How To Be A Writer: The Merits of a Liberal Arts Degree

by Emily E. Steck

How To Be A Writer: The Merits of a Liberal Arts Degree

How To Be A Writer is a series that is titled exactly as it sounds. In the digital age, writers are facing new issues on top of the old. As publishing continues to shift and change, not only are writers forced to change as well, they’re establishing themselves entirely differently, making breaking into the scene even more challenging. In this series, we offer up tips, tricks and general commentary on the journey (or slog) that is being a writer.

In the age of astronomical prices for post secondary education and crippling debt for most attendees, a degree has become more of a luxury investment than the education and work behind it. Our society emphasizes the value of a STEM degree (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) rather than the merits of a liberal arts degree, which are seen as a waste of a ROI and “useless.”

But fear not, fellow “useless” degree holders or aspiring college grads. Your degree will not be useless if it is not a STEM degree as long as you make it worthwhile. Liberal arts degrees emphasize interpersonal and analytical skills. And for those of you with a business or STEM degree, you’ll maybe want to consider taking a liberal arts or writing course to help with more soft skills for your careers as a doctor, lawyer, executive, etc.

A liberal arts education—and specifically one in English or Creative Writing—is not “useless.” Here are the merits of a writing degree and a liberal arts education:

1. Excellent Writing & Communication Skills

English, Creative Writing and liberal arts degrees heavily focus on writing more than other types. Businesses need great writing skills for basic office requirements like emailing, reports and presentations using eloquent language. Furthermore, businesses need employees with strong writing skills to write meaningful content on the company blog (my job), craft compelling descriptions of products and services and/or create a persuasive sales letter.

2. Well-Roundedness

The best writers are voracious readers and majors like English, Creative Writing and other liberal arts degrees are required to read and write about the humanities more than their STEM counterparts.

But that doesn’t mean humanities degree holders should just stick to their subjects and not gain the technical skills desired by STEM employers. 80% of employers agree that every college student should acquire broad knowledge of the humanities and the sciences. Some universities are even requiring graduate studies requirements to include courses outside of the field.

3. Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is the buzzword for educators and employers across the globe today as college students are generally not being trained to think critically. Employers value an employee’s ability to think critically independently. Writing and English degrees train their pupils to construct complex arguments, dissect issues at hand, and use logic to solve problems. These degrees also tend to involve complex analytic problem solving which can be easily expressed through their oral and written skills.

4. Never Fear: Possibilities Aplenty

You don’t think your skills as a writer won’t translate to the real world? There are many applications of writing in the workforce that requires great skill. Traditional career paths include: copywriter, journalist, novelist, lawyer, editor, screenwriter, researcher, publisher, literary agent, speechwriter, etc.

However, they aren’t the only options. Clever with words? Social Media Coordinator. Want to work for a nonprofit? Grant Writer. Great with writing instructions? Technical writer. Want to spin stories? Publicist. But it extends to even more than that: nearly every industry needs good writers. Government, media organizations, real estate, education and business industries need writers to clearly communicate ideas and execute tasks.

5. Creativity

Creativity is essential for all jobs as it sparks innovation and originality. Writers are able to create and craft words and sentences to represent companies, but these skills also carry over to problem solving, brainstorming, marketing and more.

If you do not think of yourself as particularly creative, do not sell yourself short. There are two types of writers (for the purpose of this post): the egotists and self-deprecators. More often than not, writers in the workforce tend to be self-deprecating, almost to the point where they devalue their own skills (or maybe it’s just me…). Unlike other professions like computer programmer or scientist, who would rather die than write a paper, writing is a miserable experience. Not everyone is a good writer. Don’t devalue your skills.

The lesson today is not to devalue your chosen degree. Do what is best for you (financially, emotionally, spiritually) and work hard. There has been a plethora of successful people who graduated with liberal arts degrees. Become one of them.

Oh, and here’s a long list of people who have a liberal arts degrees:

Famous People with Liberal Arts Degrees

By Emily E. Steck

You don't need a STEM or business degree to be successful. Here are some pretty powerful and successful people who studied liberal arts in college.

  • Mitt Romney

    By Emily E. Steck

    Before he was a presidential nominee, Romney majored in English at Brigham Young University and seriously considered going for his PhD. He eventually went to Harvard Business and Law School.

  • Anne Mulcahy

    By Emily E. Steck

    The former CEO of Xerox—where she rose from the ranks of a sales representative— earned a B.A. in journalism and English at Marymount College, which has joined with Fordham University.

  • David Duchovny

    By Emily E. Steck

    The X-Files star studied English at Princeton University for his undergrad, and Yale University for a MFA. He is working on an unfinished Ph.D.

  • Ted Turner

    By Emily E. Steck

    This media tycoon majored in Classics at Brown University before switching over to Economics. He received an honorary degree in 1989 after being kicked out years prior for having a female in his dorm.

  • Clarence Thomas

    By Emily E. Steck

    U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas graduated from the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts cum laude in English literature.

  • Judy McGrath

    By Emily E. Steck

    The former MTV chairwoman and CEO received her Bachelor's in English at Cedar Crest College. 

  • Michael Eisner

    By Emily E. Steck

    The former CEO of Disney never took a single business course, but he did double major in English and theater at Denison University. 

  • Jon Stewart

    By Emily E. Steck

    An alum of the College of William and Mary, Stewart studied psychology, all the better to analyze the blunders said by politicians and news anchors on The Daily Show.

  • Barbara Walters

    By Emily E. Steck

    Before she became one of the most famous broadcast journalists in the U.S., Walters studied English at Sarah Lawrence College in New York.

  • Stewart Butterfield

    By Emily E. Steck

    The co-founder of Flickr studied philosophy at the University of Victoria and Cambridge.

  • Andrea Jung

    By Emily E. Steck

    Former CEO of Avon Cosmetics studied and taught English literature at Princeton University.

  • Conan O'Brien

    By Emily E. Steck

    The ginger late night talk show is a Harvard man, studying history and American literature while running the school's humor publication The Harvard Lampoon.

Disclosure: I am a Film and Media Arts graduate who had plenty of English and Journalism classes. And, yes, I am clearly employed.

Image Credit: Jay Mantri 

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