Look at our sexy $40,000 pieces of white paper. LOOK AT THEM!
I have a secret to share: I do not have a college degree.
Only 21 credits and a whole lotta self-worth short.
Sometimes I wish I had my college degree, but I do not regret the choice I made that prevented me from getting it.
During my junior year of college, I was offered a job at an Academy Award-winning actor’s production company in Los Angeles. Being a fan of the actor and having always wanted to work in Hollywood, it was a no-brainer decision. College degree or looking like a giant asshole with a bluetooth headset and yelling at complete strangers because I couldn’t yell back at my own boss for making me feel like a worthless piece of turd? Duh, no brainerz.
My mother made me promise that I would finish my degree while I worked.
Yeah, that didn’t happen.
Try being a 24/7 personal assistant in Hollywood and going to school. I ended up flunking a class because I was only capable of staring at the wall and chewing the living shit out of the inside of my mouth during class. Ever seen Swimming with Sharks? Being a personal assistant makes you lose your marbles.
While working in Los Angeles, not having a degree didn’t hinder my chances for growth. In fact, my employer, most of the people in his camp and about half of Hollywood do not have their degrees. Once your foot is in the door and you show that you can do the job, you’re set.
Of course, I never thought about what would happen if I got terribly disillusioned with my job in the film business and left, which is was I did, and I found myself at square one: no degree, some excellent work experience and no idea what I wanted to do with my life.
And I freaked the ffffffff out.
I took a series of work ranging from “whatever jobs” to “potential career path jobs” until I figured out what I wanted to do, which is write.
Which is what I do, yay!
And again, the degree has never come up.
In the arts-related fields it’s more about what you’ve done and do versus what school you went to.
I’ve been lucky. I’ve managed to always work and get on track to a career I want without a degree.
That doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about finishing my bachelor’s degree and going beyond that though.
There are three reasons I want to go back to school 1.) To make my momma proud 2.) Become a stronger writer 3.) Feel confident in talking frou-frou talk around my friends with master’s degrees.
Oh, I also feel like I have an elementary school-level understanding of grammar and punctuation.
There is a little problem with going back to school: I have debt. The bulk of that debt will be paid off next year, but the thought of taking on more debt scares the living crappola out of me.
Listening to my boyfriend vent about about how the interest on his student loans for undergrad and grad school have topped $30,000 scares the holy living crappola-ola out of me.
Reading reports of thousands upon thousands of graduates living at home, not finding work and having no means to pay off their $20,000, $50,000 or $100,000 school loans scares the stinkin’ living holy living crap-crap-crappola out of me.
If I’ve managed to go this far without a degree, is it worth putting myself in more debt?
This and questions like it plague the Internetz nowadays due to a waning economy and high unemployment.
Is the mo-fo’ing liberal arts/arts college degree worth it nowadays?
Most scientists and philosophers and moms and parents and old people will tell you yes. Some people without college degrees who has expensive cars and hot spouses will tell you no.
I go back and forth on the idea.
What do you think? For someone who wants to continue down the path of being a writer, should I go back to school and accumulate more debt? Is it worth it?
Also, if you went back to school as an adult, how did you handle the cost of it?
I’ve never doubted the worth of my undergrad degree, even though it’s put me into a significant amount of debt. I did that willingly though; I went to a private university in Chicago when I could have gone to UT or A&M for next to nothing.
I also majored in journalism and while people will say it’s a failing industry (and it is, in a sense) it helped me learn more about what I do best: write and edit.
At the end of the day, I know that my degree and my school definitely helped me land my new job. But really, the need for a degree is different for everyone. I’d probably argue that the cost of grad school and law school aren’t really worth it in terms of time spent and debt accumulated.
Good for you, Daniela!
Great article! I have a similar history – was offered a great job (or so it seemed) right before going to college. Took distance ed courses for a few years until I was too busy raising kids. Now seven years later I’m a writer.
Although I’ve never felt that not having a degree has held me back, I do feel that I could be a better writer and that having a degree would help convince some clients that I’m a better fit for their project than others, also to justify my rates. With that in mind I started taking classes at our local college in the winter. In about 18 months I should have a Diploma in Writing and Publishing. I’m only taking 2-3 courses at a time so I can still work and the cost isn’t too much (about $500 a course). It’s not the ideal arrangement, but it’s one that keeps me out of debt!
