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Is a BA in English Worth It?

by Daniella Cressman 4 months ago in college
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Yes and no: It depends on what your goals are.

Is a BA in English Worth It?
Photo by Vasily Koloda on Unsplash

I'm sure there are at least a few wistful wordsmiths out there daydreaming about earning their Bachelor's degree in English.

It's well worth it to go this route if you simply want to hone your writing skills and you aren't extremely concerned about the economic options that are available to you with this degree after you graduate.

That being said, there are ways to maximize your earning potential:

Gain writing experience while you're in college: You'll be qualified for more jobs after you've graduated.

Get an MA in Creative Writing or an MA in Rhetoric and Writing and a PhD in the same category: The former is wonderful for authors who would also like to be professors; the latter is excellent for people who love technical writing (You can actually make good money in this field depending on the topics you're covering!!)

Do your very best to earn straight As during your studies.

Writing can be an extremely profitable career path for people who have 5+ years of experience in the field, but it takes time to get to that level. Professors earn a decent living. From what I've seen, the salary is around $50,000 annually in many areas, but certain prestigious universities will offer up to $90,000 per year!

I thought about going this route, but then I changed my mind because teaching isn't really my forte.

I absolutely loved earning my BA in English - the literature classes were exciting and I thoroughly enjoyed learning about grammar and penning persuasive essays.

It's important to note that earning a BA in English can actually help you if you're planning to earn a degree in law: The same skills are required.

Additionally, learning how to write persuasively can be extremely useful if you're marketing a certain product or service.

That being said, it has honestly been very difficult for me to find work I truly love that also pays the bills.

Part of that is because you have to write so frequently to earn a sufficient amount of income that the quality can sometimes suffer and I have a little over two years of full-time experience in this field, so it's definitely a marathon.

The other aspect of the challenge - for me at least - is that my goal is to be self-employed, and that means I have to create business, which is about ten times harder than working for someone else during the first few years.

If I had chosen to work for someone else, the income would be far more predictable, but you're still usually looking at writing around 3000 words seven days per week well no matter which route you take and barely making enough to scrape by, which is A LOT!

So is a BA in English with a minor in writing worth it?

It is if you simply want to hone your skills as a wordsmith, write about classic literature, and read works by nearly all of the well-known authors.

It's also quite useful if you plan to go into law or earn your MA and PhD. in a similar field so that you can become a university professor.

On the other hand, if your goal is to earn a lot of money as soon as you graduate, I'd recommend getting an MBA or a degree in Accounting!

If you're willing to work for three years or so, you can get your real estate license in six months and potentially earn a lot of money without a college degree, but that requires a lot of energy -Agents who have major sales have usually been in the game for at least a few years!

Both routes could lead to financial abundance, although accountants work inordinately long hours - I was about to get that degree but then decided against it: I need sleep!

After all is said and done, I'm thrilled that I earned my BA in English with a minor in writing.

It helped me fall in love with American literature while realizing that many of those British classics were simply not for me: The characters were far too likable for my taste, and it made the stories boring most of the time in my opinion, although there were a few standouts like MacBeth (Shakespeare) and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Robert Louis Stevenson) that struck my fancy.

On the whole, I preferred the gruff and tumble world of American literature: Murderous lovers, greedy bastards, and complicated cops were more entertaining to read about.

Earning this degree also allowed me to learn about grammar, culture, and dialect in a way I hadn't previously, and I was able to form a cohesive, persuasive argument by the time I was in my senior year.

There was also a class on technical writing which included how to format and compose a solid resume or create a riveting PowerPoint presentation, which I found helpful, although it was a tad tedious in my opinion.

I took two fiction classes which were a dream, although I will say that the professor who's teaching each course certainly affected my level of enthusiasm for the subject matter, and even an ideal lesson plan can be ruined by someone who is condescending, harsh, or just plain rude on a regular basis.

Anyway, my favorite course was one that focused on creating dystopian worlds.

