a lot of helpful articles online exploring confidence and fear — and moving past the impostor syndrome that hits so many of us.

What are the most important writing lessons you’ve learned? Tell us in the comments below.

Jennifer Wyglinski is a freelance writer with a background in non-profit communications. She specializes in marketing, education, and green lifestyle topics.

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49 comments on “5 Benefits of My Pro Writing Degree — That You Can Get Free
  1. Kandy Davis says:

    Do the work.
    Is a great book on the topic of creative and resistance..
    By Stephen Penfield I think.
    Kandy Davis

  2. Michelle says:

    I have a bachelor’s degree in professional writing. Through the program, I learned much of what the author of the article stated she did. Even after graduating with a clip portfolio, it was still shell shock upon graduation, because school doesn’t teach you how to market your services, negotiate rates, where to find gigs, how to manage client relations or any of the other nuts and bolts of actually running your own freelance business. Most writing programs teach you how to write and little else.

    I’m very grateful for the writing experience, but being a professional writer is so much more than that. It wasn’t until I did a publishing staff job that I learned the nuts and bolts of running a business. So it goes to show a degree isn’t the be all and end all.

  3. Karen Ingle says:

    I vividly remember the dimly-lit office of my professor where I sat trying to choose between majoring in writing or in chemistry. How many times have I berated myself for abandoning the writing degree, assuming I could learn a lot of it “for free” elsewhere? Turns out I did. Sure, there are gaps–like critique opportunities–that I wish were easier to fill out here in the rural midwest. But I know I wouldn’t have been driven to seek out lab work to learn chemistry on my own the way I’ve sought out writing experience! It sounds like maybe I made the right choice after all. Thanks for this encouraging post.

  4. Writing even when you don’t like to is great advice. You should never find yourself running out of what you want to write about. Always have a main goal and you will reach it. Recently I wrote an entire ebook of 47 pages and I had to go through all the critiques from my father when he read it for me. I had to accept that some things here and there just weren’t as perfect as I might have wanted them to be and we fixed up all the mistakes we could find together. It was great.

    • Jennifer Wyglinski says:

      Yes when I was in school we had to write, and revise, whether we felt like it or not, which was really helpful in the end. People can certainly do this without going to school as long as they are motivated and disciplined.

  5. Aleksei Afonin says:

    Hi all,

    Amel, I am a translator with no education in linguistics. My major was oil and gas geophysics. In translation, degrees play a great part. My translation job applications get rejected most of the time just because I don’t have a linguistic education. What they say is basically, “Your style is OK and you have a relevant degree and experience in the industry but you have no education in linguistics, so it’s a No.” Something like that. Some of them manage to make a couple of ridiculous typos and errors while replying to me with a “No”! Sometimes I struggle to avoid saying something really-really bad and offensive to them in reply. But I ask myself if I totally disagree with them. Well, yes and no, to be honest. In my opinion, the best translator should have both a degree in linguistics/writing AND a degree in engineering/science backed by years of hands-on experience as both an engineer AND a translator/writer. Being a translator with only an engineering background, I feel that I lack many skills related to linguistics. For example, I can easily translate a short step-by-step user guide; I can even write one from scratch, even in English which is a foreign language to me, but it’s difficult for me to write any creative stuff. However, I do my best to learn how to translate/write with a better style and I learn many new things from Carol’s blog; thank you, Carol!

    I know how to make linguist-translators take us, non-linguist translators, seriously. “Simply” passing an ATA (American Translators Association) or CIOL (Chartered Institute of Linguistics) translation exam will be enough :))))))). Of course, it’s not as easy as it sounds. A lot of people fail these exams, and there is no money back for that. I’ll take such an exam some time later. That’s for sure.

    Since I am not a native English speaker, I’m also thinking of getting a certificate in English writing (online) from a reputable institution such as conted.ox.ac.uk/courses/getting-started-in-creative-writing-online#programme_details or similar. That is, I need it not only for the set of skills and knowledge I will get there, but also for the certificate itself, for the reputation of the university, for the magic of the word “Oxford” (or Cambridge, or similar) in my CV. I just think that “a Russian guy” and “a Russian guy with an Oxford certificate in English writing” are quite different kinds of guys from the point of view of a native English-speaking employer ;-))))). In this regard, I would like to ask everyone what you think about it and what you think about such online courses and certificates. Thank you in advance for your replies!