Hey Angela! Good for you! Did you find any aid for going back to school too?
If you do it, make it for the pride and self-assurance. I have an MA in creative writing and came out 30+grand in debt, not including the 20 years of interest I will pay by the time I’ve paid in full. It hasn’t helped me get a “better job” or “make more money,” but I wouldn’t trade my education for anything. I still have great pride in my degrees, no matter how much/long I’ll be paying for them.
You seem to want it for the right reasons in my opinion. And know what kind of burden it will put on your future. With that I say give it another try.
But, you have already accomplished more than me in the writing field with no degree than I have with a masters. So…!?! Either way, it’s a hard decision. Good luck!
William, I’ve been lucky. I know I’d have more confidence in my writing if I went back to school though. It is a tough decision. There are also great writing classes that organizations offer for a fraction of the price of school.
DON’T DO IT!!
If you were on the fence about a degree in the healthcare/math/computers, etc-“sciency” type stuff-I’d say go for because you’ll see a return on your investment. But for the rest for us saps who went for a liberal arts degree, it is truly a struggle. I’ve heard college professors with advanced degrees in English and other humanities encouraging students to say away because the debt is just too much of a burden. How sad is that? But it’s true. How are you supposed to do what you love when you have to pay back thousands of dollars and can’t find a job? If I could do it all over again, I would have majored in a computer related field. It would have allowed me to pay back my debt and in the future I could work towards something in the creative field. But right now I’m just trying to keep my head above water. Oh and I took up praying…seems to help…
You’re a great writer. You have a great voice and awesome blog. If you want to get better with grammar, buy a book about it from Amazon. Or check out some classes at a state or community college with lower costs that can be paid of pocket.
Hey Michaela! Thank you for that. You reminded me that I’ve also thought about getting a degree in something more practical like technology as well. It is pretty sad when professors are encouraging kids to stay away, but maybe that’s what we need to hear?
I’d say that it depends on why you want a degree. If it’s to become a better writer and make you a more well-rounded person, or because the job you want absolutely requires it, then go for it. Take just one class at a time if you have to. Find a school whose tuition isn’t insane, and see if you can get scholarships. A lot of oranizations offer scholarships that aren’t necessarily based on grades. Or, take out the minimum amount of loans and pay them off as you go.
On the other hand, if you think getting a degree will increase some sort of career prospects, or you’re just doing it because you feel like you should, I’d say hold off.
Oh, and I did the dumb thing and took out lots of loans to pay for school. No regrets though. I can manage the payments for now, and if/when I get a better job I hope to start paying larger amounts to whittle it down. I don’t like that I have so much debt, but what’s done is done.
I have school loans, but luckily it’s not much. I should be paid off in a few years, but I have no degree to show for it! You’re right about taking one class at a time. I always forget that and feel like I should take on everything at once!
I think a liberal arts degree is fantastic for getting your foot in the door. But once your foot’s in the door I see little value. Unless you’re doing it to go learn stuff. In which case I see a lot of value.
Only you can decide if the stuff you learn will be worth the tens of thousands of dollars you pay.
Good point. I feel like I already got my foot in the door too. Hmmm….
I did not go to college. I got lucky and landed a job in print production (I’m a manager/designer) I’ve been here 11 years now and still loving it.
If I lost my job, I have zero clue what I’ll do and how I’ll fare without a degree of some sort. But to be honest, it’s not something I worry about on the daily.
I do see all my friends really struggling to pay their student loans and I feel terrible, because they are working jobs they don’t love, making little money and wishing they either didn’t go to school or stayed there longer!
11 years in print production is invaluable! If you (God forbid) lost your job, I’m sure you’d land on your feet just fine!
