Do you have to have a journalism degree to be a successful freelance writer? Nope. I don’t have one and I’ve done okay for myself.
But a lot of people still think going back to school and getting more education (and more student loans) is the only way to be successful in this and other freelance businesses. And frankly, it’s not true!
So if you’ve been wondering, “Do I need a journalism degree to be a successful freelance writer?” today’s guest poster, Cole Nemeth will clear it up for you once and for all!
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Why I Went to School
It was around this time three years ago that I sent in my application to college. I’ve always loved writing, preferably non-fiction, so I decided to go to college and study journalism.
My choice to go to “j-school” or get a journalism degree was highly influenced by my dream to be a writer, rather than by a fascination with the news. Back then, I had no idea what kind of writer I wanted to be, but I loved to fantasize about working from home on my own schedule and my own time.
I figured, at least if I have a college education I can always get a job writing for someone else to support myself.
Of course, things didn’t work out that way and I’ve been writing for myself ever since my first term at school.
I realized something though. As much as I benefited from school, it wasn’t at all necessary to get a post-secondary education in order to become a successful freelance writer.
What I Learned
My program was only two years long, with a strong focus on news writing.
Our professors wanted us to be well-rounded, so we had to learn about a lot of different topics related to writing. Here are some of the main ones:
- Writing for blogs
- Writing for newspapers
- Writing for magazines
- How to create a portfolio (online and offline)
Clearly, I learned a lot.
What I Didn’t Learn
I started freelance writing in college as soon as I could.
My first gig was for a blog called, The Young Mommy Life. There was a blog post calling for writers to join their team for six months, and it was paid! So when Tara, the founder of YML, replied to my email to offer me the gig I was beyond ecstatic.
I was finally living the dream!
However, when my six-month contract ended I was at a loss as to how to continue freelance writing.
College provided me with a lot of skills when it came to writing for someone else, but I never learned how to work for myself.
In my magazine writing class we had to write a pitch to magazines, but other than that the freelancing world was a mystery to me. I didn’t know:
- How to pitch to blogs or websites
- Where to find gigs
- How to use social media as a writer -or-
- How to set myself up as a business owner
On top of that, we were taught how to write for a variety of publications, but never once taught how to pick a niche, advice that you find all of the top freelance writers talking about.
Selecting a niche as a freelance writer has been one of the most difficult things for me – someone who knows a little about a lot – and yet it has been one of the most beneficial lessons to my success as a writer.
Not sure what niches you can specialize in as a freelance writer? We’ve done some research and brainstorming for you, and we came up with over 200 niches to choose from. Here’s the list:
Although I already had two paid freelance writing gigs under my belt, it wasn’t until I finished Gina’s course, 30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success that I started pitching with confidence and landing even more gigs.
I now write for a variety of websites on a regular basis.
The Benefits of College
I can’t say that going to college didn’t have its benefits.
It certainly did.
It forced me to write every day. I met a lot of really cool people, learned new skills, and started networking as a writer.
And it was through one of my professors that I landed my second freelance gig, a gig I wouldn’t be able to do without my news writing skills.
But the truth is that you don’t need a post-secondary education to be a freelance writer. You just have to be good at writing, a skill that you can learn all on your own and mostly through daily practice.
(Gina: Having decent writing chops is definitely part of it. I would argue that consistently pitching for work and putting yourself out there is even more important, however.)
Consider Why You Want to Go to School
For a lot of jobs and careers you do need a degree, or at least a diploma.
For example, if you want to write for a newspaper you’ll have to know the laws and ethics around journalism, the style guide for where you live (for me it’s the Canadian Press Style Guide) and how to research and interview – all things you learn at j-school.
But if you just want to write – fiction or non-fiction – you don’t need a formal education or journalism degree.
You Don’t Need an Education to Get Paid to Write
If you want to be a freelance writer and write for blogs or even magazines, you don’t need an education.
My education may have an influence on whether I’m hired or not, but I doubt it carries a ton of weight. It’s through my blog and the clips I send in that show what I’m capable of – my skills and my experience.
In fact, every single freelance job posting I’ve read has never stated you need a post-secondary education.
Don’t Let Not Having a Degree Hold You Back
If you want to go to school, then of course go for it. But don’t let the lack of a journalism degree be the thing that holds you back from getting started as a freelance writer.
In hindsight, I sometimes wish I had studied something else – perhaps art history or business – something that would have helped me select a writing niche to work in. Usually, I write about my own experiences though, and you don’t really need to go to school to do that! 😉
Do you have a post-secondary education? How does it benefit your freelance writing career?
Cole Nemeth is a freelance writer who enjoys drawing silly portraits and making zines. She lives in Canada with her husband and daughter and their two pets. You can read more about her on her website, Peace and Chaos, where she writes about self-improvement, creativity and entrepreneurship. You can also follow Cole on Twitter.