    • Carol Tice says:

      Aleksei, a creative-writing degree doesn’t really have much bearing on freelance writing…but since you seem like you’re going more after translation gigs, I don’t know how it would help there.

      In general, I think certificates don’t impress prospects, whether they’re from college extension programs or online experts like the Useful Writing Courses I teach with Linda Formichelli. They mostly have no idea the varying quality of these programs.

      Take a class if you need a skill, and then SHOW that skill in your portfolio to get hired. But since your questions bear on translating, which isn’t our focus, I don’t know if it’s different in that arena.

      • Aleksei Afonin says:

        Thank you, Carol!

        I am also strongly determined to start providing writing services just because translators get paid less than writers. I don’t even want to think about writing in my native language (Russian) as I personally know dozens of Russian copywriters who charge like $0.01-$0.015 per word and are really great at Russian writing — much better than I am. So I can see no reason to grow and develop in my native market. I do write Russian articles for non-Russian clients sometimes, normally for $0.02-$0.03 per word if I am lucky, and I want to stop wasting my time like that as soon as possible. English is what I want to focus on. I understand that trying to professionally write in a non-native language is a great challenge and takes a lot of time and effort, but I still want to try. Carol, I wish I could buy all your writing and pitching courses — I’ll definitely do it as soon as I have money 🙂

  6. Sue Chehrenegar says:

    By writing material for faith-based organizations, I managed to get most of the benefits that you have listed (I did it for more than 30 years.) I still need the design concepts. I went to Canva and signed up, but I am unable to grasp the concepts presented on that site.

    Thank you for introducing it to me. I mentioned it in a email to my son (a computer technician), but I did not get a reply. When I have time, I will have to go back and try again

    • Jennifer Wyglinski says:

      Sue – Canva can be a little overwhelming at first but I would encourage you to keep trying it. Like many programs it has a bit of a learning curve at first, but it gets much easier.

  7. Tom Bentley says:

    My undergrad English degree was a factor in my getting my first mainstream job (and a pretty good one) as a copyeditor for a big software company, which did lead to other tech industry gigs. I went for an MA in creative writing with an orientation toward fiction writing, and a lot of workshop classes there increased my sensitivity to language—and let me look at fiction with clearer eyes.

    That said, I don’t think the post-grad degree was or is a strong influence in my freelancing work (which includes travel writing, content marketing, journalistic pieces and book editing), and truly isn’t relevant at all for writers today working across the writing spectrum.

    My experience with lots of assigning editors and corporate marketers tells me they pretty much don’t give a tinker’s damn (and yes, seen also as “tinker’s dam”) whether I have any kind of degree. The writing itself is the thing.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I totally agree — prospects read your portfolio and decide whether to hire you. Period.

      And I do think MFA programs tend to be fiction-oriented, rather than practical/nonfiction/freelance oriented.

  8. Sophia Auld says:

    I’m just getting started in freelance writing, and my degree and experience in physical therapy have been good leverage for getting health related writing gigs. I started a writing masters this year but am seriously wondering if it will be with the massive debt. Thanks for this post, it’s given me extra food for thought.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Sophie, my question would be — what’s your goal in obtaining a writing master’s? If it’s to help you get writing gigs, I can tell you I’ve never met a freelance writer who was helped by this credential. MFAs seem like a good stepping stone if you’re going into teaching. Writing a lot is a good stepping stone to well-paid freelance writing. 😉

  9. Excellent post, Jen! As I have no writing qualifications, it’s good to get a sense of what’s involved in a pro writing degree – thanks for sharing your experiences.

  10. Miriam C. Davis says:

    I have a PhD in history, and I’m having to unlearn academic writing as much as I’m having to learn copywriting.

  11. Amel says:

    Great article! I’d also like to point out that a degree does not have to be in writing or English to be useful to a writer. People who major in things like law, finance, or biology can do very well as freelance writers because they are already a step ahead of the rest of us when it comes to basic concepts and industry terminology. This is also true of translators. Translators who major in translation, literature, or linguistics often do not do as well (financially speaking) as those who study things like engineering or medicine.