I vascilate over whether or not my degrees & certifications are worth it REGULARLY. I have a BA in history & English from Texas A&M, then I got a MA in Space & Exploration Studies from the University of Houston. My goal was to be a NASA Historian. Ha!! There are about 3-4 of those in existence. I worked in the space industry doing absolutely nothing history related until the hubby decided to join the Army. A career in the space industry isn’t portable so I started working on teaching certifications. All in all, I’ve racked up about $125K in debt getting my BA, MA, and teaching certifications. I haven’t taught since 2009. My husband jokingly calls my degrees “expensive wallpaper”. I know if I wasn’t a military wife, being dragged all over the nation, they’d be more valuable but as it is, I just keep deferring those loans because I’m under- or unemployed.
Wow, Tara! Kudos to you for your degrees! I know they may be “expensive wallpaper” sometimes, but that is super impressive! You should be so proud!
I am currently an undergrad pursuing an English degree and the question I am always asked is “so, do you want to teach?”
No, I want to write. Luckily, I go to a school with an excellent writing program that is actually teaching me useful things. But I’m also finding a lot of worth in teaching myself–school teaches me how to write, but I’ve had to find out on my own how to market myself.
I now comfortably hold a few freelance writing jobs that provide me a nice amount of extra money while I can still go to classes. The one thing that I’ve learned is that right now, I’m not ‘above’ writing about things I’m not particularly interested in. My classmates apparently haven’t learned that, and instead complain that literary magazines won’t publish their short stories. They will be the ones complaining that their English degree is useless, because on its own it is.
My point is, the degree itself won’t have any weight. But if you do want to go back to school and find one that is great at teaching you things, then the classes will help.
Maybe try Open Culture until you’re less worried about the debt? It’s got free online courses in a lot of subjects, so you can get the learning part without paying for it.
Stephanie! What a great attitude to have. I’m the same way. If you want to make money as a writer, you need to take whatever job you can get. That applies to outside the writing world too. So many young people don’t want to “settle” below what they think they should have for a job. They’re very stupid.
Also, I did not know about Open Culture. Thanks for sharing!
I think it depends on your attitude to education and whether you want your degree because of its potential to increase your employability or whether you want it just for the pleasure and gratification of learning (sounds lame I know). I’m on the ‘learning’ side. Although I’m in Australia (and so even though I’ll still leave uni with debt, it will only be in the order of about $20- to $25 000 and is paid back to the government interest-free), I still get questioned with regularity as to what my degree will ‘get’ for me. I usually reply something corny along the lines of ‘an education’,and while there are some job prospects in my field, I’ve accepted I’ll never be part of the 1%. In the end, you just need to do what you feel will make you happy/proud/fulfilled, good luck!
Thanks, Misha! Is education relatively affordable in Australia? Do students walk away with an assload of debt typically?
My degree is in visual arts, and after graduating I learned that I didn’t have the gusto or the desire to really work to make it in that field. I always made some excuse, save a short stint when I participated in a few local shows. I could never call myself an artist, but since I started writing (which I always did, but as a backburner to art) I have never had a problem calling myself a writer.
I think that if you are forging your way through a good career now, then hold off on finishing the degree. If you want to hone your writing skills, look for workshops or stand alone classes and then finish your degree when you don’t feel it will be such a financial burden. My husband always jokes that he’s paying for my useless degree since I stay home and my writing doesn’t earn much now, but on the other hand, when I was working, my piece of paper, no matter the field, garnered me a larger salary than someone who was without.
Leigh Ann, I’ve definitely thought about the workshops and stand alone classes. I’ve also though about going back to school for graphic/web design. So many questions…
I learned more about writing from reading things that were relevant to me than from being an English major. When it comes to grammar, the most important thing I learned as an English major was that Elements of Style is a sloppy book that contradicts itself. The best class in the whole major was one where the professor explained how impractical the English-speaking world’s idea of grammar is, and how our English classes teach us how to be “correct” at the expense of communicating effectively.
Anyway, I think that the only thing separating you from someone with “writing education” is the confidence- they write weird stuff and think “I have a degree therefore this must be good writing,” while you write weird stuff and think, “Is that OK? Let me give it another look.”
Wow. Very interesting, Benny. You know, I bought the Elements of Style recently and realized that most of what it says goes against current APA style. I was so confused! Thank you for sharing your professor’s wisdom and your own. It makes me feel better.
