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Guest Post: To Major or Not to Major? The Value of a Creative Writing Degree by Kaitlin Barlett

Today we're happy to welcome MFA student Kaitlin Barlett!

photo by Cindy Schultz
Even before I graduated with my creative writing degree back in May, I fielded the same question countless times: Now, what are you planning to do with that degree? Pair that with a doubtful, slightly disapproving look, and you have many potential writing students’ main fear. What’s the point in majoring in creative writing? Isn’t it a completely subjective area? Can’t I find all the same advice online?

If you’re looking for the answers to any of these questions, YOU’RE IN LUCK! True to my planner-not-pantser fashion, I’ve made a pro/con list for potential writing majors.

Pro: Workshops
In most programs, each student has the opportunity to have their work discussed by the entire class (usually between 10-18 students). The feedback offered by the students and professors (who are often published writers) can take your writing to a new level, though you may get contradicting advice from classmates and have to pick and choose what to do.
(Granted, you can achieve a similar setting with beta readers and critique partners, but there’s something cool about having a roomful of people discuss your story.)

Con: The Occasional Brutal Workshop 
Everyone has that one workshop where their story gets ripped apart. Every flaw you promised yourself you’d fix later gets pointed out, and you leave class feeling pretty beat up. Developing a thick skin is part of the writing life, whether it’s in a workshop class or querying agents online. I know I’m a stronger writer (and person) because of those workshops, and there are certain writing mistakes I’ve learned to never make again! (For example: Never reveal your character’s physical description by having him or her look into a mirror. Too easy!)

Pro: You read. A lot.
Your professors will assign short stories (or essays or poems, depending on your focus) for you to read for class every week. I knew nothing about popular short story writers before studying writing (Do bookstores even sell short story collections? Short answer: rarely.), and now I’ve found authors that I’ve been able to learn from. I’ve even met some of them because many university writing departments bring authors to campus for readings and Q&A sessions.

Con: You don’t have time to read anything else
Unless you’re really good at balancing schoolwork and free time, you won’t have much time to read those fun books during the semester. I save most of my pleasure reading for winter and summer breaks.

Pro: More career paths for writers than you’d expect
Wondering how to answer the disapproving “What do you plan on doing with that degree?” question I mentioned earlier? Literary agent, copyeditor, grant writer…literally EVERY company needs a writer for press releases or articles. During the summer I write announcements for a software company’s internal website because (most) engineers hate nothing more than writing. You’re not dooming yourself to live in a cardboard box by majoring in writing.

Bonus Pro: It’s fun!
I’d be lying if I said writing is always sunny and flowery and lovely. I have days where I want to throw my laptop across the room. But I can’t imagine studying anything else. I get to make up stories, and a university gives me a degree for it! (See my photo in this post for proof. Mortar board hat and all!) How do you beat that?

I hope this blog was helpful for prospective writing majors out there (and entertaining for everyone else)! I have plenty to say about studying creative writing, especially now that I’m working toward my MFA. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions!


Kaitlin Bartlett holds a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing from Susquehanna University. She currently lives in Pittsburgh, writing fiction and pursuing her creative writing MFA in fiction at Chatham University. She blogs about her writing and all things bookish at Always Write and tweets at @kaitlinbartlett.

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Kate Hart

Kate is the author of After the Fall, coming January 24, 2017 from Farrar, Straus and Giroux. A former teacher and grant writer, she now owns a treehouse-building business in the Ozarks and hosts the Badass Ladies You Should Know interview series.

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  1. What about the cost? That stops me.

  2. Fun to read. I've thought about an MFA in creative writing for quite a while, but I haven't been able to justify it yet. I do know I would grow a ton (def. desirable). For now I'm going to workshops and conferences and reading, reading, reading. Thanks for the post!

  3. Thanks to all the lovely YA Highway bloggers for being interested in my guest post idea and posting it! :) I had a lot of fun writing this!

  4. Love this, Kaitlin!


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Item Reviewed: Guest Post: To Major or Not to Major? The Value of a Creative Writing Degree by Kaitlin Barlett Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kate Hart