    • Jennifer Wyglinski says:

      Agreed! I sometimes struggle with pitching because I feel like my only expertise is in writing itself, as opposed to another subject.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I agree, Amel — I’ve mentored people from backgrounds such as real estate and legal and seen their careers really take off, as they work their expertise in the industry.

  12. Endurance says:

    Writing is gift or in a softer sense, an innate desire for self-expression. Confidence is a skill that has to be cultivated through constant practice and experience at doing.
    One obvious thing is that most writers are self-expressionists. They’ve got imagination. They’ve got creativity. All working together. School or classroom most times restrict imagination.
    If you want to build comfidene, there is no better way than practising. The more practice, the more confidence.

  13. Emily says:

    I have an English degree, but more importantly used to be a writing teacher. One of the things I emphasized with my students was how important it is to revise. We would spend twice as long revising as drafting.
    Also, I’ve found that having a blog helps me practice writing in multiple genres. For work I do technical writing for education companies and develop teaching materials, and on my blog I work on my copy writing and blog writing.

    • Jennifer Wyglinski says:

      One of the aspects I grew to love about my program was the group critiquing, which not only provided useful feedback but forced us to revise. Of course in the freelance world editors are great for that as well!

      • Carol Tice says:

        When I started out in writing — as a songwriter — I used to shlep to Hollywood Boulevard to a rundown 3-story building to voluntarily have my songs shredded by a working writer and nightclub singer and her songwriting group. It was a terrific experience in learning not to be too emotionally attached to your work, and to always strive for improvement — and be open to input.

    • Jennifer Wyglinski says:

      Another great way that I’ve found to practice new types of writing is through volunteering. I gained experience as well as portfolio samples writing press releases, social media posts, and other items this way.

  14. Jennifer Fowler says:

    This was just what I needed to read. I started freelance writing in January. I’ve steadily built up a small client list and portfolio of work.

    I’ve done some cold pitching of my services and had some interest. None of these prospective clients has asked what my degree is in, they just want to see relevant samples of writing aligned with their industry (which I have).

    One thing I see often on LinkedIn job postings is that they want applicants to have a Writing degree.

    I have a Bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology and a Bachelor’s of Education.

    Reading your post has renewed my confidence that it doesn’t matter that I don’t have a degree in Writing.

    Thank you for sharing all of your advice it is so helpful!

    • Carol Tice says:

      Jennifer, my tip would be…apply anyway. I auditioned for and got TWO staff jobs that required a degree, even though I have none.

      In general, lists of qualifications are just meant to thin the herd of applicants they’ll get putting up a mass online job ad. My rule is — do you think you could do this gig? If so, apply.

    • Jennifer Wyglinski says:

      I’ve gotten the vast majority of my gigs through networking and cold pitching, and I don’t think my degree has played much of a role in either. I also know for a fact that some of my bigger clients hire other writers, who don’t have writing degrees, for the same exact work they hire me for.

  15. Carol, I’m curious…has any client ever asked you if you have a degree in writing?

    I doubt it. Once they’ve seen some examples of your writing?

    • Carol Tice says:

      Nope. 😉 The only time it was relevant was applying for staff jobs.

      • William Schietroma says:

        usually it is political process knowing someone who knows some one. Uncle Tom work for a news paper from driving an truck for the Company, and eventually becoming,
        a Quill award winning court Reporter.
        Tom took one ENGLISH WRITING Course at the Seton Hill college.

  16. Great post. I also have a pro writing degree and all of this applies to me as well. I did hone my writing skills, but I did not gain confidence or even the knowledge of how to start selling myself as a freelancer. I progressed with time, mindset shifts and trial and error. 🙂

    • Carol Tice says:

      The big thing Linda Formichelli and I found when we were studying journalism-school syllabi as we were creating our courses was that there is NO emphasis on teaching you how to get a gig. Colleges are still mired in the past and imagining you’ll be getting a staff newspaper or magazine writing job straight out of college, an option that is less and less available.

      • William Schietroma says:

        Carole I write for ARTICLE BASE a free publishing base for writer what is amazing they publish you stuff with glossy GRAPHICS and its all free and it is a great experience for what I write which is HISTORY and off the GRID political views.
        Although in 1985 I graduated from University of Pittsburgh with a major in SOCIAL SCIENCE concentration I only obtain an C in English writing My Professors often stressed to I the Importance of structure WORDING.
        However maybe they did not like the issues I was writing about or deemed them MARXIST from my social science class, but in Social media it goes over very well everyone has an opinon I guess.