I’m glad! I really think it’s a problem, and I still really think that a self-motivated writer with a network is the best kind of writer.
Honestly, I can see the benefits of both having and not having a college degree. In your case, you’ve accumulated unique work experience that someone just graduating college does not have. So, as an employer, I’d have to make a decision on whether I wanted to hire someone fresh out of college with just a few internships under their belt – or would I hire someone with real life, actual experience that I wouldn’t have to waste time training?
Then again, if you had a degree AND the experience you have, an employer’s decision is just that much easier.
You have great writing skills (grammar included ^_^) and, obviously, you don’t need a piece of paper to do what you love for a living. But I must also say that I really enjoyed all of my writing classes in college and it pushed me to write in a way that I didn’t know I could. So, if you wanted to gain knowledge, improve skills and learn more, maybe take a few classes. To keep costs low, check out your local community college or online courses. You could work your way to completing your degree – slowly and at your own pace.
You’re close enough to finishing your degree that I would say, why not? Never sell yourself short though. Your work experience is highly valuable and every kid graduating from college right now will wish they had it.
Awwww…thanks, B! I am so close. I’m a little afraid that the credits are starting to expire though. I have to look into that. I’ve heard that the community college here in Austin is really good. Also, my bf works at UT and can shows me the ropes to applying and grants etc. Time to start doing my research!
One of my favorite topics! I think college degrees are becoming more and more obsolete as a tool for getting a job, unless it’s a highly specific field. More and more people are graduating from college, which makes the demand go down.
I graduated with a degree in English (one of the worst for being able to get a job, but it was fun). Luckily, I came out with no debt thanks to scholarships. However, I now have a job that isn’t bad, but a degree isn’t required and none of my coworkers who do the same thing have more than 2 years of college credits. I’ve also realized what my dream is and how to work towards it, and it doesn’t require any school–just a lot of hustle and saving money.
I don’t think going into debt for a degree is a good idea in any situation. I don’t think debt is good for anything really. I learned that the hard way, though, and am about a year from having all of my (and my husband’s) debt paid off.
I think if you’re considering going back to school, motive is the main thing to question. Do you need a degree? I know for me, even though I could be doing the same thing without mine, I think it was helpful just for my feelings of self-worth. It is a great accomplishment and it did wonders for my confidence (which I didn’t have much of before). I don’t regret going to college at all!
If you do decide to go back, look into every option before student loans. Even if it means taking 1 or 2 classes at a time and cash-flowing it. It is totally possible! If you can’t afford it and you don’t desperately need to go back, maybe you can wait a couple of years? Anyway, that is just my two cents! 🙂 Good luck, Lauren!
Thanks, Jenny! That was very helpful. I will have my credit cards and car paid off next year, so I might be able to pay for one class per semester. Good idea!
you should just take a journalism or creative writing course at ACC and see how you like it. it’s the most inexpensive way to gauge whether or not you want to go back to college.
liberal arts degrees are useless though. haha, you do it because you love it, not because it’s lucrative.
Don’t go back to school to make your momma proud: for that she is and always has been, so very proud of you.
After reading your replies, I think you’ve figured out what you want to do, right?
Currently, what kind of writing do you do for a living and what kind of writing do you want to do for fun? I’m asking because I have a bunch of fiction writing books that might interest you. Such as, Beginnings, Middles & Ends by Kress, Scene Stucture by Bickham, Characters & Viewpoints by Orson Scott Card, Settings by Brickham etc. etc. etc. Would any of these be helpful?
My current thoughts on this are:
Each degree has a different value relative to the current and future economy. To determine the value of a degree, you need the appropriate parameters for proper analysis.
Average salary of the graduates.
Chances of being hired
Are there more efficient means in getting the require skill?
whatever. For grammar, why don’t you just pick up some popular college textbooks?
I’ve heard the axiom, “Go big or go home”
that is get an engineering, law or medical degree. Otherwise go into apprenticeship and the trades. For educations that are outside of this, one has to make damn sure it’s worthwhile to study (make sure to avoid the confirmation bias, look to falsify your ideas)
Brain dump above.