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Is a creative writing degree really worth it?


by Josh Spears

Like any craftsman dedicated to the improvement of his chosen vocation, a logical step for aspiring wordsmiths is to take a university degree in Creative Writing. At the end of three arduous years of dedication to the literary arts you will end up with a piece of paper, telling everyone you thrust it at that, yes, you can write and, yes, this also extends to reading too. Being a Bachelor in Creative Writing was my ambition since reading Matilda by Roald Dahl in my childhood. But what I am now contemplating is whether it was really worth it, both in terms of money and time.

I have been a graduate for well over a year now and I have not turned into the next Stephen King, with millions flowing out of my pockets. Nor have I found one of the myriad of jobs I was told I was a shoo-in for with my shiny new degree. I do feel slightly betrayed by everyone who said that the fruits of my labours would be rewarded by a career or my own bestseller. Yes, there was a time when a writing degree was a ticket to success. But thanks to the recession and the growing employer preference for experience over qualifications, this golden age is dead, its owner having cashed it in for a few bob at the local pawn shop.

Would I do it again though? Would I spend another three years writing and reading everything from Katie Price to Jack Kerouac? I would, but not for the degree certificate which I've already said is nothing special, but for the skills I learned. There's no doubt in my mind that as a result of my creative writing degree I have improved my art and broadened my horizons. I've learned to find inspiration everywhere and in everybody. But maybe these are skills I could have learned from a good writers' group, or writers' retreats? If I wanted to be a scientist or a historian then the relevant degree would be a definite asset. But with many of the practical degrees, ranging from applied arts to film studies and including writing, what really matters is the quality of the skills you learn and not the piece of paper saying you have learnt them.

I wouldn't want to discredit a creative writing BA entirely. Having one can be useful if you wish to pursue it into the realms of a Masters or Doctorate which can then lead into professor/lecturer positions at educational institutions. But it is all academia related; much like philosophy degrees, the only job prospects are in teaching it.

So if you are looking to improve your skills as a writer and explore the wonderful and sometimes frightening world of creative literature, think carefully about what you want the end result to be. Many of the skills can be learnt for free, or at a reduced price. But the experience of gaining a university degree is unique and unforgettable and if you can get over the fact that the end result isn't exactly what you expected, I would give it my vote and reluctantly, my money.

Josh Spears graduated in Creative Writing and Film Studies from the University of Cumbria in Carlisle. He is working on his writing and waiting patiently to become a bestselling author.