I'm not a science fiction or fantasy nerd - except when it comes to Harry Potter! - but I thoroughly enjoyed this class because the professor was deeply passionate about the subject matter, and my classmates were a lot of fun to work with: It was the first time everyone in the group I was in actually contributed to the project equally and enjoyed doing so!

The class was even more fun because we were split into groups based on the genre we were interested in for our final project and I chose horror, so I got to write about Carrie by Stephen King, which is one of my favorite books by my favorite author aside from J.K. Rowling!

I suppose that the most useful lesson - arguably - was learning the art of outlining and organization, although to be honest this is still a struggle for me occasionally, but I feel as though I've gotten slightly better over time: Understanding how to construct the structure of a story effectively is invaluable.

Pros

Earning this degree is immensely fun!

It fosters your creativity.

It forces you to develop a daily writing habit.

You get to read classic literature.

You learn how to craft persuasive arguments.

You learn about the literary underpinnings of our culture.

You learn about grammar and punctuation.

You learn how to conduct research and writing long essays.

You study the structure of stories.

You get to have discussions about your favorite characters.

Earning this degree allows you to pursue a degree in higher education (especially if you want to become a lawyer or earn an MA in Creative Writing or an MA and a PhD. in Writing and Rhetoric or Literature).

Learning how to craft a solid argument can help you market businesses, products, and services.

There are often free internships which allow you to gain experience before you graduate.

Having this degree increases your credibility if you're offering writing advice.

Cons

It's extremely difficult to earn a living wage from writing if you have zero experience and a BA in English unless you can write 3000 words and edit them immediately every single day of the week, and even then it can take months - sometimes years! - to land a job that only pays around $1500 per month, and that's usually if you ghostwrite books for a specific company!

You have to read classic literature you may not incredibly fond of.

There is minimal focus on commercial fiction and non-fiction, which could be a downside if you plan to be a successful author in the modern day and want to read more contemporary books.

People will likely think your degree is trivial.

You may not be taken seriously by your peers.

You may be a struggling artist for a few years after college.

It's really expensive: Most programs are around $30,000, and that's on the cheaper end of the spectrum!

Student debt: I honestly wouldn't take out a loan for this degree - or any degree except perhaps law or medicine- It's just not worth it to be straddled with debt for so many years unless you're getting a hefty return on your investment!

It requires a lot of time and energy.

You're expected to follow rules for better or for worse: Some say this stifles their creativity and originality!

The reality is that people will almost always judge you no matter which profession you choose, but writing is an art so you'll be seen as a creative for better or worse!

I am very happy with my English degree, although I will say that I was planning to become a university professor when I was attending college, but life happened and I decided to change courses: I'm want to earn my degree in either Counseling or Psychology now - I'm still deciding - but I don't think I'm particularly gifted at staying up late preparing lesson plans and lecturing to a crowded classroom.

If you absolutely love technical writing and also happen to enjoy finance, there are quite a few very profitable opportunities for folks who have at least an MA in Rhetoric and Writing: These people can earn up to $100,000 per year - sometimes even more! - in many cases.

There are also some great careers for folks who enjoy math or science and love to write user guides or other technical documentation for certain companies.

Grant writing is one of the most profitable routes to pursue, although you usually have to volunteer for a year or two before you have enough experience to earn any money whatsoever unfortunately: A lot of people think it's boring, but you can work for non-profits and truly make a difference in the world if you want to be a voice of justice advocating for human rights!

THE TAKEAWAY

I'd recommend earning a BA in English if you want to write professionally and learn more about the craft: It's immensely useful in this way - Stephen King only has an undergraduate degree in the same field, and there are plenty of incredibly successful authors who are in the same boat!

On the other hand, if you're strapped for cash and want something that leads to a high income immediately, this is not the path I would take, although you can potentially earn a ton of cash if you've been in the game for five to ten years, especially if you love writing books of any kind and you don't mind ghostwriting occasionally!

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About the author

Daniella Cressman

Content Creator. Offering insights on psychology, society, and entertainment.

Website: https://daniellacressman.squarespace.com/

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