Is having a college degree/college education necessary for a successful career as a freelance writer? My college degrees have been crucial for my writing career, but…
I know several very successful freelance writers who don’t have college degrees.
How My College Degrees Helped My Freelance Writing Career
I’m a bit of a special case because my main freelance writing niche is creating test questions, lecture outlines, and other educational components for college-level textbooks and higher-education courses. It’s difficult to be successful in my niche if you don’t have at least a bachelor’s degree. In my case I have a varied educational background. From my resume/c.v. over at my Freelancing for Higher Education blog:
- Master of Arts, Political Science, University of California, Davis, June 1989. UC Regents Fellowship, 1987-1989. Fields: U.S. Government, International Relations, Comparative Politics, European History. 3.91 GPA.
- Bachelor of Science, Biochemistry, University of California, Davis, June 1982. Highest Honors. 3.81 GPA.
- Associate of Science, Engineering, Shasta College, Redding, CA, June 1980. 3.62 GPA.
My degrees have allowed me to work on writing projects in many different disciplines in the social sciences, life sciences, and earth sciences.
I also spent a couple of years as a researcher in biochemistry and pharmacology labs at Lund University in Sweden and at Cornell University where I co-authored three papers in refereed scientific journals. They’re esoteric and geeky to most folks, but here they are:
Steven Simasko, John Soares, and Greg Weiland. “Two Components of Carbamylcholine-Induced Loss of Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor Function in the Neuronal Cell Line PC12.” Molecular Pharmacology: Vol. 30, pp. 6-12, 1986.
Steven Simasko, John Soares, and Greg Weiland. “Structure-Activity Relationship of Substance P Inhibition of Carbamylcholine Stimulated 22-Na+ Flux in Neuronal (PC12) and Non-Neuronal (BC3H1) Cell Lines.” J. Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics: Vol. 235, No. 3, pp. 601-605, 1985.
Carl Borrebaeck, John Soares, and Bo Mattiasson. “Fractionation of Glycoproteins According to Lectin Affinity and Molecular Size Using a High-Performance Liquid Chromatography System with Sequentially Coupled Columns.” Journal of Chromatography: Vol. 284, pp. 187-192, 1984.
Using My College Education to Get a Book Publisher
My education and research publications also helped me get started as as writer. I used them to convince The Mountaineers Books to give me a contract for my first hiking guidebook. I had no professional writing experience, but I used my science/research background to convince them that I could get the facts straight and present all the relevant information people would need to get to the trailhead and safely navigate the hike.
Important Lessons from Graduate School
I also learned important work habits in grad school: namely how to work my ass off when I have to. Most anyone who has gone to grad school or law school or med school knows that there are times when you have to work 12 hours a day for many days on end. This doesn’t happen often with my freelance writing, but occasionally the projects do pile up and I have to work very hard. I can draw strength from those college days when I had to do the same, and I can find the courage and discipline to get the projects done.
You Don’t Need a College Degree to Make Good Money in Freelance Writing
Two of my favorite freelance writers are very successful, and neither has a college degree. Top-notch blogger Anne Wayman discusses how she’s done just fine without a college degree in this post: “What About Writing Jobs That Want a Degree-Should I Apply Without One?” And Carol Tice not only makes a great living writing, but she’s also the founder of the highly successful membership site The Freelance Writers Den.
Some of the smartest and most interesting people I know have little or no formal education. They study on their own and are keen observers of people and the world at large, and many of them are quite successful in various fields.
What about you? Has college made a difference in your freelance writing career? Did you even go to college? What about other aspects of your various careers and your life in general — has college helped? Tell us in the comments, and feel free to list your degree(s).