        • Carol Tice says:

          William, I don’t think of places like ArticleBase as quite so amazing, since my focus is as an advocate for fair writer pay and against writer exploitation…which is what I consider publishing you without pay to be. But if you love it, then good for you! I’m hear to help writers pay their bills with their craft.

    • Jennifer Wyglinski says:

      I don’t think the word “freelance” came up once in any of my courses. In fact my professors were more likely to encourage students to continue their education by getting their PhD’s than to become freelance writers. I still feel like I gained a lot of benefits from the program but it definitely wasn’t geared to potential freelancers.

      • Carol Tice says:

        Yep — when you’re taught by failed writers who’ve washed up at universities to teach what they can’t do, they all seem to tell you the career track for writers is…teaching. No surprise!

        • Jennifer Wyglinski says:

          I will say that I had some great teachers in my program. While they weren’t all knowledgeable about freelancing, they were very passionate about writing and provided some good insights.

    • Linda H says:

      I earned a BA in Journalism emphasizing News Reporting and Photojournalism years ago. Yet while studying I decided I didn’t want to write for a newspaper even though I was offered an Assistant Editor’s and Publishing Partner position right out of college. I chose instead to relocate to California and pursue business writing. I ended up writing for some publications, marketed and sold articles to national magazines, and got a long-term gig writing career development articles for a trade pub. But the clincher was landing a writing position for a resume service. I knew nothing about resume writing, but transferred writing LOIs for cover letters, and writing articles for editors to resumes with fantastic results. Thirty years later I’m still working, and that included sliding back into it after being hired by Corporate America for 13 years writing training curriculum.

      My point is that the degree provided basics that I used for other needs. Now, wanting to get back into freelancing, I see that much hasn’t changed about landing gigs and getting work. The difference for me is that I lost confidence during my time in Corporate America and need to simply step up.

      Carol provided you don’t need a degree to land fabulous writing jobs, you need to stay with it and do the work using learned experience as your guide. If you want or have a degree, fine, but it’s not mandatory to land great freelance work if you’re willing to put forth the efforts, learn the ropes and jump in. Being a great writer comes from practice and experience. If you are one great, if you aren’t — again — step up and improve.

      • William Schietroma says:

        therefore as I said my uncle Tom started as a delivery truck driver for the Tribune Review at Greensburg Pa the only politics Tom had was that his father work in the Printing area of the company from 1920 and died 1950. Tom had no degrees to his credit he just took a writing course at Seton Hill college. There was an opening for court house reporter…

  17. Thomas says:

    This is a topic I love to debate about, but often leave it open to people to interpret their own way. As a freelance writer since the day I left high school, I would have to lean toward say no to the degree. Writing is an art and only takes passion to do. Of course, you can touch up your mechanics and syntax through schooling and getting a degree but it definitely is not necessary. People want good content. They could care less about anything else. It is your creativity and brain that will allow you to write about anything.

    People always ask: “Will I find any work as a freelance writer without a degree?” The answer is yes. You just need to look in the right places. Get the right contacts and find the right clients. Always make sure to keep in touch with old contacts. They can open doors for you in the future. I am a well-off freelance writer who does all of his work online. I do blogs, articles, movie reviews, anything. And yes, I get paid for it. I am pulling in almost $2700 this month for doing what I love with minimal effort. The best way for freelance writers to find work is through the internet and online jobs.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Thomas, I’m a college dropout — and have coached a lot of people with advanced degrees who really struggle to make it as freelance writers. I think the academic writing style is so different from writing for magazines that the longer you stay in college, the harder it is to adapt!

      • Jennifer Wyglinski says:

        Carol I agree about the academic writing style not transferring to other types of writing. In my program it really differed by course, as some included lots of academic writing–and reading– while others were more much more practical.

    • Jennifer Wyglinski says:

      Thomas thanks for your thoughts on this topic and my post. I’m always amazed, and envious, when people say they were able to launch successful freelance careers right out of high school. I would not have had the first idea about how to start freelancing at that point in my life.